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  1. Wealth
February 4, 2010

Giac's Back

By Spear's

UPDATED WITH $106.5M PICASSO SALE // Is the $100 million sale of a Giacometti last night a renaissance or an outrider? And where is the money coming from?


How far does the mega-sale of Giacometti’s L’homme qui marche I last night at Sotheby’s – $104,327,006 including fees – signal a full-blown renaissance in the art market, or is it just a one-off price for a special work? And, secondarily, where is the money coming from?

Was the rest of the sale successful? There was another outsize skew with £26.9 million (inc. fees) for a Klimt landscape, on an estimate of £12-18 million (excl. fees). However, half of the top ten sales by value came in mid-way through their estimate and two just above high estimate – all only when fees were included.

80 per cent were sold by lot, which is just above last year’s 76 per cent, although still well below 2008’s pre-crash 88 per cent. And even with two runaway successes, sale by value was 96.5 per cent: if you removed the Klimt and Giacometti, it would be much lower. Again, the average is out of scale too: £4.7 million.

There were certainly plenty of bidders, four for a Seurat, four for the Klimt, ‘at least ten’ for the Giacometti. But where were they from?

At levels about £10 million, we are not talking bankers coming off a good bonus season. Even those who have received controversial levels of remuneration are not getting it straight away or in cash. Their purchasing power, however, will be seen in the middle-market, probably beneath a million, and so it is the day sale which may give a clue as to a fuller-bodied recovery.

It is not likely to be a Western institution either: $100 million is practically a wing.

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So we are left with oligarchs and tycoons from beyond the West driving the very top. There is form here: Abramovich’s $86 million for a Bacon triptych, Ivanishvili’s $95 million for Picasso’s Dora Maar au chat</em>. Given the artistic ambitions swirling around Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it could be a sheikh looking to anchor their nascent art-gallery culture in something profound and expensive.

Either way, the winner – as always seems the case – is a bank: Commerzbank inherited the Giacometti in their takeover of Dresdner in 2009. But here we can discern a positive effect: Commerzbank is using the cash for its charitable foundation.


Last night, a Picasso (Nude, Green Leaves and Bust) fetched $106.5m at Christie’s, New York. This is, of course, more of this bubble: the sale total was $335.5m on an estimate of $262.7-$368m, and if you subtract the $25m the picture went above its high estimate and all the premiums (never factored into the estimate), you have a sale that comes in at the low end of the estimate.

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