But more recent movements are increasingly making their mark in these spheres.
Works by the Zero group of artists, especially those by Günther Uecker, have been gaining traction internationally for some time now and that trend was reflected in the results across several recent German sales.
Zero to hero
Some 60 years ago the Zero group of artists came into being – it is difficult to find an official starting date. For some, it is the publication of the first edition of the magazine Zero by the core members: Heinz Mack, Otto Piene and Günther Uecker, in 1956. For others, the cooperation predates this event.
What is certain is that the group decided to end their joint ventures after an exhibition in Bonn in 1966. The activities and influence of the individual artists have, however, continued long after the dissolution of the group.
Market interest was further revived by major exhibitions in German museums, held in the last two years.
If there was ever any doubt about who was the leading light of the one-time Zero artists, recent sales have confirmed the prime status of Günther Uecker (b.1930). Results in Cologne, Berlin and Munich were way above those for his one-time partners in art.
Van Ham (28/25% buyer’s premium) in Cologne started proceedings on November 29, when Uecker’s 7ft 7in (2.3m) square composition Both from 2011 came under the hammer.
This late work, which was inscribed on the reverse Hommage à Roman Opalka, was the first ever double-spiral work by Uecker to come to auction and was estimated accordingly at €600,000-800,000.
“The activities and influence of the individual Zero artists has continued long after the dissolution of the group
It had an interesting provenance, having belonged to the private collection of the disgraced and currently imprisoned art consultant Helge Achenbach, and was impounded by the courts.
Before the sale there were – unsuccessful – attempts by Achenbach’s wife to claim the picture as private property, which should not be sold to cover part of her husband’s considerable debts.
Eight international phone bidders did battle with a solitary bidder in the room until a German collector nailed it with his offer of €2.2m (£1.95m).
This result is second only to the £2.2m that Christie’s achieved in March this year in London for Uecker’s Spirale I from 1997.
At Grisebach (25% buyer’s premium) in Berlin on November 30 it was the turn of Fluß (River), a 2ft 11in (90cm) square nail-painting from 1984.
The canvas was annotated in pencil with the names of the German cities Köln (Cologne), Dresden, Weimar and Magdeburg. This time a foreign buyer beat his competitors: a collector from Hong Kong bid €800,000 (£707,965).
Ketterer (25% buyer’s premium) in Munich closed this year’s Uecker-season with a much earlier and more compact piece. Weisses Feld (White Field), measuring 2ft (61cm) square, was executed in 1965 and had been in various German collections ever since.
Bidders from Germany, France, the UK, Monaco, Switzerland and Brazil did their best, but a Belgian dealer was even more resilient: the nail-painting’s hammer price of €520,000 (£460,180) was more than two and a half times the lower estimate.
£1 = €1.13