Slovak Art Market in 2014

Collectors and investors spent almost 5 million euros at auctions organised by three Bratislava auction houses last year, and thirty paintings sold for more than 30,000 euros each, which is the equivalent to one million Slovak korunas.

The most expensive work of the year was the painting Spectators by Cyprián Majerník, which sold for more than 145,000 euros at a May auction organised by Art Invest. The achieved price is the second-highest ever for a Majerník painting. “When we have a good painting, everyone cries that it’s expensive. And it is still half the price of a Toyen work,” Art Invest gallery owner Michal Volčko says, soberly commenting on last year’s record. “We have our own circle of collectors and we are building on it,” he adds.


The overall turnover of the Slovak market fell by one fifth year-on-year. The 2012 results were significantly boosted by an extraordinary auction organised by Soga, at which a collection of paintings and drawings by Ladislav Mednyánszky was offered, fetching over one million euros alone. However, there were also fewer “million-koruna works” and artist records. With the exception of Miloš Alexander Bazovský, whose painting Axe finished ninth, all artists in the top ten had been auctioned for higher prices in the past. Whereas one would need 1.4 million euros to buy the ten most expensive paintings in 2012, last year one would have spent160,000 euros less. None of the paintings auctioned last year joined the all-time top 10. Bazovský’s painting was interesting not only because of its record price of 106,000 euros, but also because of the fact that the buyer was the Slovak National Gallery, according to the website of the auction house which sold the work.


For the first time since 2010, no work by Andy Warhol, who is very popular among Slovak collectors, made it to the top 10. The most expensive Warhol screen-print sold at auction, a set of four graphic works featuring St. Apollonia, fetched 69,000 euros and finished only 14th. The Soga auction house says, however, that it privately sold four Warhol portraits of the Danish queen for 170,000 euros, which would be enough for a new record. The portfolio had originally been offered by the auction house at its auction at the end of 2012, but remained unauctioned.


Classic modern artists traditionally fetch the highest prices, led by Martin Benka with three paintings in the top 10. In connection with a large exhibition of Košice Modernism, which is underway at the East Slovak Art Gallery until the end of May, there was speculation as to whether the preparations for it might be reflected in the art market and whether as yet unknown works by its representatives would come up for auction. However, this has not happened yet and Michal Volčko, who has been collaborating closely with the organisers, is quite sceptical that something like that will come about. “The exhibition has uncovered only a few new items so far. I have been looking for them specifically for twenty years and there really are very few of them,” he explains. “Košice Modernism was an important cultural phenomenon in its time, but it wasn’t as if any artist sold much back then,” he adds. 


The most frequently encountered “Košice” artist is František Foltýn, the only Czech representative in the international circle of artists who settled in Košice at the beginning of the 1920s. Last year, two of his paintings from that era, A Landscape from Mukacheve II and A Stone Quarry near Košice, sold for 136,900 euros and 61,400 euros, respectively, at Soga auctions. However high the prices may be, Foltýn’s paintings have already been auctioned for higher prices. The somewhat larger A Landscape from Mukacheve sold for 191,000 euros in 2011.


Whereas imports from abroad are important for the Czech market, works by Slovak artists appear less frequently at global auctions, according to Michal Volčko. “In five years, I have encountered one Weiner-Kraľ in Paris and another one in London, one Benka in Sweden, a Jasusch in Germany, and a Bauernfreund in London,” he recalls from memory. “And just recently one Foltýn appeared in Prague,” he adds with a smile, referring to the painting A Girl with a Red Bow in Her Hair, offered this January by the Adolf Loos Apartment and Gallery.


The most expensive post-war artwork sold was a kinetic piece by the eighty-four-year-old Milan Dobeš entitled A Pulsating Rhythm from 1965. The new owner offered 29,000 euros for it at a Soga auction in April. A more recent piece by Dobeš, Central Gravitation (Green) from 2010, sold for 27,000 euros only a few days earlier at a White & Weiss auction. “Dobeš is an exception; otherwise there is not much interest in post-war art, maybe a bit in the Galanda Group. Many collectors bet on certainty and buy only what has already sold,” Michal Volčko says. When asked what he expects from this year, he replies: “I’m an optimist. We have a strong base of medium-range collectors who are interested in graphic art and we try to promote collecting through exhibitions. No one has a crystal ball, but I think things will progress.”


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