Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild (809-4), 1994
Offered at Sotheby’s London, October 12, 2012
Estimated at £9–12 million
Sold for £21.3 million ($34 million)
When German contemporary painter Gerhard Richter’s “masterpiece of calculated chaos” (Sotheby’s words) appeared on the block during London’s Frieze week in October, there was controlled chaos in the salesroom as five minutes of heated bidding drove the price to nearly double the high estimate, a clear indication that Sotheby’s had calculated conservatively.
The final figure not only notched the Richter scale but set a record for any work by a living artist.
The impeccably blue-chip Richter, 80, is known not only for abstract works like this one but for a unique style of blurred photorealist painting that he created. He also makes glass sculptures and designed a stained-glass window for the cathedral of Cologne, the city in which he lives.
The previous record for a living artist—$28.6 million—had been set in 2010 at Christie’s New York by a Jasper Johns flag painting. Richter’s previous personal record was set just last May, when another Abstraktes Bild went for £13.5 million. The current record-holder has an appealing provenance: it was consigned by guitar virtuoso Eric Clapton, a blue-chip man himself.