PAI Opinion: David Hockney – the biggest Splash?

Installation view at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Courtesy of The Conversation.

Have you seen the video of the two-year-old confidently playing a game on an iPad? It is fascinating. Apple did not realise what it had created in 2010, perhaps innocently. And neither did David Hockney.

As soon as he heard there was an iPhone with a bigger screen, the British contemporary art giant had to have one. Then there was no stopping him: Hockney would use the ‘Brushes’ app to create on-the-go, drawing idyllic landscapes in the UK and US.

Although some of his iPad works have now been exhibited and sold for as much as $50,000, back then Hockney’s market was yet to explore its potential. He ranked 181 among 500 artists for auction revenue that year, with a total turnover of $7.8m. And his top hammer price was $1.8m.

Today, Hockney is a name on every serious art collector’s radar. His iconic Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972) sold for $90.3m in 2018 – which set the highest price for a work by a living artist and still holds his current auction record – making Hockney the 6th leading artist worldwide by sales.

His works achieved a total of $206.5m that year.

A glance back at his 2010 prices, now left in the dust, will show a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of a phenomenal 50%. And this does not include totals reached through private sales.

Hockney continues to stay in demand, what with his much-anticipated The Splash (1966) painting achieving $23m just last week. And the van Gogh-esque 30 Sunflowers (1996) will head to a Sotheby’s Hong Kong sale in April with a price tag of $10m.

So, what might we expect in the next 10 years? According to CAGR, Hockney’s works will amass $2.8bn, through auctions, in 2030. That is, of course, if there are enough works in circulation in the market. He admitted to retaining ownership of between a third to half of his pieces “to keep what I consider to be the best ones”.

And at the rate at which technology is being woven into the art world, perhaps digital sketching will take centre stage. Hockney could have pre-empted a movement – wielding his iPad. All we can say: hold on to your paddles.