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Artworks by star artists such as Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami are in high demand as collectors vye to enhance their collection with works by famous names.

Iconic artworks by star artists such as Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst are in higher demand than ever before.

In the ultra-dynamic and perhaps overheated contemporary art market, many super-affluent collectors are chasing trophy art by blue-chip artists. Having the right, must-have pieces enhances a collection and represents a keen desire to own works that may become relevant in the wider context of the history of art. Buying trophy art is also, for some, comparable to owning the latest limited-edition fashion accessories and gives kudos in society circles.

"For many collectors of contemporary art, such purchases are part of a lifestyle that includes expensive cars, chauffeurs, private planes and fashions by designers like Prada, Pucci and Gucci," explains Carol Vogel of The New York Times. Amy Cappellazzo, the international co-head of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie's New York, adds, "Belief in the contemporary art market is at an all-time high. After you have a fourth home and a G5 jet, what else is there?"

The sale of Andy Warhol's 'Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I)' for $71,720,000 at Christie's New York in May 2007, setting a new world record for the artist, is a case in point. The 1963 photo-silkscreen from Warhol's early 'Death and Disaster' series, showing multiple views of an overturned car in smoke and flames, sold for double its estimate, reflecting how Warhol is – as Art Forum puts it – "the art market's top-traded star."

"Andy Warhol is an iconic artist whose name is recognized all around the
world," says Pilar Ordovas, head of Post War & Contemporary Art at Christie's London. "His works are sought-after by a global client base as exemplified by Hong Kong real estate magnate Joseph Lau buying a Warhol portrait of Chairman Mao."

Shopping for art trophies is as old as the market itself. What's changed is the emergence of a greater number of international collectors who are vying for masterpieces and icon-like images by world-renowned artists.

"It's a phenomenon that has amplified in recent years, because of new players who have arrived on the market, not just from the US, but from Russia, China, India and the Arab world," says the art consultant Philippe Segalot, who divides his time between Manhattan and Paris. "These newcomers have arrived with money; some of them are young, ambitious and competitive, and they often start their art collection by buying trophies."

Art trophies are the emblematic artworks that have entered the public consciousness. Think of 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon' by Picasso, 'Shot Blue Marilyn' by Andy Warhol, the 'Rabbit' by Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst's shark – 'The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living', or Maurizio Cattelan's sculpture of the Pope, 'La Nona Ora'.

"One generation makes 10 great artists, and each of them makes two or three great icons," says Segalot. "So around 50 icons are created every 20 years. Having these trophies carries a lot of value, which is why new players want to have them."

However, advisers agree that systematically buying trophies might lead to a "cold" collection that lacks a personal, idiosyncratic vision. "If you buy an icon today, you will be a victim of the market and pay very dearly for the trophy," says Segalot. "It might be better to buy a different, more difficult piece that requires more research by the same artist instead."

Until now, artworks have tended to become iconic years after they were made. In some instances, the artists were struggling financially at the time of the artwork's conception and could never have imagined the trophy status their work would garner. But things are changing.

"When Cindy Sherman made her series 'Bus Riders' in 1976 at the age of 22, she had no idea that her image 'Untitled #366' – which is the most mysterious and emblematic one – would become an icon," says Segalot. "But in today's overheated art world, there are some artists who want to make art trophies. This is true in the case of Damien Hirst, with his artwork 'For the Love of God' (2007), which is priced at $100 million. If it had been sold, which it hasn't, it would have become the most expensive artwork in the world. While the true icons were not produced to become icons but became icons, this one was produced with that intention in mind. The danger for young artists is that they might produce works that they know will please the market. Artists should hold on to their integrity, produce works for themselves, and follow their own path."

Art consultants are reluctant and skeptical about pronouncing a "Top 10" list. Yet it can be gleaned that artists such as Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Sol LeWitt, Gerhard Richter, Daniel Buren, James Turrell, Gerhard Richter, Paul McCarthy and Gilbert & George are among the older generation of blue-chip artists. Following them, from the next generation, would be the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Koons, Hirst, Cattelan, Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Mike Kelley, Martin Kippenberger, Takashi Murakami and Andreas Gursky. Artists such as Matthew Barney, Rachel Whiteread, Luc Tuymans, Lisa Yuskavage, Tom Sachs and Olafur Eliasson are also generating considerable interest.

Many galleries have long waiting lists for the best quality artworks and new collectors often need to rely on a connected art consultant to negotiate a deal on their behalf. Failing to acquire a strongly desired piece can leave collectors reeling. "I've seen tough business people grovel in a way they would never do in their business lives," says Cappellazzo.

Since works by the most covetable artists are extremely expensive, some collectors are actively on the lookout for more affordable, limited edition prints or lithographs. Another approach is keeping a watchful eye on younger artists who may prove to be among the next star-studded generation. "Lists for younger artists are a much more recent phenomenon," says Barbara Gladstone, a gallerist in New York. "It's a function of this excitable market."

Yet waiting lists for young artists can be intensely competitive, too. Two years ago the French-Swiss collector Jean-Pierre Lehmann took The Project gallery in New York to court for refusing to sell him a painting by Julie Mehretu, the 37-year-old Ethiopian-born, New York-based artist.

Under his agreement with Christian Haye from The Project, Lehmann was to have a 30 percent discount on his purchases until he had accumulated a total of $100,000 in discounts in return for his initial investment of $75,000. He was also entitled to a right of first refusal on any artwork sold by the gallery. Lehmann had his heart set on buying a work by Mehretu, whose 'Empirical Construction' was included in the Whitney Biennial in 2004 before being bought by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, but Haye never offered a deal.

Lehmann v. The Project Worldwide was the first lawsuit to arise over a collector's thwarted access to contemporary art. The judge ruled in Lehmann's favor, finding that Haye was in "clear breach of contract." "This case shows the length a collector would go to secure themselves choice material," says Sandy Heller, a New York-based art consultant.

So who are the other young and mid-career artists on people's lips? Anselm Reyle, Adel Abdessemed, Jason Rhodes, Jeppe Hein, Eileen Quinlan, Rebecca Chamberlain, Walead Beshty, Carla Klein, David Rhodes, Heeseop Yoon, Stanley Whitney, Martin Eder and Wangechi Mutu are among those being followed by advisers and collectors.

Indeed, today's huge, global art market has witnessed a proliferation of increasingly more galleries, more auctions, more art fairs, more biennales, and, of course, more artists. This is something that can be overwhelming for newcomers. "I think there are some galleries that are delighted to get rid of material that is not necessarily the best and that people want to buy because it's a name," says Lowell Pettit, a New York-based art consultant who often works with first-time buyers and young collectors.

"The stakes are higher, so it figures that there are going to be more mistakes, more false alarms, and more hype about artists who don't realize their predictions and turn into somebody who will be remembered [within the history of art]. In 16th century Florence, many artists were working but we know about very few of them. There's so much money around today and the market is very vicious."

Pettit warns that collectors should be patient and cautious. "The reality is that there are a lot of consumers who lack the time, discipline and humility to say, 'Wow, this artwork looks great in my living room, but this is not the right one.' Collectors also need to think about other standards, such as having work that they may not want to display continuously but may want to loan to an institution. That's when a gallery is more inclined to sell work [to new collectors], because they know it won't get flipped [sold quickly] at auction."

Due to the intense competition for blue-chip artists, more investors have arrived on the art market realizing that a quick buck can be made. Some have been known to buy works from galleries and then flip them at auctions almost immediately. One collector who purchased a mushroom sculpture by Takashi Murakami from Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York arranged for it to be sent directly to Christie's for a resale. Another bought a painting by Yan Pei Ming from Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac's stand at an art fair only to have it transported straight away to Christie's in Hong Kong, an act that infuriated both the artist and the gallery. These types of actions have contributed to a dramatic escalation in prices on the secondary market, where works can sell for 10 to 15 times more than in a gallery.

Some players in the art market are expecting there to be a "correction" in prices. Pettit believes that some prices of contemporary art seem inflated compared to works from other periods. He refers to how the Metropolitan Museum of Art recently acquired an early Renaissance masterpiece 'Madonna and Child' by Duccio di Buoninsegna for $45 million. Duccio, together with Giotto, is considered one of the two principal founders of Western European painting.

"It is an extremely rare work never offered for sale before, which foregrounds an historic shift from a more stylized, Byzantine treatment of the figure to a more representational mode, a more contemporary, carefully observed rendering of the human figure," he says. "That for the same price and even more, Francis Bacons seem to be flying out of auctions is a curious question. First, is Francis Bacon on the same level as Duccio, and even if so, will any of his single works carry the import of this single Duccio, which is a watershed example?"

To his mind, the similar prices for Duccio and Bacon "demonstrate how much the market has shifted, the new voracious appetite for post-war and contemporary, and perhaps as well, how out-of-proportion some of the activity of late may be. Only history will tell us, but we've already seen at auction a real variety of correction in prices for the Germans from, say, the so-called Leipzig School or even some of the hot new Chinese artists."

Another concern is how long an event like Art Basel Miami Beach can sustain over a dozen offshoot fairs a year, especially given how Miami's real estate market is crumbling, and what the repercussions might be. Private-art curator Todd Levin reckons that the present time "feels like the last days of the Roman Empire."

But the desirability of emblematic trophies is expected to continue to remain strong. "It's normal that collectors want to buy art trophies because they're exceptional works," says Segalot. "The trophies enter the hands of private collectors, which is both good for the market and good for the artists – but the true, iconic trophies always end up in museums."

To find out more, read 'Collecting Contemporary' by Adam Lindemann.
Published by Taschen.
Flexicover 16.8 x 22.6 cm, 300 pages
ISBN 978-3-8228-4940-8
€24.99 or £19.99

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