Friday, February 15, 2008


British artist Damien Hirst is the creator of the $12 million stuffed shark and could claim -according to the British press- to be worth 130 million pounds at the age of 42 beating Picasso, Dali and Warhol combined at the same age.

Hirst was born in 1965 in Bristol (UK) and grew up in Leeds. His father was a motor mechanic and his mother an amateur artist. He first went to Art School in Leeds and was later accepted by Goldsmiths College in London whose criteria of acceptance did not include drawing and painting.

He was brought to the attention of collector Charles Saatchi by the exhibit Frieze in the Docklands of London of which he was the curator in 1988. In 1991 Saatchi funded the creation of the Physical Impossibilty of Death in the Mind of Someone Living and Hirst was launched.
In 2005 The Physical Impossibility was bought for 12 million dollars by hedge fund manager Steve Cohen.

Later Hirst created another stuffed shark The Wrath of God , a five-foot shark, that sold before the exhibit he was supposed to be in Mexico for $4 million. Apart from stuffed sharks, Hirst produces 6 categories of art works : 1- his tank pieces (dead and dissected creatures), a pickled sheep is said to have sold for 2.1 million pounds ; 2- his cabinet-series where he displays collection of surgical tools or pill bottles in pharmacy medicine cabinets, The Blood Christ medicine cabinet sold for $3 million ; 3- his spot paintings that consist of 50 or more multicolored circles on a white background, generally produced by assistants under his supervision, in 2007 a 76x60 in. spot painting sold for $1.5 million ; 4- his spin paintings painted from a spinning potter's wheel ; 5- his butterfly paintings in two versions : one is made of collages from thousands of dismembered wings, the other has tropical butterflies mounted on painted canvas with monochrome gloss paint : soccerman David Beckham paid £250,000 for one of them ; 6- the last category is a collection of photorealist paintings depicting violent death and was shown at Gagosian gallery in 2004. Each painting is done by several people, Hirst adding some strokes and his signature.

Hirst's London dealer, the White Cube, has sold 400 butterflies and spin paintings aud 600 sport paintings at up to £300,000 each. The butterfly canvas Full of Love sold for £364,000 to London dealer Timothy Taylor. The top of the art of Damien Hirst is a life-size cast of a human skull in platinium encrusted with 8,601 pave-set industrial diamonds with a total weight of 1,100 carats called For The Love of God. IT was offered at £50 million and found a buyer.

No wonder if Hirst is the richest artist alive. You can even buy for only... 60 bucks a T-shirt showing some of his butterflies from the Gagosian gallery. The bargain of the year.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Who are the painters who generated the biggest volume of sales in auction in 2007 ? The top 10 have generated a total volume of sales of $ 1.840 billion, an incredible sum when one thinks that the global art market was 55 billion.

Top of the list is the American Andy Warhol (1928-1987) whose works generated a volume of sales of $ 420 million (1), a considerable progression of 450% over the last 10 years. In May 2007, his Green cars crash (pic at left) went under the hammer for $64 million
at Christie's NYC . The progression of his index is remarkable as indicated the sale of his Liz Taylor's painting by actor Hugh Grant for $21 million which the later paid only 3.25 million in 2001.

Number 2 in terms of generated volume is Spanish Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) with a very impressive $ 319 million, but a noticeable slowdown of 20 million dollars over 2006.
The biggest number generated by the Spaniard in 2007 was $ 27.5 million for Femme accroupie au costume turc however a Bronze statue Tête de femme Dora Maar sold for $ 26 million at Sotheby's NYC indicating the still very strong demand for the artist's work and acquiring the status of the most expensive sculpture on the global art market.

Those statistics do not mean that Picasso is going out of fashion on the market but simply that his annual revenue is being limited by the increasing rarity of the major works of the artist on the market.

In third position the now unavoidable English Francis Bacon (1909-1992) whose works generated a ballooning $245 million, indicating that his index more than tripled over 10 years. Seven of his paintings sold for more than 10 million dollars while Sotheby's NYC was able to sold his famous Innocent X (picture below) for the astronomical sum of $ 47 million. His Second Version of Study for Bullfight #1 (1969) sold some months later for the figure of $ 41 million. Bacon's tormented bodies are not scaring art collectors and investors away. All the contrary.

The Polish born American painter Mark Rothkowitz
(1903–1970), alias Rothko, stands in fourth place for the volume of works generated with a staggering
$ 207 million. His White center fetched $ 65 million in May at Sotheby's overtaking Andy Warhol's price by 1 million. Six of his works fetched more than 10 million each in less than a period of 12 months.

French Impressionist Claude Monet (1840-1926) gets the fifth place with $ 165 million
although the man from Giverny ranked #2 in 2004. His Waterloo Bridge par temps couvert (1904) sold for $ 31.7 million ten times the price fetched 17 years earlier. Twenty seven of his works' sales passed the million mark in 2007.

Another powerful Frenchman made it on the 10 top list in 2007 with a very respectable $ 114 million : it is Picasso's arch rival Henri Matisse (1869 -1954) whose Odalisque harmonie blue (right) climbed to $ 30 million, 10 million dollars over the estimate and helped him to secure an honorable 6th place.

It was purchased by an unidentified buyer who relayed his bids by telephone to Guy Bennett, the head of the Impressionist and modern art department at Christie’s. The bidding had narrowed to Mr. Bennett and the New York dealer Franck Giraud before the hammer went down.

The previous auction record for a Matisse was $21.7 million.

The seventh place went in 2007 to the New Yorker from Haitian origin, the redoutable and henceforth unavoidable Jean Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) who collected a volume of sales of $ 102 million, a fantastic figure for a guy who passed away only 20 years ago. Although I personally appreciate Basquiat very moderately and consider he will never be anything else than an inspired graffitist, his work goes now to the highest level : in 2007 his price index climbed 660% over 10 years. His quite sordid and uninspiring Electric Chair went under the hammer for $ 10.5 million.

Another Frenchman held the eighth place in 2007 with $ 92 million of sales, it is the excellent Fernand Léger (1881-1955 ) who initially was trained as an architect which can be seen in his Les Usines (1918) that fetched $ 12.7 million and
was sought-after by as many as six different bidders beating the estimate by 7 million. Léger renounced abstraction during the First World War, when he claims to have discovered the beauty of common objects, which he described as 'everyday poetic images'.

This turn of mind is not yet perceptible in Les Usines although it was painted at the end of the war. Léger met Le Corbusier in 1920 and then the influence of the great Swiss architect became more visible.

The Russian March Chagall (1887-1985 ) occuped the ninth place with a volume of $ 89 million
while his monumental Circus Scene, 3 meters wide, sold for $12.25 million at Sotheby's NYC.

Finally the last of the top 10 is another Frenchman, the Provençal Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) with an increased volume by 50% over 2006 to the amount of 87 million.
His lovely Compotier et assiette de biscuits sold for $ 11,25 million. Cézanne can be said to form the bridge between late 19th century Impressionism and the early 20th century's new line of artistic enquiry, Cubism. The line attributed to both Matisse and Picasso that Cézanne "is the father of us all" cannot be easily dismissed.

(1) all figures are in US dollars and exclude buyer's premium

Sunday, February 10, 2008


"A aspiring collector must take a long view. Buying art is like buying property; it takes at least five or ten years to see real growth. The greatest benefits will accrue to those prepared to wait the longest, perhaps even twenty or thirty years.

Some of the most spectacular sales of the last thirty years have been of works of art purchased by the owner's father, or even grandfather. Time is always on the side of the collector, rather than the dealer, who is under pressure to sell his stock and pay his overheads.

Remember also that to buy an especially good thing, one has always to be prepared to go that little bit further on price. Be bold, it is the things one failed to buy that one always regrets. And when considering prices, try not to be too mesmerised by the past. It is more important to think about prices in the future, to think forwards rather than backwards."

Christopher Wood , art dealer and art historian

Very well said, Sir, the problem is that nobody acts according to this wise way and that Contemporary artists' works, prices and behavior are nothing else than a huge slap in the face of the poor idiots who listen to your advice.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


In 2007 Christie's was able to lower its break-even sales level (at which it covers fixed costs and begins to make a profit) to between $1.8 and $1.9 billion/year. Sotheby's break-even dropped to $1.7 billion.

To lower their break-even point the two houses had to increase the buyer's premium but they did it in several steps not to antagonize too much their customers : fron 10% to 20% on the first £ 250,000 or ($500,000)(1) and 12% above. Lots under £10,000 pay 25%. At the higher rate, a sucessful bidder on q $1 million painting would have to pay an additional $60,000 plus VAT.

As for sellers, they normally pay a commission that starts at 20% but it is often negotiated down to zero for high-value art, as it was for Rockefeller's Rothko, White Center.

In 2006, Christie's auctioned $4.3 billion worth of art (+36%) while Sotheyby's auctioned art worth $3.7 billion (+29%).

(1) the current value in December 2008 of the GBP is well inferior to that level. On the 29th it was 1.44 dollar for £1.