Friday is tops! Every other Friday, Artprice offers you the bid ranking for each category. This week: the ten highest bids for Op Art works in 2012.

Top 10 : the ten highest bids for Op Art works in 2012.

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Carlos CRUZ-DIEZ $600000 “Physichromie 164” (1965) 05/22/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
2 Bridget RILEY $597170 “Tabriz” (1984) 02/15/2012 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
3 Carlos CRUZ-DIEZ $550000 Chromo-Interference Mécanique (1979) 05/23/2012 (Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY)
4 Carlos CRUZ-DIEZ $460000 Physichromie No 1.021 05/23/2012 (Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY)
5 Bridget RILEY $449623 “Cool Place” 10/13/2012 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
6 Jan SCHOONHOVEN $334620 “Diagonalen” (1967) 05/15/2012 (Christie’s AMSTERDAM)
7 Jan SCHOONHOVEN $332124 “R70-72” (1970) 11/20/2012 (Christie’s AMSTERDAM)
8 Jan SCHOONHOVEN $325875 “Drie In Één (Trois en Un)” (1966) 12/04/2012 (Sotheby’s PARIS)
9 Victor VASARELY $244915 Cheyt-Stri (1971-1992) 05/23/2012 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
10 Carlos CRUZ-DIEZ $240000 “Physichromie No 655” 05/23/2012 (Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY)


Victor Vasarely: bottom of the ranking
One of the “plastic alphabets” best-known to the general public is unquestionably the one by Victor VASARELY, dubbed by some “the father of Op-Art”. This champion of geometric combinations and permutations dreamed of a future where “visual art would be kinetic, multi-dimensional and communal; unambiguously abstract, and close to the sciences.” After studying medicine (the discipline’s methodical rigour would always be present in his work), spending a period at the Bauhaus centre in Budapest and working as a graphic artist in Paris, Vasarely immersed himself in painting and produced his first black and white works in the mid-Fifties. As collectors and museums mainly target historical works, his best bid to date is for a painting from this period, less spectacular than his subsequent achievements (Altaï III, 1955/58, sold for £470,000, after a low estimate of £100,000, i.e. $734,000, Sotheby’s London, 10/02/2010).
The last few months have been quieter in the auction rooms for Vasarely, who comes last in this Top 10: his highest bid in 2012 was at £155,000 ($245,000), for Cheyt-Stri, a painting typical of his Vega period where his optical tricks create the illusion of swelling the image (sale at Sotherby’s London, 23 May 2012).

This result remains a useful yardstick to compare with the top artists of 2012, Carlos CRUZ-DIEZ (b.1923), Bridget RILEY (b. 1931) and Jan SCHOONHOVEN (1914-1994).

Carlos Cruz-Diez
This Venezuelan artist, who moved to Paris in 1960, explored both colour and movement in the Fifties. He produced his first Physiochromie in 1959, fixing coloured strips perpendicular to the pictorial surface, which altered the colours of the canvas and created an impression of chromatic radiance, depending on the viewer’s position. This series has triggered enormous enthusiasm in the sales rooms: his record bid incidentally went to Physiochromie 164, a 1965 work that doubled its estimate on 22 May 2012 at Christie’s, finally going for $600,000. Two days before this high point, Sotheby’s sold two major pieces by the artist in New York, when the majestic sculpture Chromo-Interference Mécanique landed $550,000 (1979, 210 cm in diameter, 23 May 2012 at Sotheby’s New York) and Physiochromie No 1.021 $460,000, largely exceeding its estimate (100 cm x 200 cm). Physiochromies of this quality and scope would sell for between $10,000 and $20,000 in the mid-Nineties.

Bridget Riley
Riley took part in the famous exhibition The Responsive Eye in 1965 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, alongside Josef Albers, Victor Vasarely, Yaacov Agam and Richard Anuszkiewicz, when she made her mark as one of the founding figures of Op Art. With her pictorial compositions, the British artist (born in London in 1931) is the most expensive in the Op Art movement and the only one to post eight results of over a million during her career. Her seven-figure works are generally bought by her compatriots, with the odd exception, like Byzantium (1969), which went for €1.32 million ($1.77 million) at Neumeister, Munich, on 23 May 2007. Her all-time record, $4.5 million, makes her one of the most highly-rated Western artists today (Chant 2 (1967) achieved £2.27 million on 1 July 2008 at Sotheby’s London).
Though with no bids of over a million in 2012, the artist nonetheless appears twice in the year’s Top 10 with Tabriz, sold for £380,000 ($597,000), a large acrylic from 1984 (217 cm x 182 cm, 15 February 2012 at Sotheby’s London) exhibited at London’s Tate Britain in 2003, and Cool Place, which fetched its low estimate, £280,000 (nearly $450,000), on 13th October at Sotheby’s London.

Jan Schoonhoven
The surprise in this ranking comes from Dutch artist Jan Schoonhoven and the initiative of the Nul group he founded in 1960 with Armando, Jan Henderikse and Henk Peeters. They shared similar preoccupations with the Zero group in Germany, focusing on objective expression and the elimination of all meaning from painting. Well-represented in Dutch museums and familiar to French enthusiasts (his first exhibition in France took place at the Musée de Grenoble in 1988), his work was little-known in the US until 2010, when he achieved two bids of over $300,000 in New York. The same year, he posted yet another record bid in London with a white relief sculpture in papier mâché: with the £660,000 obtained for Weißes Strukturrelief R 62-1 (1962), he crossed the psychological threshold of one million dollars for the first time.
In 2012, he occupied three of the top ten places in Op-Art, and enjoyed international recognition in the market.