Big means expensive…



In the history of human creation, large-scale creations have always fascinated, and artists have long sought to exploit the awe that generous dimensions inspire. From the Lascaux cave drawings to the Bayeux Tapestry, from Michelangelo’s David to the pyramids of Egypt, mankind has marvelled at creations that command respect by their sheer immensity. Today’s art market clearly reflects this heritage with lots of works being produced in ‘monumental’ dimensions. Indeed, our data suggests that these works seldom fail to impress and that collectors are willing to pay big money to acquire them.

1. Monster sculptures
Sculpture is undoubtedly the artistic medium best suited to monumental intentions and is often pushed into dimensions that are virtually architectural. Alexander CALDER is a particularly well-known example, and his works – both “stabile” and “mobile” – can be seen in a number of cities around the world, from Paris to New York. But despite their visibility in urban landscapes, his steel monsters are not exclusively owned by public authorities and some occasionally turn up at auctions. One of the most spectacular was a gigantic version of his sheet metal sculpture Flying Dragon (1975) measuring 17 meters long, 6 meters wide and over 9 meters high. The work fetched USD 5 million on May 10, 2006 at Sotheby’s in New York.

In fact, many of the 20th century’s leading artists materialized their desire to produce works on a grand scale. In 1968, the French-American artist, Louise BOURGEOIS created a version of her beloved spider that measured more than 6 meters wide and 3 meters high. On November 8, 2011, the giant Spider sold at Christie’s in New York for $9.5 million, her current auction record. Both Richard SERRA and CÉSAR (among others) have auction records generated by works measuring over five meters.

2. The provocateurs
In the field of art (and architecture), big works usually exude a feeling of extravagance that makes them difficult not to notice. It is therefore not surprising to find immoderate or excessively large works in the catalogues of artists who are not shy of media attention: Jeff KOONS, with his 3m high Balloon Dog (Orange) that fetched his current auction record of record $52 million (excluding fees) in November 2013; Damien HIRST, whose Eternity (2m by 5m) sold at Phillips in London for $ 8.5 million on October 13, 2007; Takashi MURAKAMI, whose giant (5.6m 2.8m) Nirvana canvas (2001) fetched $1 million May 10, 2006 at Sotheby’s NY.

This short list of examples should probably also include Maurizio CATTELAN whose created a 7 meter long table football entitled Stadium (1990) and Yayoi KUSAMA whose Infinity-Nets WHXOTLO painting measures 2 meters high by 10 meters long.

3. Large formats in Pop Art
While large scale art works have always been produced since time immemorial, Pop Art made a particular point of demythologizing the large format. In 1986, Andy WARHOL produced his Christ 112 Times which, as its title suggests, shows an image of Christ repeated 112 times. The work fetched $8.5m at Sotheby’s NY on May 14, 2008.
Roy LICHTENSTEIN and Keith HARING were both fond of giant paintings and sometimes worked, logically enough, on huge frescoes. And recall that Jean-Michel BASQUIAT was a graffiti artist before he started painting canvases.

4. Young artists
Nowadays, a large number of young artists are showing that they have understood the “size thing”. One example is the American artist Julie MEHRETU, born in Ethiopia in 1970. Her mural, commissioned by Goldman Sachs and tracing the history of capitalism, is more than 24 meters long and 7 meters high; meanwhile her auction record was set in May 2013 with a canvas measuring 2.6m by 5.3m that fetched $4 million (excl. fees) at Christie’s NY.

Another is the Swiss artist Urs FISCHER (born 1973) whose Lamp/Bear has been exhibited on the forecourt of the Seagram Bulding in New York as well as at Doha airport. The yellow teddy-bear leaning against a desk lamp measures no less than 7 meters high. When one of the two copies of this work went to auction in New York at Christie’s on May 11, 2011, it fetched $6 million, multiplying the artist’s previous record by nearly 10 times.

In short, large works attract large bids at auctions, often setting price records for their creators. However, for that observation to remain true, they will have to avoid becoming commonplace and remain exceptional.