Sotheby’s Sells Giacometti for Record $104.3 Million

February 8, 2010


Walking Man 1


From the wsj.com (February 3, 2010)

A 1960 Alberto Giacometti sculpture sold for £65 million ($104.3 million) at Sotheby’s, setting a record price for a work of art at auction and signaling a potential resurgence in the art market.

In a tense contest at the company’s London salesroom, bidding on the spindly bronze “Walking Man I” began at £12 million and quickly escalated, with roughly 10 bidders vying for the sculpture. The winner bid over the telephone and chose to remain anonymous.

The sale breaks the previous $104.2 million auction record, set six years ago at Sotheby’s, for Pablo Picasso’s 1906 portrait “Boy With a Pipe,” whose buyer remains unknown.

The lofty price for the Giacometti work came as a surprise to Sotheby’s, which had expected the sculpture to sell for around one-fourth of the final price. David Nahmad, a Monte Carlo-based art dealer who vied unsuccessfully for the Giacometti sculpture, said the sale shows that after a weak year, the wealthy are once again “parking their cash in art.”

The six-foot-tall bronze depicts a wiry man in mid-stride, his right foot jutting forward, his head erect and his arms hanging at his side.

Giacometti, a Swiss modern master known for his haunting sculptures of blank-face Everymen, cast the work 50 years ago as part of a commission to plant several of his bronze figures outside Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City’s financial district. The artist famously struggled with the project and eventually abandoned the commission. But he later cast stand-alone versions of some of the planned sculptures, including “Walking Man I.”

The steep run-up in bidding for the Giacometti Wednesday was likely aided by two factors: the work’s large size and the artist’s popularity among buyers from Russia and the Middle East. His nearly nine-foot-tall figure of a woman, “Big Standing Woman II,” sold at Christie’s in May 2008 for $27.4 million, but dealers say his oversize sculptures of men are even more coveted. “Walking Man I” is three times taller than the “Toppling Man” sculpture that Sotheby’s sold in November for $19.3 million.

Dealers say the surge in casts of Giacometti’s works made after his death in 1966 also has made works crafted during the artist’s lifetime like “Walking Man I” more valuable. New York art dealer Marc Glimcher said the price for “Walking Man I” also might simply reflect the tenacity of the final two bidders: “Above $50 million, the fight for any artwork goes from love to a grudge match.”

Giacometti is a new favorite of Russian collectors like billionaire business magnate Roman Abramovich, but a person familiar with the matter said that Mr. Abramovich wasn’t the buyer of “Walking Man I.” Mr. Abramovich caused a stir at the Swiss art fair Art Basel two summers ago when he bought one of the artist’s 1956 bronze figures of a woman from New York gallery Jan Krugier. That work had an asking price of around $14 million.

“Walking Man I” was being sold by Commerzbank AG, which inherited the work when it took over Dresdner Bank, and its corporate art collection, last year. Commerzbank says it plans to use the proceeds to fund philanthropic endeavors.

The record sale came during Sotheby’s auction Wednesday of Impressionist and modern art. The total sale brought in $234.6 million, topping rival Christie’s $122.9 million sale on Tuesday.

Highlights from the Sotheby’s sale included Gustav Klimt’s leafy 1913 landscape, “Church in Cassone (Landscape with Cypresses),” which sold for $43.2 million. Paul Cézanne’s smoky-colored still life, “Pichet et fruits sur une table,” sold for $18.9 million. And Henri Matisse’s portrait of a woman draped in a lacey shawl and lying on a sofa, “Femme couchée” sold to an unnamed American collector for $7 million.


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