Collectors Led to Color Red
Recently at Sotheby’s, London, five of the six highest-selling lots could all have very well been (very) expensive Valentine’s Day presents.
Besides being considerably important works of art by the biggest names in Contemporary Art, all of the canvases had something more basic in common: they were all predominantly red.
Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network should be aware of the power of acquiring red colored art.
It has been recently pointed out that the color red tends to enhance the value of a work of art. Alex Brancik, head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art department in London, admitted to the AP that when they are pricing things, they are “aware of the power of red.”
The star of the sale – and the most red of the night – Gerhard Richter’s, Wand (Wall), sold for $28.7 million, the third highest price ever paid at auction for a work by the artist. With this, five out of the top six most expensive Richters are red.
The second highest selling lot at the sale was a Cy Twombly, who added striking red strokes and clumps to a traditional gray ground to send Untitled (Rome) up to $20 million.
Three more red lots followed, Andy Warhol’s Mao came in at a cool $12.5 million, another Richter at $6.6 million and a striking red molten plastic Alberto Burri sold for $6 million.
Who is the audience bidding up prices at these blockbuster sales? It’s increasingly global. Christie’s has recently reported that nearly one in three of its customers were new in 2013, many of whom came from emerging markets such as China.
Sales data backed up these figures, with sales up 31% in the Americas, 30% in Hong Kong, 79% in Dubai and 36% in Asia and the Middle East, with Europe down 12%.
History of Red
The use and importance of the color red in art is ancient. As early as the 2nd millennium BC, Neolithic cave painters in Lascaux, France, were using red earth mineral pigments to highlight black charcoal figures of animals and humans.
The color of blood, it was considered the most important color, associated with life-giving and protective powers.
In Germany during the Middle Ages, red bed-clothes were used to ward off the “red illnesses”, such as fever, rashes and miscarriages. This was depicted in Jan Van Eyck’s 1434 painting, Arnolfini Wedding, which shows the newlywed couple standing in front of their crimson bed drapes.
The history of red fabrics and textiles is lengthy, as the color was considered in many cultures until the 19th century as a sign of wealth and stature in society.
Evidenced by burial linens, regal robes, even Louis XIV of France’s shoes, red was the color of power.
In 1464, Pope Paul II even changed the Cardinal’s robe color to – you guessed it, red. From the 15th – 19th century, the reasoning for this was mostly one of practicality.
Red dye was (and in some cases still is) made from the dried and crushed body of the cochineal insect, native to South America and Mexico. It became an expensive and highly sought after export commodity in Europe and Asia during this time period, and as such was regulated with laws and social customs.
In Asia, especially China, red has additional associations with luck and joy, stemming from the traditional Theory of the Five Elements, in which red corresponds with the element of fire.
A “red envelope” is a monetary gift customarily given in Chinese society on special occasions and, for brides embracing their cultural roots, traditional wedding gowns are often red.
Many Contemporary art specialists believe that the cultural importance of color to the new and rapidly growing influx of Asian buyers is helping to create the sensation of red art fetching higher prices. A Chinese buyer may consider the purchase to be an auspicious investment that will bring good fortune and happiness.
However, much of the psychology embedded in color theory is simply innate and inescapable. Red is highly visible. It draws attention immediately and causes people to make quick decisions, hence the coloring of fire trucks, emergency lights, and stop signs.
The color of blood and fire, red is automatically considered hot and passionate, associated with the heart (and of course, Valentine’s Day). Its religious associations are evident in Christmas decorations. We even “roll out the red carpet” for celebrities, maintaining the correlation with power and status.
Color theory and its effects have been widely studied, and advertisers certainly consider it carefully. Think about “for sale” signs, “buy now” buttons on websites, countless logos, packaging and products.
Richter, Twombly, Burri, and many other artists throughout history probably took it into consideration as well. After all, (most) artists want to sell their art, and what better color than red to draw attention, make possible patrons feel passionately -and hopefully buy quickly and impulsively.
Sotheby’s must have been aware when they were placing these canvases in the viewing room that attendees would take immediate notice of the bright and primal colored canvases, inexplicably drawn in and connected to the works.
Does red art sell better? Yes. Especially right around Valentine’s Day.