Price Check is a recurring column that looks into the price of works currently on view at commercial galleries. Have they sold? For how much? Are either or both of these answers shocking compared to the amount the works sold for at auction? The “truth in pricing” law—NY Code-Subchapter 2, which can be viewed in full here—states that all items for sale in New York must have a price tag conspicuously displayed. Galleries don’t always do this, but that’s not the point. The point is simply to ask about the price and see what happens.
Ellsworth Kelly at Matthew Marks
Ellsworth Kelly’s current exhibition at Matthew Marks consists of fourteen paintings and four wall-mounted sculptures divided between all four of the gallery’s Chelsea locations, giving one ample room to experience, say, the monumental painted aluminum Blue Angle.
I introduced myself to a busy-seeming employee. “$2.2 million each,” he responded, in a respectfully low voice. Behind his shoulder, I could see as three or four visitors milled quietly between the five works on view at 523 West 24th Street, tableau-like. One of them, after a cursory look around, stopped across from one of those nearly-camoflauged employees-only gallery doors, given away by its perimeter. It looked like it could be art, if you didn’t know it was just a door. Fascinated, he began snapping photos.
“Thank you, goodbye,” I said.
Alex Katz at Mary Ryan
For “Black Dress: A Suite of New Prints,” Alex Katz silkscreened nine life-size portraits of women in identical poses (hip cocked to the viewer’s left, fingers flicking an invisible cigarette), each wearing a unique style of LBD, styled and accessorized in subtly different ways—classic, sporty, glamorous, vaguely witchy. Each print is given an aspirational name like Oona, Ulla, or Carmen, and each subject smiles at you, the terribly beguiling viewer, from a bright yellow background.
“18,000 each,” said the gallery assistant when I asked, after name-dropping ARTnews. He immediately realized his mistake.
I smiled, showing teeth. “Thank you,” I said, just as he followed up with a “You’re not going to print that though, are you?”
“Oh, yes, I am,” I said, impressed by, and unprepared for, any kind of forthrightness.
“OK,” he said. His face remained placid, but microexpressions of horror flitted across it.
“I have a market column, unfortunately,” I explained, trying to appear sympathetic. “Is that OK…with you?”
“Yeah.” He was blinking rapidly. “You’re going to mention the gallery though, right?”
I assured him I would. $18,000 seems a touch high, by the way—these silkscreens are 80 x 30 inches, and a 40 x 55 silkscreen sold for €11,250 ($12,802.72) at a Ketterer Kunst Munich auction only a week ago.
Alex Katz at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise
These oil on linen paintings by Katz were much larger, some of them the size of an entire wall in my apartment. They were very pleasant—flatly chromatic, depicting pastoral scenes in varying levels of abstraction.
As the exhibition was closing the same day, the West Village gallery was crowded, the people cheerful. Three gallery assistants sat at a long wooden table near the door, engrossed with their laptops as usual.
“Can I ask—” one of them began after I put in my usual request. I braced myself. “Which one you’re interested in?” she finished.
I was moved by her lack of suspicion and/or irritation. “Any of them, all of them,” I said.
“The smallest works are 370, and the mid-range works are 500-600.” (Thousand, in USD; I confirmed.) These prices might be fair, even a little low, but as most of Katz’s oil on canvas works sold at auction in the recent past have been smaller in size, it’s hard to compare. A 67.5 × 50 inch oil on canvas (Ada in the Woods, 1960) sold at Christie’s last November for $365,000.
It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon. Outside the gallery, looking west, you could see the water glittering on the Hudson River. I walked rapidly in the other direction, feeling relieved, and suddenly very hungry.