Sculpture Rules It All
It was Giacometti who set the ball rolling in 2010. At the Sotheby's auction of Contemporary Art in February this year, he outclassed the proven master Pablo Picasso with his Walking Man I which sold for a record price of $104,327,006 (till February 2010) to an anonymous telephone bidder on 3rd February.
10 bidders competed for this masterpiece from Giacometti. The presale estimate of the sculpture was £ 18 million, but all the anticipations proved to be wrong when the Walking Man 1 surpassed the previous record of Picasso's famous painting Garcon a la Pipe (Boy with a pipe) which was sold at $104,168,000 from Sotheby's, London in 2004.
True, Giacometti did not have the privilege of enjoying a view from the top for a long time. By June, Picasso surpassed him to the top again with his Nude Green Leaves and Bust, selling for $106,482,500, setting a new world record for any work of art sold at auction. The record stands to this day.
But Giacometti's five-month feat at the peak is significant. Sculpture after all is traditionally the province of the wealthy and sophisticated art collector. For starters, sculpture buyers tend to be seasoned art collectors. They are, according to Karen Johnston, president and CEO of Fingerhut Group Publishers in San Rafael, California, “long-time collectors who have run out of wall space and still want to keep collecting art.” In contrast, Johnston describes a typical collector as somebody who would first “buy to fill up their wall space. And many just aren't familiar with sculpture--how many of us, really, have grown up around sculpture?"
In this light, Giacometti's feat is significant both in understanding the renewed appeal of sculptures which has started to gain popularity among collectors as well there is a growing awareness of the health of the market. Frankly speaking, sculptures are not sold easily, and when sculptures start selling, it definitely denotes a return of blood to the market. In other words, to use a cliché the market is showing the initial signs of being in the 'pink of health'. This understanding is especially important in the light of the last two years when the worldwide recession had bled the market to a nearly leukemic state.
Actually, 2010 has turned out to be a very good year for sculpture. On 14th June, Modigliani's 'Woman's Head' was sold for $52.8 million at Christie's Paris auction, setting a record for the artist. Artvest's September issue notes“On (an) average, early 20th century sculpture has significantly outperformed market benchmarks. In the May 2010 Impressionist & Modern evening auctions, 43% of the sculptures achieved hammer prices above their high estimates. Sculptures by Rodin, Noguchi, Bugatti, and Giacometti yielded the auctions' five highest measurable rates of price growth. While lots of Modern sculpture failed to sell at the recent London auctions due to high reserve prices, the sculpture market in general has been quite strong, including at Art Basel. While the rapid and well-publicized price appreciation of Giacometti's sculptures account for part of this market segment's recent upward price movement, there has also been an increase in demand for works by other sculptors of the same class.”
In fact, it was in this year itself that Indian sculptors fetched impressive prices at international auctions. Bharti Kher set a new record at Sotheby's while Somenath Hore, sold at Sotheby's with impressive results. Hore's The Khanjani Player was estimated between £ 130,000 to 150,000. It crossed its higher estimate by an impressive margin and sold for £ 157,250 in the June auction that also featured Tagore's sketches.
Bharti Kher's celebrated sculpture The Skin Speaks A Language Not Its Own established not only a record for the artist at an auction but also a new record for any work by a contemporary female Indian artist at auctions, when it sold for the remarkable sum of $1,493,947 towards the end of June. The life sized elephant is one of the most iconic and most talked about works of art by a contemporary Indian artist.
The sculpture market has seen quite a few ups and downs over the last decade. In a 2002 piece, art-business reporter Rita Kasperek stated, “Sales of three-dimensional art have been fairly one-dimensional the past year… The good news, however, is that there are more sculpture collectors than ever. "There is a much bigger market for sculpture than there was 10 years ago," said Mitch Meisner, owner and president of Meisner Gallery and Meisner Acrylic in Farmingdale, N.Y. "There's also much more awareness of sculpture as a collectible medium." And, due to better casting techniques and new materials, a new type of collector is emerging from the marketplace the low to mid-end buyer, which in the sculpture game, runs from about $500 to $4,000.”
Economic downturns have the greatest impact on the medium-priced market (roughly $3,000 to $5,000). Collectors have to contemplate before they invest their money in art.
Although the higher end of the market always proves stronger, there is an indication that the average sale of even the best selling artists, who can command up to $200,000 per piece, have dropped in the past few years.
Is recovery around the corner? For Meisner, there is "light at the end of the tunnel." Galleries representing his artists are dependent on tourism, and domestic travel seems to have picked up. "We've seen sales come up in March and April," he said.
Evidently this observation in 2002 has a bearing eight years later. Regaining from last year's slump, it is this 2002 market bracket that has matured since and graduated to the million bracket market. And it is this new-found bracket that is mainly responsible for the show sculptures have put on in general over the past one year.
By 2007, Art Market Insight noted that “prices for sculpture have been rising faster than those of painting, with the price index for sculpture reaching a new high in 2007, signifying a growth of 100 times in 15 years.
“This was the first time a Picasso sculpture had sold for more than USD 10 million, outclassing Henri Matisse, his accomplice and rival. In effect, prior to the sales last autumn, Matisse's record stood at USD 12.75 million for La serpentine - La femme à la Stèle - L'araignée, auctioned at Sotheby's NY in May 2000.”
And it was in the same breath that the article predicted, “In addition to Matisse, Constantin Brancusi and Alberto Giacometti could one day supplant Picasso's Dora Maar. Giacometti's record is impressive, with 64 million-ticket adjudications, of which four in the tens of millions.
One had to wait for just three years to see it happen. And for a sculpture premium segment stuff that it is three years is almost next to nothing, especially considering the fact that we have come through the worst economic downturn in recent history.