New Realism



New Realism is in favour this year: following the tribute to Yves Klein at the Georges Pompidou centre which closed last February, the whole movement is the subject of an exhibition in the Paris Grand Palais, running until 2 July, 2007. Prices for the New Realists have risen by more than 120% since 2000. However, these artists’s works are still valued some 30% below the price levels achieved in 1989-1990.

The New Realist group emerged in France around a declaration signed in 1960 at Yves KLEIN’s home, based on an original manifesto drafted by critic Pierre Restany. Aware of their ‘collective singularity’ the new realists recycled industrial objects, CÉSAR compressing them, Fernandez ARMAN breaking or accumulating them, Daniel SPOERRI fixing them in Painting-traps, Jean TINGUELY mecanising them, Klein transcending them through colour, Raymond HAINS, Jacques VILLEGLÉ and Mimmo ROTELLA tearing them apart…creating a poetic vision of everyday reality.

The United States and the United Kingdom actively support the French artist in generating 80% of sales compared with 9% in France. Yves Klein’s work, the most highly regarded within the group, has exceeded the million dollar threshold on 20 occasions, 7 of which in 2006!
His record price dates back to November 2000 with RE1, which changed hands for 6.1 million dollars at Christie’s New York. Currently, reckon on between €50,000 and 80,000 on average for a 20cm square monochrome, although collectors do bid aggressively for the pieces, as on 10 May 2006 at Christie’s NY where Ikb (21.2 x 17.7cm) doubled its high end estimate, changing hands for $140,000 (€110,138). His Anthropométries, in which womens’ bodies impregnated with the famous pigment are used as brushes, are also very sought after. On 8 February 2007, Christie’s auctioned an Anthropométrie measuring 65×50 cm in London on which the hammer went down for £240,000. The anthropométries measuring more than a metre square can go for more than £500,000 like the previous evening at Sotheby’s London when Ant 69 (109 x 69 cm) was sold for £555,000. Klein’s New Realist friends, such as Arman and César, used everyday objects in their works. The ‘guardian of the blue’ also took part in the exercise in revisiting reproductions of emblematic sculptures such as the famous Esclave de Michel-Ange (300 examples). In 2000, an Esclave could be purchased for less than €20,000 (Briest sale in Paris on 27 October 2000). Today you’d need between €30,000 and 50,000 for the same work.
Post-mortem editions such as the low Plexiglas tables enclosing blue and pink pigment or golden leaves, currently change hands for between €15,000 and 25,000. In 1997, a blue table in the same series could be bought for around €5,000… Currently, for a budget approaching €5,000, a collector might hope to purchase small pieces such as a Carton d’invitation bleu affranchi avec le timbre bleu from 1957 or 1959. One of his invitation cards sold for €4,800 on 25 November 2005 in Paris (P.Bergé-Buffetaud-Godeau-Chambre-De Nicolay).

With 400 to 500 pieces offered annually at auction, the Nice-based artist, Arman, is the French contemporary sculptor the most represented in auction houses. During the 1960s, he worked on his ‘angers’ and ‘cuts’: broken objects, cut into slices or even burned. At the end of the 1970s, his previous works were the inspiration for Arman’s bronze sculptures, which currently change hands for between €1,000 and 10,000 on average. Faced with the plethora of these runs on the market, 50% of the works remain accessible and find buyers for less than €3,000. In parallel, the historic pieces can achieve more than €100,000: between 2005 and 2006, 12 sculptures exceeded this threshold, twice as many as in the 15 previous years! Since his death in October 2005, demand has risen particularly for the earlier pieces, to the point that the sardine can Full Up, of which there are 500 examples and which featured on the Iris Clert gallery invitation card in 1960, was sold for €3,100 at Leclere in Marseilles on 3 March 2007. This piece had sold for the equivalent of €680 in 2001. Another example of this inflation: a version of Poubelle, containing an accumulation of papers and rubbish, 100 examples of which were produced in 1964, sold for €1,200 at Calmels-Chambre-Cohen. In March 2006, at Cornette de Saint-Cyr, collectors tried to outbid each other for it, pushing the price up to €4,700. The Arman market is buoyant in France with 53% of the sales achieved but the artist is also very much appreciated by Anglo-Saxon (23% of sales achieved in the United States and the United Kingdom) and Italian collectors (14% of sales).
César is one of the most popular artists in France but he is also represented by the major Anglo-Saxon dealers. His large-scale bronzes (from more than a metre to 3 metres) change hands for between €100,000 and 250,000 on average like Fanny Fanny (233×245.1×121.9 cm) produced in 1990 which was purchased for £240,000 (more than €187,000) on 16 November 2006 At Christie’s NY. Reckon, currently, on €20,000-30,000 for a bronze hen standing some 20 to 30 cm high and signed by César. It is difficult to find the artist’s sculptures for less than €2,000: his small 6cm-high compressions made using bottle tops currently change hands for between €2,500 and 3,000, compared with barely €1,000 at the end of the 1990s.

There are also two Swiss artists amongst the new realist sculptors: Jean Tinguely and Daniel Spoerri. The market for Jean Tinguely is international with 39% of transactions realised in the United Kingdom and 61% in Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe. Despite this wider visibility, demand for the artist’s work has yet to be established and prices are slightly down on their 1997 levels. His works look affordable with 80% of sales at less than €5,000 although it should be said that 70% of the lots concern prints and drawings whereas the bulk of his sale receipts are achieved in his mecanised sculptures which generate 74% of the overall total.
Daniel Spoerri saw a very strong increase of +100% between 2004 and 2006. His Tableaux-pièges, in which real life is trapped, the piece fixing forever the remains of meals, are the most sought-after one-off pieces, selling for between €15,000 and 40,000 (he also produced more accessible runs in bronze). The more playful universe of Niki de Saint-Phalle, who came to prominence with the Nanas series (highly-colourful, full-bloom female figures) attracts collectors of all nationalities, including the Americans. In effect, 17% of sale receipts are generated in the United States. Niki is restablishing her 1990 price levels, the peak of the speculative bubble: at that time a seated 1968 Nana assise (77x73x81 cm) sold for less than £100,000 (around €130,000). The same work, auctioned in December 2006 by Sotheby’s Paris, found a buyer at €180,000.

Following his death, Raymond Hains has seen the group’s most rapid price increase since 2005: +260%! His torn posters of the 1960s are greatly sought after. Reckon, currently, on €30,000-40,000 for a one square metre format, compared with less than €10,000 in the 1990s. But the artist also created small pieces which still sell for less than €1,500, like the small decollage of 1959 (8 x 6 cm) auctioned for €1,100 on 20 March 2006 at Cornette de Saint-Cyr. Hains prices began to rise during his life time with the auction of La lessive génie which sold for five times its estimated price at Sotheby’s London on 25 October 2005 (£50,000, or €73,800). At this same sale, his friend Jacques de la Villeglé achieved his record for Avenue de la Liberté, Charenton which sold for £75,000, or 110,700 euros. Following the example of Hains, his decent-sized decollages of the 1960s are now worth €30,000 and 40,000. The recent works are much less sought after and more accessible like the torn poster Sans titre of 1992 which changed hands for €1,800 on 27 March at Piasa (Paris).Although the decollages of Wolf Vostell are rare, this is not reflected in prices, making Vostell the most affordable of the ‘decollagists’ with nearly 90% of the works sold for less than €5,000. One work from 1959 was, for example, purchased for €3,700 on 11 November, 2006 at Sturies Andreas in Dusseldorf. Finally, François Dufrene easily crosses the €5,000 barrier for works of the same period. In October 2006, the hammer came down at £26,000 (close to €38,600) at Christie’s for his 1960 decollage entitled Apéritif.