The Czech art market saw another record-breaking year in 2016. Although final data for the past year are not yet available, it is clear that the overall turnover at Czech auction houses will exceed one billion crowns. The favorable result was affected by a number of record-breaking sales both at Czech auctions and abroad. A painting by František Kupka broke the Czech art auction record, selling for 62 million crowns (around 2.29 million euros). Another painting by the same artist also set an international record, when it sold in Sweden for nearly 70 million crowns. I discussed the latest developments on the Czech art market with Jan Skřivánek, editor in chief of Art and Antiques magazine:
“It is obvious that this will be a record year in history so far. The overall turnover at Czech auctions will be more than one billion crowns, which is a record high price. In November alone, the turnover was higher than for the whole of 2006.
“We have also witnessed record prices for Czech art not only at auctions at home but also abroad. We saw the highest ever sale of a Czech painting, by František Kupka, which sold in Stockholm for around 68 million crowns. Two weeks later there was another Kupka sold in Prague for 62 million crowns. So we can see that prices for this particular artist have reached record levels.
“For me personally, the most surprising sale abroad happened at the beginning of December, when a painting by Zdeněk Sýkora from mid 1970s sold for more than 12 million crowns. This makes Zdeněk Sýkora the most expensive post-war Czech artist, taking over Mikuláš Medek who held this title until then.”
You mentioned two painters, František Kupka and Zdeněk Sýkora. What kind of art was most sought after this year?
“In general, and this has been true for the past ten years or so, the most sought for art at the Czech art market is classical modern art or paintings from the first half of 20th century, artists such as Emil Fila, Toyen, Jan Zrzavý and others. So this hasn’t changed.
“What we have witnessed for the past years is that there is a greater appreciation for real masterpieces, paintings that are in some sense unique, because of their position in the whole context of the artists’ work. For such paintings collectors are willing to pay even higher sums than we could imagine two or three years ago.”
What about other works art?
“I would say it is mainly paintings, and then some statues and she photography. Again, if it is something unique, some masterpiece, in a sense, prices would go to levels that are highly above average. So we regularly see that artists, who sell for an average of around 200,000 crowns, are sold for half a million or even more when something really unique comes up for sale.”
What would you say were the main factors behind this years favorable trend?
“I think it is mainly the shape of Czech economy. The collectors are richer and they are looking for other opportunities to spend their money. And if they see that the best art works are getting more and more expensive, they want to join in.”
“Even though I said Czech art was doing very well at auctions abroad, it was bought mostly by collectors from the Czech Republic. So it isn’t about foreign buyers suddenly discovering Czech art, but about Czech collectors being ready to pay higher prices than anyone else.”
And have you noticed any change in the type of buyers and bidders who participated at the auctions last year?
“Not really. I don’t think so. The problem is that we often don’t know who the buyer is, because many auctions only happen via phone or via internet and the collector is not present at the sale.
One thing which is positive is that more and more people are open about the fact that they are buying art. Last year there one important collection of contemporary art was introduced. It is owned by Robert Runták and it was exhibited in Litomyšl this summer.
“In the beginning of September, there was a major gift by Mr. and Mrs. Zemanovi, who donated their collection of modern and contemporary art to the Ústí and Labem region. Their collection will be permanently exhibited in Žatec. The price of the whole collection and two historic houses in the old town of Žatec, which are part of it, is estimated at 750 million crowns.”
“That again is a sign that being a collector and wanting to appreciate art is not that regarded as something exotic anymore. It has become part of what people do and society society starts to find it normal.”
“I think so. Really, the art could not function well if the institutions, museums and galleries are underfunded and don’t put up new exhibitions. The same applies to private galleries and private collectors. Without them, the art scene will never fully develop and will never work well, so it is important that people collect or buy art.”
Would you say there is still some area, in particular in Czech art, which has not been yet fully discovered by buyers or collectors?
“In terms of prices, I think it is still post-war art. Even though I mentioned the record sale of Zdeněk Sýkora, number of other artists are still relatively cheap. I use the word relatively, because their prices have already reached hundreds of thousands of crowns, but I think it won’t take long before they exceed one million crowns. These artists have been well established in art-history books, and their prices are likely to go up in the future.
“Another thing where there is still space for development is contemporary art. Even though I said more people were buying contemporary art, I think there is still space for improvement. For many people who are quite well-established it is still not normal to own a piece of art, so this something that could change.
“Some people might say that contemporary artists are too expensive, but when we compare the prices of the currently most expensive artists, such as Emil Filla and Toyen, with how much they sold for back in 1920s or 1930s, we see that the prices remain more or less the same. The only trick is to find an artist who will be interesting even in 80 years’ time.”
Finally, what are your predictions for the upcoming year? Do you expect the favorable trend to continue?
“If the economical situation in the Czech Republic or in the whole of Europe doesn’t go through some dramatic change, I don’t see a reason why the art market should slow down. The question is, however, how many more masterpieces there are still available on the market. A number of artworks have recently ended up in private collections and they might not reappear on the market for a number of years. So it is a question of how many new things can come up for sale.
“My prediction is that in terms of prices, the situation will stay the same. I think this year will stay a record year for some time and the overall sales will not be so high, not because the prices would go down but because there won’t be so many paintings worth dozens of millions of crowns. It really takes only a few paintings to influence the results for the whole year.”