2016: The Year in Review Market

The 2016 Art Market’s Winner? Eric Clapton, the $74 M. Man


Clapton during a concert in London in 2008.


You know who made out like a bandit in the art market this year? Eric Clapton. That’s right, the guy who noodled long—long—solos over songs about stealing George Harrison’s wife had a better year than probably anyone else selling pictures. And that’s because at Christie’s last month, Eric Clapton—Eric “Layla You Got Me On My Knees” Clapton—sold a work by Gerhard Richter for $22.1 million. And with that, the least talented member of Cream sold the last of the three abstract Richters that he picked up in a single lot, in 2001, for $3.4 million.

Those three works reaped a total of $77.3 million over the past few years. Clapton netted a profit of $74.1 million. Darling won’t you ease my worried mind.

Here we present a few primary source snapshots about Eric Clapton, British bluesman and art market genius.

Even now, [Marian] Goodman says, [Richter] has increased his prices, at her urging, only so much to make up for that disparity and discourage speculation; new paintings that would probably go for $20 million at auction are priced at well under half that, closer to $5 million. Randy Kennedy, The New York Times, December 16, 2016

“As with his music, Mr. Clapton’s taste is eclectic, highly personal and strongly rooted in tradition,” said Brett Gorvy, Christie’s director of contemporary art. “It has been assembled by someone who has not been affected by the vagaries of fashion.” —”Names and Faces,” The Washington Post, April 3, 1997

Days after the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, three New York media moguls arrived at a plan to throw their weight behind a spectacular benefit that would raise tens of millions of dollars and help lift the city’s spirits…With top tickets at the Garden going for $10,000, the concert is boasting the type of musical lineup usually reserved for the daydreams of rock fans, with performances by Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, the Who, and Bono and the Edge from U2, among many others. Jesse McKinley, The New York Times, October 19, 2001

The sale featured a group of German artists, and the results were mixed. One casualty was a Gerhard Richter, ‘Volker Bradke (1966), a portrait of one of the artist’s assistants. It was estimated at $3 million to $4 million, but nobody bid. But the artist’s Abstract Paintings (1994), more than doubled its estimate, bringing $3.4 million. Carol Vogel, The New York Times, November 15, 2001

The audience was fairly refrained for Osaka, where punters are generally thought to be more responding than those of Tokyo. However, “Cocaine” gave a shot (no pun intended) to them, those on the ground floor getting to their feet. From “Layla” onward, almost all the rest on the tiers joined them, coming to the heated end. A review of an Eric Clapton show in Osaka, Japan on November 19, 2001

A high gloss was applied to the results of last week’s contemporary art auctions in London when a luxuriant abstract painting by Gerhard Richter established a new record for a living artist, selling at Sotheby’s for £21.3 million. Rock star Eric Clapton, who bought it for one tenth of the price in 2001, timed the sale well. In the past four years, Richter’s decorative abstract paintings, of which there are hundreds, have become status symbols among the world’s super rich—Roman Abramovich and Lily Safra, who gave hers to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, being among the top buyers at auction. The Telegraph, October 15, 2012

Following suit were Jean-Michel Basquiat‘s Untitled for $29 million and Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (809–1) for $20.8 million. Both aforementioned items were included in the top lots of the evening’s sales. Art Observed, November 13, 2013

Just weeks after the 9/11 tragedy in 2001, the guitarist acquired, in a single lot at Sotheby’s, three Richters that all debuted at Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London. The price tag for all three was $3.4 million. After the sale tonight—where Abstraktes Bild (809-2) was bought by Chicago dealer Paul Gray for $22.1 million—those three works have netted Clapton $77.3 million. Nate Freeman, ARTnews, November 16, 2016

It’s late in the evening; she’s wondering what clothes to wear
She puts on her make-up and brushes her long blonde hair
And then she asks me, do I look all right?
And I say, yes, you look wonderful tonight
Eric Clapton, “Wonderful Tonight,” 1977

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