The big German auctions, which take place every two years, are preparing for their summer season. The sales, which take place in homes across the country in June, don’t have the glitz of a marquee night out in New York or London, but are also filled with much more affordable gems.
Germany enter the season from a position of strength. Unlike almost all other countries, total auctions grew up in Germany last year, by three percent, according to the Artnet Intelligence Report. In December, Louvre Abu Dhabi paid 4.3 million euros for a nocturnal portrait of Georges de La Tour at Kunsthaus Lempertz, making him the most expensive old master ever sold at a German auction house.
But perhaps an even more fortuitous sign for the German market was the announcement of Sotheby’s return to the country after a hiatus of several decades. The international auction house has confirmed that it will start sales in Germany later in 2021 (online at first, with the possibility of live auctions to come). Since closing its offices in Munich, the house has continued to source supplies from Germany, but believes the time has come to resume selling there as well.
It will likely face fierce competition in a landscape dominated by prominent regional houses that tap into historic private collections. Two of these collections are the subject of dedicated sales this month: the contemporary art collection of Thomas Olbricht at Van Ham in Cologne, and a collection initiated by the photographer August sander at Grisebach in Berlin.
Ahead of the sales, we spoke to auction house experts, searched catalogs, and looked at historical auction data to select the most intriguing lots to watch this month.
Elmgreen & Dragset
Adaptation, fig. 20 (2020)
Where it is offered: Contemporary art auction in Grisebach, June 11, Berlin
Estimate: € 35,000 to € 45,000
Why is this desirable: The Berlin auction house is holding a sale to benefit the KW Institute for Contemporary Art on the occasion of its 30th anniversary. (Artists who donate works for sale get half of the proceeds and donate the rest to KW.) The offers reflect the influential institution’s solid experience in showcasing Berlin artists of international profile. Among them is Elmgreen & Dragset, the Scandinavian duo (and Biennale favorites) known for their witty sculptures. This cheeky work, offered at a price competitive with their main market, is characteristic of their practice, but also captures the atmosphere of the year of confinement. The reflective panel adapts to its environment: wherever it goes, it is there.
Other notable highlights: Two artists included in KW’s 30th anniversary exhibitions also contributed to the work. A witty watercolor by German painter Amelie von Wulffen from 2021 is estimated to be affordable at €3,000 to €4,000, competitive with the main market for its work. Meanwhile, José Leonilson’s five-part oil stick from 1988 is a treasure from an unrecognized artist (estimate: €127,000 to €150,000). A major exhibition of his work organized by KW, “Leonilson: Drawn 1975–1993”, is currently on display in Malmö Konsthall.
Zone rifle (1963)
Where it is offered: Karl & Faber Modern Art Sale, Munich, June 14
Estimate: € 180,000 to € 250,000
Why is this desirable: This is a fine example of artist Zero Group Scheggi’s well-known three-layered canvas cutouts, created at a time when the artist was, unsurprisingly, very close to his colleague Lucio Fontana. Notice to bargain hunters: this work was last sold at Sotheby’s Milan in 2016 for € 315,000 after having been kept in the same collection since 1991. It is now back on the market with a lower estimate.
Other notable highlights: Also available at Karl & Faber: the nude Solitude (1896) by Austrian painter Hans Thoma, a painting so modern in appearance that you might think it dates from another century. It is offered at the Old Masters and 19th century art sale on June 16 for a modest estimate of € 25,000 to € 35,000.
Untitled (Skizzenbuch 57 / Ralf) (around 1957)
Where it is offered: Evening sale of contemporary art at Kunsthaus Lempertz, Berlin, June 17
Presale estimate: € 15,000 to € 20,000
Why is this desirable: The East German-born painter AR Penck, a contemporary of Georg Baselitz and Jörg Immendorff, was incredibly prolific, so his prints and sketches circulate frequently in the German market. Yet every now and then a unique treasure emerges. Penck’s first known sketchbook, made when he was just 18 in Dresden, includes 58 drawings in pen, ink, red chalk and pencil. There are portraits of his mother, father and grandmother taking care of daily chores around the house. This sober lot has not been overlooked by curators: it was included in two of his retrospectives, at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt in 2007 and at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2008.
Other notable highlights: A 1991 work by the auction center Yoshitomo Nara, who was Penck’s pupil at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf, brings an estimate of € 180,000 to € 220,000. Penck’s influence is fully visible in this first composition resembling a sketch of a young girl.
Gebogene Spitzen (1927)
Where it is offered: Ketterer Kunst, evening sale, Munich, June 18
Presale estimate: € 250,000 to € 350,000
Why is it desirable: A good work of art always comes with a story. And that of Kandinsky Gebogene Spitzen reflects the chaos and turmoil of WWII. Watercolor on paper – an exemplary composition of his floating geometric shapes – has resurfaced after decades of obscurity. Created when Kandinsky was teaching at the Bauhaus in an increasingly right-wing Germany, he traveled with the artist when he and his wife fled to France. It is not known where it has been since its sale in 1944 through the German dealer Rudolf Probst, that is to say until now. A painting similar in style, size and time period, Better (1929) grossed $ 732,500 at Christie’s in New York in 2017, suggesting that this work could exceed its presale estimate.
Other notable highlights: Other Bauhaus treasures include the first portfolio of the original cohort of the Bauhaus school in Weimar from 1921. The collection of woodcuts, prints and lithographs by artists such as Paul Klee and Oskar Schlemmer is estimated between 150,000 and 180,000 €.
Untitled # 359 (2000)
Where it is offered: Van Ham, ta Collection Olbricht, Cologne, June 23
Estimate: € 15,000 to € 20,000
Why is it desirable: This photograph, number five of an edition of six, has a good CV. It was exhibited at the Museum Folkwang, in Essen, in 2007; Kunsthalle Krems in 2010; and, of course, at Thomas Olbricht’s private museum, now closed, in Berlin. Considering the small-run edition, this lot is a steal; another work by Sherman d’Olbricht – also in a series of six – hammered in €15,000 last fall in Van Ham, according to Artnet’s price database. Sherman has since joined Hauser & Wirth, which is expected to further drive up prices in the primary market.
Other notable highlights: If you’ve found yourself on the waiting list for a Katharina Grosse painting, now is your chance. Fat is tall Untitled (2015) (estimate: €300,000 to €500,000) was presented six years ago in his solo exhibition “The Smoking Kid”, the first exhibition at Johann König’s newly renovated Church of St. Agnes.
To pursue Artnet news on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest news, eye-opening interviews and cutting-edge reviews that keep the conversation going.