How does the French contemporary art market measure up today?



Since it reformed its auctioneers, France has increased its share of the auction market from 7% of worldwide turnover in 2001, to 8.6% in 2002. Yet growth in the wider sector has done little for the contemporary art market. France only generated 4.5% of the proceeds from contemporary artworks in 2002.

Despite an increase in contemporary art sales in France, together with rising prices, profits are still not particularly good. The most expensive work sold in France – L.F. by the American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat – went for EUR219,000 at Digard’s. This is a far cry from the prices being paid at the big contemporary art events in New York or London.
The most prestigious French auction houses in the segment are Cornette de Saint-Cyr, Tajan and Artcurial-Poulain-Le Fur, none of which can compete with the UK and the US today, particularly when 44% of the contemporary artists’ lots put up for auction in France fail to find a buyer. This compares to 37.4% in the art market in general and just 30% for contemporary art works offered in the US last year. While the proceeds of all French auctions rose between 2001 and 2002, turnover for contemporary artworks fell by 16%. (read more)

2002 French market: The Top 50 most expensive contemporary artistsArtists born after 1940: ranking by highest hammer price at French auction between 1st January 2002 and 31th December 2002RangNationality / AffiliationArtistWorkSaleMedium1Jean-Michel BASQUIATEUR 219.000 : «L.F.» (1984)19/06/2002 (Paris, Digard)2Alighiero BOETTIEUR 60.000 : «Udire tra le parole» (1980)29/05/2002 (Paris, Tajan)3Andreas GURSKYEUR 49.000 : «Autobahn Mettmann» (1993)29/05/2002 (Paris, Tajan)4Joseph KOSUTHEUR 45.000 : One and three Plants (1965)28/09/2002 (Paris, Cornette de Saint-Cyr)5Ghada AMEREUR 39.000 : Sans titre (1993)04/06/2002 (Paris, Artcurial-Briest)6Franz WESTHeimo ZOBERNIGEUR 33.000 : Autosex (1996)19/06/2002 (Paris, Cornette De Saint-Cyr)7Bertrand LAVIEREUR 30.585 : Peinture (1983)26/10/2002 (Paris, Cornette de Saint-Cyr)8George CONDOEUR 30.000 : Sans titre (1985)19/06/2002 (Paris, Cornette De Saint-Cyr)9Robert COMBASEUR 29.605 : La sérénade 26/10/2002 (Paris, Cornette de Saint-Cyr)10Jean-Marc BUSTAMANTEEUR 28.000 : Tableau No.32 (1980)16/11/2002 (Paris, Christie’s)11Mariko MORIEUR 24.000 : Initiation (1993)11/12/2002 (Paris, Artcurial)12Martin KIPPENBERGEREUR 22 745 : Grenouille crucifiée (1990)26/10/2002 (Paris, Cornette de Saint-Cyr)13Jean-Pierre PINCEMINEUR 21.000 : Sans titre (1993)11/12/2002 (Paris, Artcurial)14James BROWNEUR 19.000 : San Cosme (1982)04/02/2002 (Paris, Robin-Fattori-Poulain Le Fur)15François BOUCHEIXEUR 19.000 : La traversée de la mer 10/03/2002 (Rambouillet, Faure-Rey)16José María SICILIAEUR 18.330 : Quadros mont-tonneare (1997)26/10/2002 (Paris, Cornette de Saint-Cyr)17YAN Pei-MingEUR 17.840 : «L’homme le plus sourd» (le père de l’artiste) (1996)26/10/2002 (Paris, Cornette de Saint-Cyr)18Lisa RUYTEREUR 16.000 : «White palace» (2000)04/06/2002 (Paris, Artcurial-Briest)19Olivier MOSSETEUR 15.880 : Rond (1970)26/10/2002 (Paris, Cornette de Saint-Cyr)20Jean-Charles BLAISEUR 15.000 : Sans titre (1984)11/12/2002 (Paris, Artcurial)21Peter & David FISCHLI & WEISSEUR 15.000 : Los Angeles Fed Ex (1990)16/11/2002 (Paris, Christie’s)22Thomas STRUTHEUR 15.000 : Jaingxi Zhong Lu, Shangai (1996-1997)16/11/2002 (Paris, Christie’s)23Hiroshi SUGIMOTOEUR 15.000 : Black Sea, Ozuluce (1991)16/11/2002 (Paris, Christie’s)24Louis CANEEUR 13.500 : Vénus parisienne (1995)18/03/2002 (Paris, Cornette De Saint-Cyr)25Vik MUNIZEUR 13.000 : Team (1998)16/11/2002 (Paris, Christie’s)26Guy FERREREUR 13.000 : Slave (Icarus) (2002)21/09/2002 (Paris, Cornette de Saint-Cyr)27Czeslaw ZUBEREUR 13.000 : «Tête an 2000» (1999)24/11/2002 (Paris, Chochon-Barré-Allardi)28Tony OURSLEREUR 12.000 : Western Eye (1997)19/06/2002 (Paris, Cornette De Saint-Cyr)29Yasumasa MORIMURAEUR 12.000 : «To my Little Sister for Cindy Sherman» (1998)16/11/2002 (Paris, Christie’s)30Sam TAYLOR-WOODEUR 12.000 : «Gesture towards Action Painting #1» (1991)16/11/2002 (Paris, Christie’s)31Nobuyoshi ARAKIEUR 11.500 : Sans titre (1998)18/03/2002 (Paris, Cornette De Saint-Cyr)32Bernar VENETEUR 11.020 : Ligne indéterminée (1989)04/06/2002 (Paris, Artcurial-Briest)33Yuri Leonidovich KUPEREUR 11.000 : Boîte et pinceau (1995)03/07/2002 (Paris, Artcurial-Briest)34David MACHEUR 11.000 : «Bali mask» (c.1992-1994)04/06/2002 (Paris, Artcurial-Briest)35Grégor ROSINSKIEUR 10.500 : Thorgal, le Maître des montagnes (1989)01/06/2002 (Paris, Tajan)36Keith HARINGEUR 10.500 : Subway Drawing (1982)27/11/2002 (Paris, Tajan)37Jean-Pierre CEYTAIREEUR 10.100 : Homme dinant, sifflant 28/04/2002 (Provins, Feletin)38Richard TEXIEREUR 10.100 : «Qui se trompe» (1998)30/06/2002 (Versailles, Perrin-Royère-Lajeunesse-Vergez Honta)39Axel CASSELEUR 10.000 : Personnage au bracelet 17/03/2002 (Paris, Digard)40Rémy BLANCHARDEUR 10.000 : Félix Potin (1982)19/06/2002 (Paris, Cornette De Saint-Cyr)41Shirin NESHATEUR 10.000 : «Unveiling de Women of Allah» (1993)16/11/2002 (Paris, Christie’s)42Helmut MIDDENDORFEUR 10.000 : «Unter dem Schirm» (1985)26/10/2002 (Paris, Cornette de Saint-Cyr)43William WEGMANEUR 10.000 : «Eléphant» (1980)16/11/2002 (Paris, Christie’s)44Massimo VITALIEUR 9.500 : Sea #2 (1999)16/11/2002 (Paris, Christie’s)45Pancho QUILICIEUR 9.500 : «Lieu des apparences cycliques» (2000)21/09/2002 (Paris, Cornette de Saint-Cyr)46Pat ANDREAEUR 9.000 : Sans titre 26/10/2002 (Paris, Cornette de Saint-Cyr)47Fabrice HYBEREUR 9.000 : Fleur de radar 19/06/2002 (Paris, Cornette De Saint-Cyr)48GILBERT & GEORGEEUR 8.800 : The singing Sculpture (1969-1991)26/10/2002 (Paris, Cornette de Saint-Cyr)49Frank THIEL8.500 : Sdadt (1997-1998)29/05/2002 (Paris, Tajan)50Pascal CHAUVEAU8.500 : “Connemera” (1997-1998)17/11/2002 (Versailles, Perrin-Royèe-Lajeunesse)

Even more worryingly, French contemporary artists appear to be losing ground on their own soil. French artists are poorly represented on both the international and domestic stages, with the most expensive French work in 2002 in France a Bertrand Lavier painting that sold for EUR30,000. The previous year it had been Robert Combas’s “Les hommes poissons aideurs de fleurs… » for EUR36,500. Combas has now dropped to 11th in the Top 50 most expensive contemporary French artists, from 8th in 2001.
Still more surprising is that the French artists best known internationally, such as Christian Boltanski and Pierre & Gilles (Turner Prize 1986), did not even make it to the Top 50. Fabrice Hybert, a Lion d’Or winner at the 1997 Venice Biennale ranks only 48th. And yet, at international auctions, these four visual artists are the most expensive French artists born after 1940 (see ArtMarketInsight of 18 June 2002). Some of Christian Boltanski’s mixed media installation such as Monument Odessa, have already reached the EUR100,000 threshold. No contemporary artwork would go for anything like this in France, especially if it was by a French artist. Above EUR15,000, contemporary art collectors seem more interested in the works of Americans (Jean-Michel Basquiat, Joseph Kosuth, George Condo, etc.), Germans (Andreas Gursky, Martin Kippenberger, Thomas Struth) or Japanese artists (Mariko Mori, Hiroshi Sugimoto). In Paris’s auction rooms, only five French artists topped this mark in 2002.

French sales will soon confirm the proliferation of foreign artists in the rankings. Auction catalogues are already showcasing potential new challengers for the next Top 50 – the Japanese Takashi Murakami, whose work was exhibited at the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain for four months in 2002, American Matthew Barney, presented at the Musée National d’Art Moderne de Paris until last January, and the Belgian Wim Delvoye, whose work is on show until October 2003 at the Musée d’Art Contemporain in Lyon.