Sculpture in 2012



Friday Top! Every alternate Friday Artprice publishes a theme-based auction ranking. This week: the ten best results for sculpture this year.

In the annals of the world’s best auction results, sculpture has a much smaller place than painting – the dominant medium – and drawing, which is fetching ever higher prices with the accretion in value of the works of Chinese artists. Nevertheless, from time to time sculpture scores “mega” results: in 2009 (23 February) Christie’s in Paris set a new world record for the sculpture market with $33.3m for Constantin BRANCUSI’s Madame L.R., and in 2010 Sotheby’s fetched no less than $92.5m for Alberto GIACOMETTI’s L’homme qui marche I (London, 3 February). Indeed the 2010 was a record year for sculpture prices with two other results exceeding the $30 million threshold: Giacometti’s Grande tête mince fetched $47.5m at Christie’s New York on 4 May and Amedeo MODIGLIANI’s Tête reached over the $30m line on 16 June at Christie’s Paris. However, in 2011, no sculptures sold above this threshold. The best result in 2011 was $15.4m for Alberto Giacometti’s Trois hommes qui marchent II (22 June, Sotheby’s London) closely followed by $15m for Jeff KOONSPink Panther (May 10, Sotheby’s New York).
What are the best auction results for sculpture in recent months?
New York is clearly the best market place for sculpture with seven of the best results versus just three for London. And Christie’s is by far the winning auctioneer generating nine of the Top 10 sculpture results. As for the artists, four of the six present in this Top are modern, but the ranking is dominated by a Contemporary, Jeff Koons. In fact, sculpture has actively participated in the flurry of new auction records on the art market during 2012 with 4 of the 6 artists in this Top owing their presence to new personal auction bests: Jeff Koons, Henry MOORE, Alexander CALDER and Donald JUDD.

Top 10 : the ten best results for sculpture this year

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Jeff KOONS $30000000 Tulips (1995-2004) 11/14/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
2 Henry MOORE $26841300 Reclining Figure : Festival (1951) 02/07/2012 (Christie’s LONDON)
3 Alexander CALDER $16500000 Lily of Force (1945) 05/08/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
4 Constantin BRANCUSI $11250000 Prométhée (1911) 05/02/2012 (Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY)
5 Constantin BRANCUSI $11000000 Une muse (1912) 11/07/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
6 Alberto GIACOMETTI $10000000 La Jambe (1947) 11/07/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
7 Alexander CALDER $9200000 Snow Flurry (c.1948) 05/08/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
8 Donald JUDD $9000000 Untitled, 1989 (Bernstein 89-24) (1989) 11/14/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
9 Alexander CALDER $8564050 Rouge triomphant (Triumphant Red) () 06/27/2012 (Christie’s LONDON)
10 Henry MOORE $7105050 Working Model for Three Piece No. 3 : Vertebrae (1968) 02/07/2012 (Christie’s LONDON)


In first place on the podium, Jeff Koons’ monumental Tulips (the six tulips in the work are over 5 metres long!) fetched $30m at Christie’s New York on 14 November 2012. In so doing Christie’s refreshed the artist’s record which had not been revised since his most prosperous year, 2008, when Balloon Flower (Magenta) sold for $23m (30 June, London). 2008 was, in effect, Koons’ annual turnover summit with approximately €60m, whereas between 2009 and 2011 his annual turnover dropped to a range of €20-27m. Koons’ first 7-figure auction result dates back to 16 November 1999 when his porcelain Pink Panther sculpture fetched $1.65m at Christie’s New York. Since then Koons’ works have generated 79 results above the $1m line. Despite a somewhat lacklustre recent retrospective at the Beyeler Foundation (May-November 2012), Jeff Koons’ culture of kitsch – regularly causing sensations since the 1980s – is still appreciated by collectors worldwide. His sculptures in chromed stainless steel painted with transparent coloured varnish usually fetch his best results. Made with tremendous technical skill, their shapes echo the balloon sculptures of our childhood. Since 1995, Jeff Koons has used this technical and visual principle to create some of his most famous works: Balloon Dog is one of the artist’s most emblematic pieces and it has become an icon of Contemporary art in general. So far only a couple of these have gone up for auction.

In second place in this ranking, Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure : Festival generated a new sales record for the artist on February 7 at Christie’s in London. An emblematic piece as well as an important work in the history of sculpture, it fetched a handsome sum when it was acquired for $20.5m, exceeding his previous record by $13m and by nearly three times (Three-piece reclining figure: draped sold for $8.5m at Sotheby’s New York on 4 November 2004). A second Henry Moore sculpture, Working Model for Three Piece No. 3 : Vertebrae, fetched $7.1m (close to his previous record) taking 10th place in this ranking. The aggregate value of Henry Moore’s twelve million-plus results in recent months is roughly $65 million, suggesting that 2012 will turn to have been a record year for the artist, far exceeding his best turnover in 2008 (nearly $32 million)!

In 2012 Alexander Calder recorded four new sales records and three of them are in this Top at the third, seventh and ninth place! The best of these was generated by a 170 centimetres tall mobile entitled Model for Rosenhof which fetched $2.8m. Indeed in recent months, Alexander Calder’s mobiles have been at the origin of another auction record: that of having scored 35 auction results above the $1m line, generating a total of more than $109m, an annual turnover record for the artist!

The first artist in this ranking not to have refreshed his auction record in 2012, Constantin Brancusi takes 4th and 5th place with $11.2m for his gilded bronze Prométhée (2 May, Sotheby’s New York) and $11m for a plaster Une muse (November 7, Christie’s New York). Present among those artists whose works fetched 7-figure results since 14 November 1989 (when his marble La Muse endormie III was acquired for nearly $7m at Christie’s New York), Brancusi’s secondary market is impacted by the scarcity of sculptures available. In effect, only 49 of his sculptures have been offered for sale since 1989, including a dozen emblematic works, which, when they sold, generated beyond $600,000.

A sculpture ranking is difficult to imagine without the current record holder in this category: Alberto Giacometti takes 6th place with a result of $10m for La Jambe (November 7, Christie’s New York). However 2012 has not been as memorable a year for Alberto Giacometti as it has been for the other artists in this Top. La Jambe was only his 16th best-ever auction result!

In 8th place, an unusual appearance in this Top by a major representative of Minimalism, the American artist Donald Judd. On 14 November his wall sculpture, Untitled, 1989 (Bernstein 89-24) sold for $9m. Adjudicated at the Christie’s autumn sale in New York, the new record also revealed a renewed enthusiasm for the Minimalist movement. Represented since 1965 by big-name galleries (Leo Castelli Gallery, Paula Cooper and Pace Wildenstein), Donald Judd’s price index shot up in 2002, eight years after his death. In that year, 4 sculptures changed hands for prices above the $1.2m line, and one Untitled work even reached $4.2m (Untitled, 14 May 2002, Christie’s New York) setting his record until 2007. Between 2002 and 2012, Judd’s works generated some 39 million-plus results, mostly for wall sculptures.

Compared with 2011, in recent months sculpture has shown a significant level of inflation at its ultra-top end: 3 results above 15.4m (the best result in the medium during 2011). Imposing, certain works like Koons’ Tulips (and their 5 meters in length) do not scare off buyers. When the signature is a good one, pockets are deep….and 2012, with its wave of new records for safe values, will certainly not contradict that observation.