Paris / Giacometti

[03 Jul 2018]

As the Giacometti Institute opens in Paris, Artprice takes a look at the artist’s market in France, as compared with the breathtaking results his works have fetched in New York.

The new Giacometti Institute in Paris

The venue is perfect … a private Art Déco mansion in the heart of Paris’s Montparnasse district, only a short distance from the location of the small 23m² workshop where the immense artist Alberto GIACOMETTI used to work. And… the first thing visitors discover upon entering the Institute is an identical reconstruction of that workshop where the artist spent nearly forty years. This reconstruction work was made possible by his widow, Annette, who had kept everything… the works, the furniture, the objects, the paint palette, the ashtray, even the painted walls that she removed intact… Thanks to Annette’s initiative, visitors get an impressive idea of the artist’s personal universe. The rest of the exhibition reveals treasures that have been kept for 50 years by the Giacometti Foundation. Some of the works – 350 sculptures, 80 paintings and drawings (of which 100 or so will be exhibited in rotation) – are relatively unknown… like his fragile painted plaster ensemble of the Femmes de Venise which had never previously been shown in France. These works – a priori too delicate to be loaned for possible exhibitions outside the Institute – convey exactly the idea Giacometti was keen to express: the fragility of living beings in a constant battle to remain upright. In order to maintain the Institute’s attractiveness, its managers have planned a programme of temporary exhibitions (three to four per year) each of which will shed new light on a particular aspect of the artist’s work. Like many museums nowadays, you will need to reserve your places in advance.

French market versus US market…

Giacometti is one of the most expensive signatures on the global Art Market. Several of his sculptures have crossed the $100 million threshold at auction in the last decade, including L’homme au doigt (1947) which fetched $141 million in 2015. This slender bronze statue, measuring 177cm, generated Giacometti’s all-time auction record for a sculpture in just three minutes of bidding thanks to its power and its rarity. There are six casts in total, including one at the Tate Gallery in London and another at the MoMA in New York. His most prestigious and expensive works are usually sold in the world’s leading marketplaces, i.e. London and particularly New York; but what about the French market?

In two decades, France’s market share in the turnover from Giacometti’s work has considerably eroded compared to America’s. From roughly 9% in the 1998-2008 period, it contracted to roughly to 5.6% in the last decade. Meanwhile America’s share has rocketed from 5% to 64% with the sale of practically all his most prestigious works. The common factor between the two markets is a particularly low unsold rate – around 4% – reflecting highly motivated demand on both sides of the Atlantic.

Despite the reduction in France’s market share, the French market has not dried up completely: 20% Giacometti’s auction lots change hands in France versus 30% in the USA. In numerical terms, over the last 18 months, 51 works sold in France compared with 76 in the United States.
And… last year we saw evidence that the French market can also generate big results on Giacometti’s high-end works. Last October, a sculpture entitled Grande femme II (1960) fetched nearly $30 million – France’s best Fine Art auction result of 2017 – at Christie’s in Paris. Moreover, the work in question was a posthumous cast made around 1980 in 7 copies, plus two artist’s proofs, plus another proof for the Maeght Foundation. This success at Christie’s Paris proves the French market is capable of mobilizing major international buyers. The result was even more impressive considering that on 6 May 2008 another Standing Woman (Grande femme debout II) of the same dimensions but rarer (only 6 copies) fetched a lower price of $27.5 million at Christie’s New York.

Another recent result – although less spectacular – nevertheless illustrates the dynamism of the Parisian market: in March, his Oiseau sculpture (c. 1937) was offered with an estimate of around $37,000 at Sotheby’s Parisian branch. The work attracted a totally unexpected level of bidding… all the way to 21x the high estimate – ending at $783,000. A triumph! This is currently the best French result for Giacometti in 2018, versus five results above the million-dollar threshold in New York since the beginning of the year.