artnet : The 87-year-old artist Paula Rego becomes the breakout star of the Venice Biennale. Will their auction market follow?

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The art world has its eyes on Venice ahead of the opening of the Biennale later this month, a momentous event that has become a star in many artists’ markets in recent years. Interested parties have searched the artist list of Cecilia Alemani’s flagship exhibition at the Biennale, The Milk of Dreams, for any clues as to what to expect, and one standout is 87-year-old Portuguese-British artist Paula Rego.

Raised under Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar, Rego’s simultaneously sublime and grotesque, unflinchingly political work is popular with curators. She has received much museum recognition lately and was recently celebrated with an expansive retrospective at Tate Britain, which has just been a guest at Kunstmuseum Den Haag and opens at Museo Picasso Malaga later this month. She is also currently the subject of a solo show at the Arnolfini in Bristol until May 29th.

In Venice, during the opening of the Biennale, Rego’s Gallery Victoria Miro will double the moment with a solo show at their city outpost. titled”mysteries of faith,” the exhibition consists of a series of works from 2002 depicting episodes in the life of the Virgin Mary, depicting the saint as instinctively more human than the ethereal depictions we know from art history. It will be a rare treat for the market as Rego has been slow in production and has hitherto retained many of these works in their own collection, with a work descent from the crossthat hung in her bedroom for years.

For this occasion we used the Artnet price database to take a look at what has been happening in the Rego market over the last few years.


the context

Auction record: $1.8 million realized at Sotheby’s London in July 2015

Rego’s performance in 2021

Lots sold: 48

Bought: 3

sell-through rate: 94.1 percent

Average selling price: $48,146

Mean Estimate: $42,224

Total sales: $2.3 million

Top painting price: $1.6 million

Lowest painting price: $1.6 million

Lowest total price: $938 for a color lithograph of 100 or more.

© 2022 Artnet Worldwide Corporation.


The review

  1. peak of the market. Rego’s secondary market peaked in 2015 when her work generated combined sales of $3.4 million, the same year that her auction record was set. But the following year, supply tightened and overall sales fell 79.5 percent and continued to decline through the end of 2020.
  2. Behind closed doors. While Rego’s auction record is $1.8 million, as is the case with many living artists, that doesn’t tell the whole story about their prices. Regos Larger paintings have cost up to £3 million ($3.9 million) on the primary market, and works have fetched up to £6 million ($7.9 million) privately on the secondary market. Prices for works in the Miro exhibition in Venice range from £40,000 to £300,000 ($52,400 to $393,000).
  3. supply shortage.Rego is slow in production, often making fewer than ten works a year, most of which go to museums and dedicated private collectors who are unlikely to turn around. Secondary market supplies have been consistently tight, with only 44 paintings having been offered for auction to date, and only five having come to market in as many years. Within a year, no more than 55 works were offered across all media.
  4. Ascending trend. As might be expected, after a major museum exhibition at Tate, Rego’s secondary market rallied in 2021, delivering her second-highest auction price of $1.6 million and catapulting her overall sales by 866.5 percent year-on-year. Last year 989 users searched for Rego in Artnet’s Price Database.


bottom line

The way Rego’s politics meets figuration in her work – which explores challenging issues such as fascism, abortion, migration and depression – may mean that some collectors may find them more appropriate for a museum setting than the dinner table. Additionally, her ties to various historical movements coupled with the fact that she is still a living, working artist makes it difficult to categorize her in easy-to-sell market trends.

However, the Rego market is changing. She left her longtime gallery Marlborough for Victoria Miro in October 2020 and it will be fascinating to see the fruits of the transition (Cristea Roberts is representing the artist in print). While there is activity in the primary and private secondary markets,Auction supply is tight, so this data can only tell us so much about what’s going on.

Until now, Rego has hardly been a market darling, but her work has garnered a consistent, engaged audience who appreciate her talent as a painter as well as her historical significance – her 1998 abortion series is credited with helping to liberalize the laws around her Portugal. It will be interesting to see if more works appear in the public domain now that their work in Venice has become more widely known around the world – especially at a moment when many collectors are keen to add significant works by previously underappreciated artists. especially women, to their collections.

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