Giacometti: What makes an artwork worth £65m?
A life-size bronze sculpture by Alberto Giacometti has been sold at auction in the UK for the world-record price of £65,001,250. But how can a piece of art command such a price, especially in today's economic conditions?
The answer, according to Melanie Clore, Deputy Chairman of Sotheby's, is five-fold: condition, rarity, reputation of the artist, competition, and confidence that the piece will at least hold its value.
If each of the five tests is passed, then it's game on in the auction room. Here's how the piece, Walking Man, fits those conditions:
• Condition: Top-notch. Walking Man had never been outside and was very well looked-after.
• Reputation: Blue-chip. Giacometti stands the test of time; art historians now consider him to be one of the most important sculptors, not only of the 20th Century, but also of any century.
• Rarity: The piece gets marked down a little here. It was from an original edition of six (you can see three of the six in the following galleries: Carnegie Institute Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul de Vence in southern France and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York). But it picks up points due to the great rarity of a "lifetime-cast" Giacometti sculpture coming to the market.
• Competition: A lot. And a lot more than there used to be. There were bidders from at least 30 countries active at the sale at Sotheby's. Melanie Clore says that when she started working there 20-odd years ago, you'd be lucky to have bidders from two countries. Now, more competition drives up prices. She cites modern communications as a major factor. But you could also point to the geographical widening of the super-rich and the rapid growth over the last 10 years of modern art museums and galleries, all of which need high-quality works of art to attract visitors.
• Investment: Solid. According to Clore, this is not a speculators' market. She says that however obsessed with or enamoured of a work of art a collector may be, anyone paying this sort of money wants to have the reassurance of knowing that, in the future, the price is likely to rise. Buying a piece by an artist such as Giacometti - who has a long-established global reputation and whose work will only become rarer - is, she surmises, a fairly safe bet.
All of this makes me wonder which single work of art I would buy if it came on the market and money were no object.
The answer today (I can change my mind later) would be Paul Cezanne's Mont Sainte-Victoire from 1904. What about you? What work of art would you "buy"?