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Top selling sculptures

[14 Dec 2018]

Every other Friday Artprice offers you an auction ranking that brings to light some of the Art Market’s primary trends. This week, we take another look at the best auction results for three-dimensional artworks in 2018.

The year’s best global auction results for three-dimensional artworks have – above all – rewarded 20th century French artists: Giacometti’s works have elicited five new results above the $10 million threshold; Rodin signed his fourth best-ever auction result with Baiser, moyen modèle dit Taille de la Porte (1890); Matisse’s Nu allongé I (Aurore) (1907) elicited his second best-ever result and a piece by Constantin Brancusi attracted his highest-ever auction result. Only one Contemporary artist competes with these historical figures… Jeff Koons (notwithstanding the current dip in his market).

Rank Artist Hammer Price ($) Artwork Sale
1 Constantin BRANCUSI (1876-1957) 71 000 000 La jeune fille sophistiquée (Portrait de Nancy Cunard) 2018-05-15 – Christie’s New York
2 Jeff KOONS (1955) 22 812 500 Play-Doh 2018-05-17 – Christie’s New York
3 Henri MATISSE (1869-1954) 20 528 006 Nu allongé I (Aurore) 2018-03-08 – Phillips London
4 Alexander CALDER (1898-1976) 17 975 000 21 Feuilles Blanches 2018-11-15 – Christie’s New York
5 Alberto GIACOMETTI (1901-1966) 17 187 500 Le Chat 2018-11-11 – Christie’s New York
6 Alberto GIACOMETTI (1901-1966) 16 647 567 Le chat 2018-06-19 – Sotheby’s London
7 Auguste RODIN (1840-1917) 16 634 673 Baiser, moyen modèle dit Taille de la Porte
2018-06-20 – Christie’s London
8 Alberto GIACOMETTI (1901-1966) 15 781 250 La Clairière 2018-05-15 – Christie’s New York
9 Alberto GIACOMETTI (1901-1966) 13 812 500 Femme assise 2018-11-11 – Christie’s New York
10 Alberto GIACOMETTI (1901-1966) 10 482 303 Lustre avec femme, homme et oisera 2018-02-28 – Sotheby’s London
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A new world record for Brancusi

Fetching $71 million, the year’s most expensive sculpture represents a veritable milestone in 20th century art history. A unique work that has defied time for 90 years, Brancusi’s La jeune fille sophistiquée (Portrait de Nancy Cunard) is a beautifully polished gilded bronze on a white marble base, created in 1928. Its precious metal finish with dynamic and contrasting shapes characterise Nancy Cunard, a political activist and editor who advocated racial equality and civic rights in the United States. In Europe, she was close to the Dada movement and the Surrealists and she was a muse for Louis Aragon, James Joyce and a number of other artists and intellectuals. La jeune fille sophistiquée sold last May at Christie’s New York, setting a new auction record for Brancusi, way beyond his previous record in May 2017 for his famous Muse endormie (1913). The price progression of the latter work over the last decade reflects a strong revaluation of Brancusi’s masterpieces: fetching $6.6m in 1997, it was estimated $25 – 35 million in 2017 and sold for $57.3 million after a superb bidding battle lasting nearly ten minutes. With opportunities being so rare on this emblematic figure of Modern sculpture, his best works fetch significantly more than their pre-sale estimates.

Alberto Giacometti has five results in the Top 10

With five of the top 10 results of the year, Alberto Giacometti dominates the high-end sculpture market. Like Picasso and Warhol, his works are among the most coveted on the planet. Giacometti is also one of the few artists whose works have crossed the $100 million threshold since the sale of L’homme qui marche I in 2010 ($103.6 million at Sotheby’s) and L’homme au doigt in 2015 ($141.2 million at Christie’s). A closer look at the rapid re-sales on his market suggests the euphoria of 2010 (year of his first 9-digit result) has somewhat receded. In 2010 his Le Chat (3/8)one of his most famous bronze sculptures – fetched $20.8 million. In June this year the same piece fetched four million dollars less after being bought in against an estimate of 20 to 30 million dollars in May (at Sotheby’s). However this substantial discount probably reflects a calming of the market more than disaffection for the artist’s work; Giacometti has already proved himself on the market and the need for big results is less ‘urgent’. Despite the absence of dazzling results this year, demand is particularly strong for this key signature: Giacometti remains one of the most sought-after artists on the market with a particularly low unsold rate (18%). He holds the 14th place in Artprice’s provisional global ranking of artists by annual auction turnover for 2018 with a total of just over $100 million.

Just one Contemporary artist

Jeff Koons owes his presence in this ranking to the $22.8 million (incl. fees) Christie’s hammered last May for his 3-metre polychrome aluminum sculpture Play-Doh (1994-2014) representing a pile of modeling pasta. The work had never been auctioned before and generated one of the Prince of Kitsch’s top 10 results. This striking result somewhat mitigates a general under-performance: Koons’ annual turnover is $32.4 million versus $89 million 10 years ago, and his price index has dropped 27 points over the year. The reason… a sharp slowdown in the offer of his high-end works coupled with a dilution effect on his mid and low-end market due to a profusion of multiple works.

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