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A Close Look at Giacometti’s Market Trend

Alberto Giacometti’s (1901-1966) trend in the current art market has recently become part of the popular cultural consciousness due to the astronomical purchase of L’Homme qui Marche I, 1960 at Sotheby’s London Impressionist and Modern Art evening sale on February 3, 2010. With the price realized at $104.3[1] million, this bronze cast broke the world record price for a work of art sold at auction.[2] Notably, Giacometti’s Grande Femme Debout II, 1960 set the record auction price for sculpture in 1987 at $3.63 million, sold at Christie’s New York.[3] In order to conduct a successful investigation of why these sculptures have warranted such high prices, it is necessary to analyze the state of the economic climate when these works were purchased. Moreover, the issues associated with cast sculpture, particularly the concept of the numbered edition, must be discussed, as each Giacometti comes from a series. It is interesting to note that in 1987 he set the record for sculpture and in 2010 he set the record for all art. This notion sheds light on the broadened appeal of Giacometti’s signature style, the nature of the art market as a whole, and can serve to predict where sculpture, as a specific, niche market is going. In this paper, the historical sale dates of 1987 and 2010 will set the framework for which Giacometti’s market trend will be traced and analyzed. Understanding Giacometti’s market progression over time through a focus on historic sales will reveal how the master has continued to be such a hot commodity.[4]

Financial Markets and The Art Market: Historic Auctions/Record Breaking Prices Despite Economic Dips

In 1987, less than a month after Black Monday, the great market plunge, the Impressionist and Modern Art auction at Christie’s New York achieved its highest total auction at $35.6 million.[5] Among the sale, was Giacometti’s Grande Femme Debout II, 1960, which sold for $3.63 million, the highest price ever paid for sculpture at auction.[6] The 107-inch bronze figure, in his signature post-war style, was the last and tallest of three female figures by the artist sold at the sale.[7] The New York Times columnist Rita Reif recalled the action in the sale room: “one after the other, each at a price that was higher than the previous one, changing the all-time record at auction for a sculpture and a work by the artist three times in less than five minutes.”[8] Interestingly, despite a rocky economy, Americans purchased these works.[9] Perhaps, American buyers and collectors were intrigued by the fact that these figures were originally conceived as part of a monumental cityscape for the Chase Manhattan Plaza. From the series of six works, the three up for auction on this date were the first ever auctioned from this series. Although the commission was later abandoned, these works marked the last large sculptures completed by the artist before his death in 1966. Evidently, this lack of uniqueness associated with Giacometti’s works - they all come from series - does not hinder his booming market.

Another historic auction for Giacometti also occurred in an extremely unstable economic climate. In 1998, the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached around 8,900 points.[10] Thinking that the financial market had topped out, as it had reached an unrealistically high level, consumers/investors were given pause and wanted to preserve their wealth by holding on to some of the gains generated by this market aberration. In that, the people who made a lot of money from the Dow would go into less speculative investments. Despite concerns that the seemingly unstable world financial market would negatively affect buyers’ confidence, given that nervousness in the salesroom is contagious, making even those who came to bid get cold feet, Christopher Burge, the then chairman of Christie’s in America was optimistic. He claimed, “The indications from collectors worldwide suggest that the art market is still healthy. In the area of top-quality works there will always be buyers, and prices will always be strong.”[11] Therefore, it is not surprising that at Sotheby's New York, on November 16, 1998, Giacometti’s Le Foret: Sept Figures et Une Tête, 1950, a group of tall, slender bronze figures with the bust of a man, thought to be the artist's brother Diego, sold for $6.8 million (estimate: $4 million to $6 million), a then record for the artist. This sculpture was part of a collection of 39 works from the Reader's Digest collection that were sold through the Impressionist and Modern department. [12] Only two years later, on November 8, 2000, Christie’s New York trumped this $6.8 million record for a Giacometti, selling the 106-inch Grande Femme Debout I, 1960, for $13 million, the new record for both sculpture and Giacometti sold at the auction house.[13]

Interestingly, Giacometti sculptures have continued to appear at auction as part of a collection. In December of 2001, with the notorious actions of Sotheby’s former chairman, A. Alfred Taubman, being splashed all over the news[14], the auction house’s specialists “pulled off something of a coup… announcing that [in May] it would sell an impressive collection of modern and contemporary paintings and sculptures formed over a 50-year period by Samuel Malson.”[15] What made this collection particularly interesting was that the most valuable works were not painting, but sculpture, an area of the market that was particularly hot at that point.[16] To demonstrate sculpture’s, specifically Giacometti’s, desirability, on May 8, 2002 at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern art evening sale,[17] the most popular work and only work to achieve a bidding war was Giacometti’s Grand Tête de Diego, 1954. The work sold for $12.5 million, twice its high estimate of $7 million.[18] The price was just above the $12 million Giacometti, Le Foret, 1950, a multi-figural composition, sold at Christie’s on May 7, 2002.[19] Despite an extremely unstable financial market, spawned by the events of September 11, 2001, David Norman, the then co-chairman of Impressionist and Modern Art worldwide at Sotheby’s said in reference to the May 8th sale: “There was definitely a controlled sense to the bidding, yet collectors showed passion and certainly no qualms in investing their resources in art.”[20] Clearly, a common thread exists: an unstable world financial market causes the auction houses to grow increasingly concerned; however, Giacometti’s signature post-war sculpture, in particular, is consistently sold above the high estimate.[21] The reliably buoyant mood inspired by his works returned again in 2005, for the sole reason that Giacometti’s market was bereft of major works during 2003 and 2004.[22]

Indeed, the buoyant mood returned at Christie’s Impressionist and Modern art sale on May 4, 2005. With the increasing market popularity for sculpture, Giacometti’s 66-inch bronze cast Femme Leoni, 1960, which experts aver was the genesis of the artist’s depictions of standing women, was sold for $7.5 million (estimate: $7 million to $10 million).[23] After the sale, Edward Dolman, Christie’s chief executive, said the number of European buyers had increased significantly with the weak dollar, as only 52 percent of the buyers were American. [24] Compared to 1987, when the American presence dominated the saleroom, this 2005 sale was made successful because of the strong Euro. On May 9, 2007, Christie's New York Impressionist and Modern sale confirmed the rise in Giacometti's price index. L’Homme qui Chavire, a 51-inch bronze cast in 1950, smashed the previous record set in 2000 by Grande Femme Debout I, 1960, which sold for $13 million. At the price realized at $18.5 million, the iconic L’Homme qui Chavire nearly doubled its high estimate of $8.5 million. The very same work fetched $2.4 million at Sotheby's New York in 1998.[25]

Just as the sales of 2005 were dominated by Europeans so were the sales of 2008. Despite overwhelming fear that the Christie’s New York Impressionist and Modern art sale would usher in a market meltdown, nerves were quickly alleviated with their extreme success on May 6, 2008. With the weak dollar, prices seemed cheap to Europeans and particularly Russians, whose buying was significant, a mere 32 percent of the purchases were made by American collectors.[26] As Europeans considered the sale estimates bargains, they readily participated in intense, competitive bidding wars, specifically with the rare group of works by Giacometti, catapulting both sculpture and the artist into a new sphere.[27] Seven serious bidders drove his 107-inch bronze Grande Femme Debout II, 1960 way above the high estimate, setting the record price for the artist at $27.4 million.

The increasing market trajectory of Giacometti’s work experienced a short hiatus during 2009, a year that marked an interesting moment in the artist’s market. The Bernard L. Madoff swindle coupled with an already gloomy market seemed to challenge the notion that the sale of Giacometti sculpture was a sure bet. Although high prices were achieved for sculpture earlier in 2009 at auctions in London in February and in New York in November, Sotheby’s, whose May 5th sale totaled a mere $61.3 million, failed to sell the rare Le Chat, 1951 (cast in 1959), which was estimated at $16 million to $24 million. Because there had not been a Giacometti cat sculpture at auction since 1975 (it fetched $130,000 at Sotheby’s New York), art experts were positive of the success of the work at their 2009 sale.[28] Unfortunately, Le Chat came to the market at too precarious of a time. However, at Christie’s New York on May 9th, whose sale brought in $107 million (in between its low and high estimate), Giacometti’s Buste de Diego (Stele III), 1958 was sold for $7.6 million, a million dollars above the high estimate.

Later in 2009, on November 4th at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern evening sale, which totaled over $181 million, proved the art market was as vigorous as it ever was before 2008’s financial troubles.[29] To demonstrate this was the surprising sale of Giacometti’s L’Homme qui Chavire, 1951, which fetched a sale price of $19.34 million, a price way beyond its estimate that some initially considered too aggressive. In light of this sale, Sotheby’s expected that their February 3, 2010 sale of Impressionist and Modern art would reach $19.2 million to $28.8 million for Giacometti’s L’Homme qui Marche I, 1960. Again, their estimate was more timid, than aggressive. The $104.3 million fetched was more than three times the record for Giacometti and had broken the world record price for a work of art sold at auction. Giacometti exceeded his own 2009 total sales revenue with this one single auction record. L'Homme qui Marche I singlehandedly yielded more profits than the 170 artworks (including 22 sculptures) put up for auction in 2009. Interestingly, just as Grande Femme Debout II achieved the record price in 1987 and was initially cast as part of the Chase Manhattan commission, so too was L'Homme qui Marche I. Perhaps, without the weight of cultural history attached to it, Giacometti’s figures most likely would not have soared so high in 1987 and again in 2010. Notably, Giacometti’s work from the same commission reached over thirty times its price from 1987. Clearly, the appeal of these sculptures has grown as their prices have risen. With this February 3rd sale and reflecting on years past, we can come to the conclusion that the very rich did feel the pain of the global financial crisis — just not for long.

Giacometti: An Aberration Among Sculptors – The Desire for Posthumous Casts

On June 22, 2004, Giacometti’s Femme de Venise VII, which was conceived in 1956 and cast in 1979, fetched an astonishing $3.5 million at Christie’s Impressionist and Modern sale in London. This cast reached an exceptionally high price for a posthumous cast; however, the prices for Giacometti works cast in his lifetime are much higher. Over the past twenty years the trend maintains that despite being posthumous casts, buyer’s enthusiasm for the works does not dampen. This is proven by the events of the September 29, 2002 Christie’s auction in Paris, in which 36 posthumous Giacometti’s were auctioned off from the artist’s estate. Mr. LeBlay of Christie’s felt that the market was strong enough for these sculptures due to the artist’s evident popularity during a weak economy- Giacometti’s price levels rose 78% during 2002 alone. True to form, despite being posthumous casts, the desire for Giacometti was not weakened.[30] This auction helped Giacometti's turnover to rise almost 350% against 2001.[31]  Not only do issues associated with posthumous casts have any bearing on Giacometti’s market value, the notion of the edition has no effect as well. All of Giacometti’s works come from numbered editions, usually 6 with 4 artist proofs. The February 3, 2010 sale of the $104.3 L'Homme qui Marche I, which is numbered 2/6, proves that being part of a numbered edition has no bearing on the artist’s market value. 

Conclusion: Giacometti’s Sculpture, Different Types Call For Unequal Measure

According to Giacometti’s sale records over the past twenty years, single figures, multiple figures, and busts have consistently done better in the market than his more atypical works, such as limbs, noses, and cats. It can be assumed that the former are more marketable and better received by a wider buying pool. However, there is no way to know exactly where the collecting impulse comes from, work is collected for different reasons and meanings.

It is interesting to note that in looking at Giacometti’s market trend over a twenty-year time span, the peaks and valleys formed within the individual graphs correlate.[32] Giacometti’s sculptures of figures, busts, or other have retained similar ratios over time and are similarly influenced by the particular economic climate. This does not mean that their market value is the same, however. In looking at the Dow Jones Industrial Average from 1987-2010 and a significant stock, such as IBM, from 1987-2010, it is evident that their development over time matches with Giacometti’s market progression. Again, the peaks and valleys are aligned, generating the belief that Giacometti’s trend is a reflection of the world financial climate.

Although it is impossible to determine or pinpoint the reason for his desirability and demand for such enormous sums, it seems that his works resonate with a universal humanity, a common man. According to Sotheby’s specialists L’Homme qui Marche I is “both a humble image of an ordinary man, and a potent symbol of humanity.”[33]

 Works Cited

AskArt, AUCTION RECORDS for Alberto Giacometti, 27 February 2010 <http://www.askart.com>.

Artprice: Art Press agency, Art Market Insight TM by Art Price - Art Press agency, Thierry Ehrmann 1987-2009, 1 March 2010 <http://web.artprice.com>.

Impressionist/Modern Evening Sale: Exh. cat., Christie’s, London, 22 June 2004, no. 31, (illustrated).

Impressionist/Modern Evening Sale: Exh. cat., Sotheby’s, New York, 4 November 2009, no. 10, (illustrated).

Impressionist/Modern Evening Sale: Exh. cat., Sotheby’s, London, 3 February 2010, no. 8, (illustrated).

Reif, Rita. "Record Auctions Price for Sculpture," The New York Times 13 May 1987.

Riding, Alan. “For Sale (Maybe): Giacometti’s Legacy; A Proposed Auction Draws Fire in Paris,” The New York Times 24 September 2002.

­­­_____________. “It’s On, It’s Off, It’s On: Twists for Giacometti Sale,” The New York Times 26 September 2002.

_____________. “Giacometti Sale On for Sure,” The New York Times 28 September 2002.

_____________. “24 Giacometti Sculptures Sold at Auction,” The New York Times 29 September 2002.

Melikian, Souren. “With Top Quality Offerings, Sotheby’s Nets $181 Million,” The New York Times 6 November 2009.

Vogel, Carol. "Coveted Collections of Art at Auction," The New York Times 11 November 1998.

_____________. "Inside Art," The New York Times 21 December 2001.

_____________. "Art Sales Bring Strong Prices for a Second Night," The New York Times 9 May 2002.

_____________. "Art Market Bounces Back in 2nd Night of Spring Sales," The New York Times 5 May 2005.

_____________. "Monet and Rodin Set Price Records at Christie's," The New York Times 7 May 2008.

_____________. “Undervalued?” The New York Times 4 May 2008.

_____________. “Attention, Millionaires: Rare Cat Needs Home” The New York Times 27 March 2009.

_____________. “One Pricey Cat” The New York Times 3 May 2009.

_____________. "Picassos Sell at Christie's Auction, After Faltering at Sotheby's," The New York Times 7 May 2009.

[1] This paper includes prices of works that are either hammer price or price realized. Usually the price mentioned will be hammer price, unless otherwise noted.

[2] L'Homme qui Marche I: sold for £58 million, price realized: £65million, for a £12 million-18 million estimate. Giacometti exceeded his own 2009 total sales revenue with this one single auction record. The £58 million L'Homme qui Marche I alone yielded more profits than the 170 artworks (including 22 sculptures) put up for auction in 2009.

[3] It must be noted that all works discussed in this paper were part of an Impressionist and Modern Art evening sale.

[4] Please see charts and graphs attached.

[5] Three weeks after Black Monday, Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern art auction topped $100 million in sales for the first time in its history, a 45% increase from six months before.

[6] This work was part of Barton Lambert’s collection; this collection contributed $17.6 million to the total sale.

[7] The smallest figure, a 92-inch sculpture, brought $2.53 million and the middle-sized woman, at 105 inches, was sold for $3.08 million.

[8] Rita Reif, "Record Auctions Price for Sculpture," The New York Times 13 May 1987.

[9] Ibid. In fact, Michael Findlay, the then head of Christie’s Impressionist and Modern department said, “The sale went half to Americans - and half to the rest of the world…the Europeans were underbidding very very strongly… [They] were underbidding a wide variety of works.”

[10] Information cited: www.marketwatch.com. Also, cited: Carol Vogel, "Coveted Collections of Art at Auction," The New York Times 11 November 1998.

[11] Carol Vogel, "Coveted Collections of Art at Auction," The New York Times 11 November 1998.

[12] Of the 39 Impressionist, Post- Impressionist, and modern works being sold by the financially troubled Reader's Digest Corporation, 33 were sold, and many just squeaked by their low estimates. The collection brought a total of $86.5 million. Lila Acheson and DeWitt Wallace formed the collection. He founded the company in 1922. They began buying art in the 1940's and continued through the 1960’s. The collection was valued at $100 million and consisted of both extraordinary and mediocre works.

[13] This sale totaled $143.6 million.

[14] Taubman was tried and convicted of price-fixing in collusion with Christie’s.

[15] Carol Vogel, "Inside Art," The New York Times 21 December 2001. Vogel writes, “To win the colleciton from Christie’s and Phillips, Sotheby’s offered the Malson heirs a guarantee, an undisclosed sum paid to the seller regardless of the auctions’ outcome. Art experts say it was about $24 million.

[16] The September 29, 2002 auction held in Paris, organized by Christie’s, also demonstrates the hot sculpture market, however, will be discussed in the section dealing with posthumous casts. Although this auction is significant, it is not historic in terms of money spent.

[17] This sale totaled $126 million

[18] The Malsons had bought this sculpture for $5,000 in 1956 at the Sidney Janis Gallery in NYC.

[19] This sale totaled $97.6 million

[20] Carol Vogel, "Art Sales Bring Strong Prices for a Second Night," The New York Times 9 May 2002.

[21] There is one exception: Le Chat, which will be discussed later.

[22] There is one exception in terms of major works, however due to the low hammer price, the auction was not historic. The November 5, 2003 Sotheby’s New York sale sold the 106-inch Grande Femme Debout IV, 1960, for $8.6 million. This price barely squeaked its low estimate of $8 million.

[23] The sale totaled $142.8 million.

[24] Carol Vogel, "Art Market Bounces Back in 2nd Night of Spring Sales," The New York Times 5 May 2005.

[25] Artprice: Art Press agency, Art Market Insight TM by Art Price - Art Press agency, Thierry Ehrmann 1987-2009, 1 March 2010 <http://web.artprice.com>.

[26] The sale had its bumps, as 14 out of 58 works failed to sell because they were considered either too expensive or second-rate examples by first-rate artists. The sale totaled $277.2 million, just shy of its $286.8 low estimate.

[27] Carol Vogel, "Monet and Rodin Set Price Records at Christie's," The New York Times 7 May 2008.

[28] Carol Vogel, "Picassos Sell at Christie's Auction, After Faltering at Sotheby's," The New York Times 7 May 2009.

[29] Souren Melikian, “With Top Quality Offerings, Sotheby’s Nets $181 Million,” The New York Times 6 November 2009.

[30] A Cage, première version (8 copies) fetched the highest price at €1.6 million, double its high estimate, while another 15 works went under the hammer for more than €100,000.

[31] Artprice: Art Press agency, Art Market Insight TM by Art Price - Art Press agency, Thierry Ehrmann 1987-2009, 1 March 2010 <http://web.artprice.com>.

[32] Please see graphs attached.

[33] Impressionist/Modern Evening Sale: Exh. cat., Sotheby’s, London, 3 February 2010, no. 8, (illustrated).

 

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