Pip McGarry, Snow Leopard and Cub

Art Market: Birds, Beasts and Bottles

With the market almost back to full buoyancy and the autumn art fairs gearing up, there are a few exciting things coming up to thrill the collector. Two on my radar are snapshots of American history and culture that we still understand today.

The Birds of America by John James Audubon will go on sale at Sotheby’s in December and is expected to sell for between £4 million and £6 million ($6.2-9.2 million). A similar copy reached a record-breaking $8.8 million in 2000, making it the world’s most expensive book.

Since Audubon (1827-1838) painted these glorious images – from flamingo to eagle – at life size, it could also be the world’s largest book. Only 119 copies were ever printed, and most are held by museums, universities and libraries, so it hardly ever comes up for sale.

Considering the decimation of American bird species since then, it’s well worth the price, as well as being a gorgeous object to behold, and a labour of love to admire.

At the other end of the American historical spectrum, Sotheby’s are celebrating popular icons – both artist and product.

Andy Warhol’s Coca-Cola 4, Large Coca-Cola and Roy Lichtenstein’s Ice Cream Soda are expected to reach $20-25 million and $12-18 million respectively at the sale on 9 November in New York.

Both dating from 1962, the works are simple yet powerful statements about consumerism and popular culture. They defined an era yet still hold meaning for us today, both in terms of the lifestyle they represent and the influence that America has exerted over the world in the 40 years since they were painted.

Pop never seems to go out of style – Guy Portelli’s contemporary sculptures last year gave us a modern take on popular culture, while Warhols and Lichtensteins continue to command huge prices. Perhaps not quite as high as the staggering £36.4 million ($71.7 million) achieved by Warhol’s Green Car Crash in 2007, but still respectable enough to make it worth collecting a few when you can.

If your taste doesn’t run to pop bottles and birds, there’s always the master of the high prices (no, not Van Gogh). Picasso, voted Britain’s favourite artist last year, can still set auction rooms a-flutter. Watch Christie’s, 26-27 October, when Picasso is joined by Munch, Braque, Chagall and Cassatt, among others.

And if you prefer your art to be more traditional, then wildlife is experiencing a resurgence that is seeing record prices – Pip McGarry holding the UK’s record price for a living wildlife artist with his Flight of the Zebras at £29,300 ($57,985) at Christie’s.

Credit crunch? It’s going to be a great year.


Image above: Pip McGarry, Snow Leopard and Cub (18×14 ins), courtesy of Drang Gallery