How Helen Frankenthaler’s color-soaked canvases won the art market

In 1972, Frankenthaler began showing with John Berggruen in San Francisco, expanding her national footprint and continuing the steady build-up of interested collectors, although according to Berggruen she was still primarily a US-centric phenomenon. “I felt she was underestimated, undervalued if you mean to say, by virtue of European collectors and museums,” Berggruen said. “His exhibition was more domestic, and so was his success.”
He also noted, however, that Frankenthaler enjoyed a different and larger clientele than Ab-Ex painters like Pollock or, whose works, due to their high prices, were often purchased by a more insular group of collectors. Even today, that broader level of interest persists in Frankenthaler’s aftermarket appearances, according to Pritchard. “A lot of the collectors I work with who research Frankenthaler are not Ab-Ex collectors,” she said. “They have very contemporary collections; some of them are collectors. His work crosses categories, because his color has such a human and instinctive quality.
Frankenthaler’s institutional recognition continued to grow along with the expansion of its national collector base, on display at the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Its market has grown. continued to take on new dimensions during this time as well – by the mid-1980s his works began to appear at auction, often at prices of around $ 10,000 or less, with some paintings sometimes exceeding the $ 100,000 mark. By the 2000s her work began to auction off more regularly at six-figure prices, and by the end of the decade she had carved out a respectable place in the global collecting community.

In December 2011, just a month after Ginny Williams bought Royal fireworks At Christie’s, Frankenthaler died at her home in Darien, Connecticut, aged 83. The following summer, in 2012, Gagosian began representing his estate, relaunching his posthumous market apotheosis and helping to spread Frankenthaler’s Color Gospel across the world. The mega-gallery’s first Frankenthaler exhibition, which took place at its Chelsea location in 2013 and showcased his works from the 1950s, was met with wide acclaim. The gallery will host four more solo exhibitions over the next seven years while promoting its placement in institutional exhibitions in London, Venice, Paris and beyond.

This strong international presence has also started to have a ripple effect in the Frankenthaler aftermarket. The year 2015 marked a turning point in its auction ranking: over four days in May, Frankenthaler broke the million dollar barrier, with his work from 1964 Saturn revisited sold for $ 2.8 million at a Sotheby’s New York sale. In the days that followed, three more of Frankenthaler’s works would sell for over $ 1 million at auction, and two more paintings would break that barrier at the fall auctions later that year. Gagosian’s portrayal went hand in hand with broader canonical reconsiderations of female artists to help produce an extremely robust international market for Frankenthaler’s work, a market initiated at a staggering price tag like that achieved by Royal fireworks last summer.


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