Fan, 1993

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Explore Sydney Contemporary

Michael Craig-Martin

(Irish, b. 1941)

Fan, 1993
signed, dated and dedicated on the reverse
acrylic on paper, laid down on aluminium
60.9 by 40.6 cm.

Private Collection, United Kingdom (a gift from the artist)
Christie’s, London, 16 July 2008, Lot 159
Private Collection, United Kingdom
Sotheby’s London, 11 April 2018, Lot 17
Acquired from the above by the present owner

AUD $ 30,000

Payment over 10 months with Art Money available

Key Points

  • Fan is an exceptionally early example of Michael Craig-Martin’s brightly coloured paintings of everyday objects, which he started in the early 1990s
  • The work is very well-priced considering that a similarly early work of half the size sold at the same price level earlier this year (see below)
  • Australia is home to the artist’s most famous work, An Oak Tree (1973) in the collection of the NGA, but his recent paintings have not been exhibited here (although the AGNSW owns a similar video work)
  • As a promotor of the legendary Freeze exhibition (1988) and teacher of many of the Young British Artists, Craig-Martin has been incredibly influential
  • He is represented by Gagosian Gallery and his work collected by the Tate in London, Centre Pompidou in Paris, and MoMA in New York

In Context

Although the National Gallery of Australia is home to Michael Craig-Martin’s most famous work, An Oak Tree (1973), he has been largely absent from Australia’s art world. His work was included in two Sydney biennales (1976 and 1990), but his only exhibition here was with the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane in 1978 and the Coventry Gallery in Sydney in that same year – from which the NGA acquired An Oak Tree. That is surprising for an artist who has been so influential not only with his own practice, but also as the teacher of many of Britain’s most famous artists from the 1990s – including Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Gary Hume.

“When we try to understand past civilisations – the stone age, ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Aztecs – we do so by examining the objects they created and used. My work is like an archaeology of the present.”

– Michael Craig-Martin

Having studied at Yale University from 1959-61, Craig-Martin was influenced by minimalism and conceptual art, which is apparent in early works such as An Oak Tree. At the same time, the colour theories of Josef Albers (the former head of the department) and painter Al Held left a lasting impression: as he would later explain: “Everything I know about colour comes from that course.” This influence becomes apparent in his later work, when Craig-Martin turned to painting in the early 1990s. 

Michael Craig-Martin in his studio

Executed in 1993, Fan is an exceptionally early work from this period, if not one of the earliest paintings. Its minimalist yet colourful aesthetic would come to dictate the artist’s late career, and his most recent works echo the lessons learned in these early paintings. Taking everyday objects as their starting point – with the fan being a frequently recurring motif – the items are reduced to their basic outlines, a remnant of the artist’s 1980s wall installations with tape. The shape of the fan, for instance, is described by thin black outlines that separate its light blue colour from the orange background. Although the artist has described his interest in these objects as a form of contemporary archeology (by analysing society through the objects we use on a daily basis), he was undoubtedly also influenced by the Pop artists that dominated the art world when he lived in the United States in the 1960s. As Craig-Martin remarked:

“In a way, I think the 1990s were very like the 1960s. Pop art in the early 60s spoke to a very large audience directly, it was accessible in the way that abstract expressionism had never been. That is exactly what happened with the Young British Artists here.”

– Michael Craig-Martin

Having moved to London in 1966, Michael Craig-Martin would become a central figure in 1990s art history there, not least as one of the promoters of the famous Freeze exhibition in 1988. The paintings such as Fan, which have been the cornerstone of his practice since, have found critical acclaim and have been included in prestigious collections such as the Tate in London and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. 

Comparable works

Michael Craig-Martin, Knowing, 1996, acrylic on canvas, 244 by 266 cm.
Tate Collection, London
Michael Craig-Martin, Eye of the Storm, 2002, acrylic on canvas, 335 by 279 cm.
Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin
Michael Craig-Martin, Deconstructing Piero, 2005, digital animation,
36 by 46.8 cm.
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney


Click to watch the Gagosian video

The market

Despite his decades-long influence in the art world, Michael Craig-Martin’s market is relatively young – only recently have his prices increased to levels appropriate to his status. With a new auction record of AUD 600,000 having been achieved in April 2021, the artist is now finally achieving the prices that his work has deserved for a long time.

The present work, Fan (1993) is still attractively priced compared to recent auction sales of both small early works (with the first example below being half the size), and much later works – both at auction and in the primary market. Considering the rarity of early works such as Fan as well as its historical importance, that makes this a great opportunity to acquire an early piece by one of the most influential living British artists.

Michael Craig-Martin, Untitled, 1996, 41 by 36 cm.
Sold for GBP 13,860 (AUD 25,850)
Sotheby’s London, 15 September 2021
Michael Craig-Martin, Untitled (Yellow Trainer), 2018, acrylic on aluminium,
60 by 60 cm.
Sold for GBP 18,750 (AUD 35,000)
Christie’s London, 7 March 2019
Michael Craig-Martin, Untitled (dumbbell), 2014, acrylic on aluminium, 60 by 60 cm.
Gallery price: USD 35,000 (AUD 48,000)
Reflex Gallery, Amsterdam


Selected solo exhibitions
2019 Gagosian Gallery, London
2017 Hyundai Gallery, Seoul
2015 Serpentine Gallery, London
2015 Shanghai Himalayas Museum
2014 Chatsworth House, Derbyshire
2013 Museum Haus Esters, Krefeld
2010 Goss-Michael Foundation, Dallas
2006 Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria
2006 Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin
2003 Gagosian Gallery, New York
2002 Manchester Art Gallery
1999 Museum of Modern Art, New York
1998 Kunstverein Hannover
1998 Sao Paolo Biennale
1995 Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
1992 Waddington Galleries, London
1991 David Nolan Gallery, New York
1989 Whitechapel Gallery, London
1982 New Delhi Triennale
1979 Gallery Foksal, Warsaw
1978 Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane
1971 Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol
1969 Rowan Gallery, London

Selected collections
Arts Council, United Kingdom
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Baltimore Museum of Art
Berardo Collection, Lisbon
Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris
Budapest Museum of Contemporary Art
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Collezione Maramotti, Italy
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Kunstmuseum, The Hague
Harvard University Art Museum, Cambridge
Kadist Art Foundation, Paris
Kunsthalle Bremen
Leeds City Art Gallery
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Museo Nacional Reina Sofia, Madrid
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
QAGOMA, Brisbane
Tate Gallery, London
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Yale Center for British Art, New Haven

ILEANA at Explore Sydney Contemporary

Walead Beshty, Louise Bourgeois, Dorian Büchi, Michael Craig-Martin, Melissa Gordon, Richard Hamilton, Rachel Howard, Louise Lawler, Tony Lewis, Sol LeWitt, Tim Maguire, Takesada Matsutani, Edda Renouf, Bridget Riley, Peter Schuyff, Stansfield/Hooykaas, Wang Guangyi, Christopher Wool

Presented at Explore Sydney Contemporary (11-21 November 2021)

All artworks © the artist.