In the late 1960s, the American artist Sam Gilliam started to make “drape paintings,” wherein he would cover canvases with paint and hang them from the wall without stretchers. The paintings became sculpture, and the paint itself—acrylic pigment mixed with resin—a type of construction material.
Much like the output of his contemporaries (Gilliam came a few years after Morris Louis, Helen Frankenthaler, and Kenneth Noland), his work falls in the Color Field genre of painting, an abstract, postwar movement that turned canvases into flat picture planes. But unlike those same contemporaries, Gilliam has been almost entirely neglected by the art market until fairly recently. This April, his work achieved its highest auction result ever, when a 1969 painting with a high estimate of $60,000 sold for $197,000 at Swann Auctions in New York. In contrast, Frankenthaler’s auction record is $2.8 million; Noland’s auction record is $2.1 million; and Louis’s is just under $3 million, or approximately 1,400 percent more than Gilliam's best.