Sales that Shook the Art World

Prince’s series Cowboys was produced from 1980 to 1992, and is ongoing.

Cowboys by Richard Prince

FEATURE IMAGE: Richard Prince (B. 1949) | Untitled (Cowboy) | ektacolor print | 47 5/8 x 71 3/8 in. (120.9 x 181.2 cm.)
Executed in 1995. This work is number two from an edition of two plus one artist's proof.

The series consists of photographs taken of photographs. The source photographs are cigarette advertisements of the Marlboro Man, which depict a man riding a horse in an idealized and masculine manner.

Prince perhaps intended to question the authenticity and reality of photographs, in particular media and advertising images, and specifically this rich symbol of American culture.

Prince cropped the photographs to remove any text and Marlboro branding, in order to decontextualize the image. In 2005 Untitled (Cowboy) sold for $1M at Christie’s Auction in New York.

Despite the fact the price tag is much less than many other artworks sold at Chrisite’s Auction, the sale drew a lot of attention and controversy due to the image appropriation Prince had employed.


In 2015 Irish conceptual artist Kevin Abosch sold a photograph of a potato for a just over $1M.

Potato #345 by Kevin Abosch

A collector seen the artwork whilst visiting Abosch’s home in Paris and purchased it straight from his wall. Abosch remarked; “We had two glasses of wine and he said, ‘I really like that.’ Two more glasses of wine and he said ‘I really want that.’ “

Abosch is well known for his photographic portraits of celebrities, made against a plain black background, which can cost up to several hundred thousand dollars to commission.

Recently the artist sold a crypto-artwork for over $1M, paid in cryptocurrency.

The digital artwork entitled ‘Forever Rose’ sold on Valentine’s Day to a group of ten collectors, who all own 10% of the artwork.


In 2014 Peter Lik made the claim that he had sold the world’s most expensive photograph titled Phantom, for a total of $6.5M.

Phantom by Peter Lik

There has been much controversy and criticism around the sale. Phantom was sold to a private collector who has remained anonymous.

Some sources have claimed that Lik is artificially inflating his own market and some have questioned the truth of the sale.

Lik’s practice has drawn much criticism from the fine art world, which has failed to recognize and endorse Lik’s work. At auction Lik’s work has failed to fetch more than $16, 000, making it harder to believe the authenticity of the $6.5M sale. Nonetheless, Lik has caused controversy and stirred up debate about how prices are dictated inside and outside the world of art collecting, purposefully or not.


In 2017 Jean-Michel Basquiat’s painting of a skull became the most expensive artwork sold by a U.S. artist.

Untitled (head) by Jean-Michel Basquiat | 1981

Selling for $110.5M, the sale caused waves at Sotheby’s auction and in the art world.

Basquit was born in Brooklyn, New York and rose to fame at a young age. He passed away at 27 years old, from a heroin overdose.

The $110M piece was painted when Basquiat was only 21 years old. Japanese collector and online fashion mogul Yusaku Maezawa acquired the painting.

Basquiat gained huge popularity as a neo-expressionist artist with his fusion of graffiti, iconography and Afro-Caribbean imagery.


In 2011 Andreas Gursky’s photograph ‘Rhein II’ sold for $4.3M, making it at that time the most expensive photograph ever sold.

The Rhine II by Andreas Gursky

Gursky digitally removed details such as dog walkers and a factory building to construct the very minimal composition. In regards to the manipulation Gursky commented: "Paradoxically, this view of the Rhine cannot be obtained in situ, a fictitious construction was required to provide an accurate image of a modern river."

The Rhine II was sold at Christie’s Auction to an unknown buyer. Christie's described it as "a dramatic and profound reflection on human existence and our relationship to nature on the cusp of the 21st century".

Gursky is a prominent figure in the movement of photography into the fine art gallery and is one of the very few photographers to have obtained such high prices for his works, as only paintings have mostly managed to do so.


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