The real game-changer was the sale in 2005 of “Bird in Space” by Romanian artist Constantin Brancusi for a phenomenal $27.5m – a record for any sculpture at auction. By 2010, sculptures by Matisse, Modigliani and Giacometti were approaching or surpassing $50m at auction, while the latter’s “L’Homme qui marche I” became the first to break the $100m barrier.
The Financial Times’s Susanna Moore charts the rise of sculpture’s value and its return to a central place of importance for collectors. She repeats the standard explanation that sculpture’s rise is due to a lack of supply of great paintings on the market. That may be so. But no one has made it clear how the supposed dynamic of tight supply works (are the owners waiting for the next jump in prices? have all the works been donated?) or how and why the rotation has alighted on sculpture as opposed to other artists, styles, periods, regions or mediums like, say, video:
The same pattern is repeating itself in the Old Master market, as exceptional paintings and drawings become increasingly scarce. At the world’s great art and antiques fairs – even, perhaps especially, Tefaf in Maastricht – sculpture is often where real quality and exciting discoveries are to be found, albeit not at the highest prices. The fact that sculpture has been significantly undervalued is another reason for its appeal, but prices have climbed and that, of course, is prompting owners to sell. […]
Robert Bowman, who has unveiled a spectacular new space opposite Christie’s, last year reported his best year to date. He has seen what he calls an “explosion in price for ‘trophy’ images” by Rodin, the gallery’s specialism, and a growing market for contemporary sculpture. Yet he also points out anomalies in this market, such as more or less static prices for Degas bronzes.
Solid gains and 3D explosions (Financial Times)