Contemporary art in Paris



Friday is Top day! Every other Friday, Artprice publishes a theme-based auction ranking. This week: the top 10 auction sales of contemporary art in Paris from July 2012 to June 2013.

Once again, our top 10 list is dominated by Jean-Michel Basquiat, who also ruled the roost in our New York and London rankings. He is the only contemporary artist (born post-1945) who has managed to break the million-dollar barrier in the Paris sales rooms. Basquiat single-handedly accounts for 77% of the Paris Top 10 results, with four works exceeding the million-dollar mark and total receipts of $10.565 million. Let’s not forget the critical role he plays in the contemporary art market – in 2012-2013 his best sales amounted to $58.82 million of the London Top 10 (65% of the total) and $124.2 million of the New York listing (close to 68% of the total).

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Jean-Michel BASQUIAT $6536000 “Crown hotel (mona lisa black background)” (1982) 06/05/2013 (Sotheby’s PARIS)
2 Jean-Michel BASQUIAT $1837935 Sans titre (1982) 12/04/2012 (Artcurial (S.V.V.) PARIS)
3 Jean-Michel BASQUIAT $1814366 Sans titre (1981) 10/20/2012 (CORNETTE DE SAINT CYR Maison de Ventes S.A.S PARIS)
4 Keith HARING $880817 Sans titre (1983) 06/03/2013 (Artcurial (S.V.V.) PARIS)
5 Anselm KIEFER $588240 Johannisnacht (midsummer night) (1987/91) 06/05/2013 (Sotheby’s PARIS)
6 Damien HIRST $508014 All You Need Is Love (2006) 06/04/2013 (Christie’s PARIS)
7 Jean-Michel BASQUIAT $377679 Sans titre (1985) 06/03/2013 (Artcurial (S.V.V.) PARIS)
8 Miquel BARCELO $325650 “Picnic près de Gao” (2006) 06/04/2013 (Christie’s PARIS)
9 CHEN Zhen $261439 La légèreté / Le poids (1991) 06/05/2013 (Sotheby’s PARIS)
10 Keith HARING $208560 Sans Titre – Trois Acrobates (1986) 12/04/2012 (Sotheby’s PARIS)

Keith Haring
It is hardly a surprise to see Keith HARING‘s name popping up twice in this Top 10, as the artist has just had the benefit of a major retrospective at the Paris Museum of Modern Art (The Political Line, 19 April – 18 August 2013). Artcurial seized the opportunity to boost its receipts on 3 June 2013 with a large acrylic from 1983. With a hammer price of €677,500 (just under $881,000), the work fell well short of its low estimate, but it was nevertheless a record for the artist in France (Sans Titre, 290 x 290 cm, low estimate of €900,000). Haring’s records have all been set in New York, where Christie’s sold a 1982 piece for $2.5 million in 2007 ((Untitled, $2.84 million including buyer’s premium on 17 May 2007).

Anselm Kiefer
A German artist with an international reputation, Anselm KIEFER has lived and worked in France since 1993, when he set up his huge studio in Barjac in the south (which he has since shifted to the east of Paris) and introduced new themes into his work. His reputation and prices took a leap forward in 2007 thanks to several prestigious events, including an exhibition at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, a successful response to the Monumenta challenge at the Grand Palais in Paris (Chute d’étoiles, 30 May – 8 July 2007), a monumental permanent installation created for the Louvre (Athanor in the stairwell to the north of the colonnade in the museum’s Sully wing) and a record sale equating to $3.152 million at Christie’s in London (« Lasst Tausend blumen blühen! », £1.6 million on 8 February 2007). In Paris, the artist had already broken the million-dollar barrier (including fees) with the 2011 sale of Pour Hafis , €600,000 or over $1.029 million including buyer’s premium, Sotheby’s, 31 May 2011). More recently, the hammer price of €450,000 achieved for a large mixed technique work created from 1987-91 has gained him fifth place in this ranking (Johannisnacht (midsummer night) , hammer price equivalent to $588,240 or close to $708,000 including buyer’s premium, 5 June 2013, Sotheby’s).

Damien Hirst
Only 4.7% of Damien HIRST‘s works have gone under the hammer on the French market, equating to less than 0.6% of his total revenues (his market is dominated by New York and London). As a result, the Paris sales catalogues only contain minor works (Damien Hirst-branded skateboards or lithographs) with prices rarely exceeding $10,000. But this notwithstanding, on 4 June 2013 Christie’s sold the original work All You Need is Love for €390,000 ($508,000) to a South American collector ($611,570 including buyer’s premium). This giant heart (214 x 214 cm) adorned with 19 butterflies changed hands for slightly less than its low estimate of €400,000. Two years ago, this same work went unsold in New York within an estimate range of $1-1.5 million (Christie’s, 12 May 2011). This was not particularly surprising at a time when the English artist’s prices had tumbled by 70% after hitting their peak in 2008. It may not be long before top artists such as Damien Hirst find their works selling better in Paris than in New York.

Miquel Barcelo
Miquel BARCELO has seen his prices rocket by almost 240% since 2000, making him a strong and safe investment for collectors who bought his work during the 1990s and early 2000s. The artist’s reputation has reached such dizzy heights and demand for his work has become so huge that his prices are unlikely to take a tumble. His market is still predominantly European, with his most prestigious works generally being reserved for the London sales rooms. France is well-represented with almost 20% of transactions (compared to 25% in Spain and 41% in the UK). Barcelo’s top sale over recent months has been Picnic près de Gao, sold for its low estimate of €250,000 (equating to a hammer price of $325,650 and close to $390,000 including buyer’s premium, Christie’s, 4 June 2013).
Although the artist has broken the million-dollar barrier eleven times, some of his pieces can still be snapped up at more affordable prices. 20% of his lots sell for less than $3,600 because of the sheer number of prints on offer. These represent over 28% of all his transactions, compared to 20% for his drawings and 47% for his works on canvas.

Chen Zhen
Born in Shanghai in 1955, the son of a family of doctors, Chen Zhen arrived in Paris in 1986 at the age of 31. He studied at the National School of Fine Arts in Paris and at the Institut des hautes études en arts plastiques, where he went on to teach. He later gave up painting to devote himself to creating his first installations, in which Chinese philosophy encounters Western culture. A French citizen, he has become world-famous thanks to well-attended exhibitions in Lyon, Paris, Shanghai, Venice and New York. His fame has stimulated demand in Asia, Europe and the USA. New York was the scene of his record of $520,000 (for his installation Crystal Landscape of Inner Body, Sotheby’s New York, 15 November 2007), followed closely by a French record equivalent to $463,000 (Le monde, le chaos , €315,000, Artcurial Paris, 29 January 2008). Only four of his works have appeared in French auction rooms over the last year (July 2012 to July 2013). Of these, La légèreté / Le poids , an installation made of newspaper ashes, sold within its estimate for €200,000, giving Chen Zhen 9th place in our ranking of contemporary art sales held in Paris during the past 12 months. Chen Zhen benefits from his dual nationality, but Sotheby’s decided to present him as a Chinese artist because this nationality is more “saleablebankable”.

Indeed, there is a cruel lack of French artists in this Top 10, a sign of the problems they face in hauling themselves up to the top price bracket in their home market. French artists no longer attract the level of global attention that would allow them to really compete in such a strong and speculative market for contemporary art.