Crisis, what financial crisis!?
Earlier this week at Sotheby's Auction House in London, a rare life-size bronze statue by Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti (1901 – 1966), L'homme qui marche I (Walking Man I) broke the record as the most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction. You’d better sit down for this: $104.3 million. The “fast and furious” bidding was over in less than eight minutes. According to Sotheby's, at least 10 people were in on the trying to pin down the iconic cast. The final price was five times higher than the pre-auction estimate.
The price, which includes the buyer's premium, barely eclipsed Pablo Picasso's Garcon a la Pipe, which sold at auction for $104.2 million in New York in 2004. But that was back in the heady days of the boom -- fast flying Wall Street, Krug Clos du Mesnil Champagne breakfasts, Clay Aiken CD’s, real estate’s unstoppable climb -- back then Facebook was just a blip in the dotcom ether. This astounding auction result suggests that though the financial crisis still looms, the art market has survived and its doomed collapse and catastrophic time bomb is no longer ticking down.
The bronze of a man walking, cast in 1961, was first acquired in December of that year by legendary New York art dealer Sidney Janis, who bought it from the Galerie Maeght in Paris. Janis debut it at his gallery in 1968. This time around, the statue was sold by the German banking firm Commerzbank AG, who obtained it in 2009 when they took over the Dresdner Bank. Dresdner had purchased the sculpture in 1980.
Giacometti's previous personal best at auction took place back in 2008, at Christie's New York for the piece Grand Femme Debout II, (1959-60). That piece sold for a relatively paltry $27,481,000.
William Barrett, author of the classic mid-century study, Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy (1962) wrote that the attenuated forms of Giacometti's figures reflected the existentialist view that modern life was empty and increasingly devoid of any meaning. "All the sculptures of today, like those of the past, will end one day in pieces... So it is important to fashion ones work carefully in its smallest recess and charge every particle of matter with life." Giacometti claimed his forms were not based on the human figure but the shadow that it cast.
Just before the Sotheby’s auction, the buzz on the street was that the Giacometti might actually hit $50 million, though all the heavy hitters scoffed at such a ridiculous notion. No one in their right mind thought it would hit and top $100 million.
Sotheby's of course did not identify the buyer, saying only that it was an anonymous telephone bidder.