The Best Selling Golden Lion winners


Discover the best sales every Friday! Every other Friday, Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. To coincide with the opening of the Venice Biennale, our weekly ranking reveals the world’s best auction sales by the last 10 artists to win the famous Golden Lion…

Rank Artist Hammer Price ($) Artwork Sale
1 STURTEVANT (1930-2014) 5,093,000 “Warhol Diptych” Christie’s New York 13/05/2015
2 John BALDESSARI (1931) 4,408,000 Quality Material Christie’s New York 16/05/2007
3 Michelangelo PISTOLETTO (1933) 3,960,559 “Amanti (Lovers)” Christie’s Londres 01/07/2014
4 El ANATSUI (1944) 1,445,000 Paths to the Okro Farm Sotheby’s New York 15/05/2014
5 Barbara KRUGER (1945) 902,500 Untitled (When I hear the word culture I take out my checkbook) Christie’s NY 08/11/2011
6 Franz WEST (1947-2012) 720,838 Larvae Phillips de Pury & Company Londres 29/06/2008
7 Carol RAMA (1918-2015) 288,882 “Arcadia (Ti Amo… Ti Amo)” Sotheby’s Londres 08/03/2017
8 Carolee SCHNEEMANN (1939) 185,000 Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions Christie’s New York 12/05/2015
9 Yoko ONO (1933) 116,500 Play It By Trust Sotheby’s NY 13/05/2010
10 Malick SIDIBÉ (1936-2016) 25,753 “Combat des amis avec pierres” Artcurial Paris 24/10/2010
copyright © 2017

The Venice Biennale was held for the first time in 1895 as an “International Art Exhibition in the City of Venice”. This great homage to contemporary art is celebrating its 57th edition from May 13th to November 26th, 2017, overseen by the Chief curator of the Pompidou Centre Christine Macel, it hosts 84 countries and their national pavilions. Each edition brings its share of discoveries and honours, as the Biennial offers a Lion award to several artists at each edition, a prize that often turns out to be a real springboard for upcoming artists in search of recognition and visibility. Among these coveted Lion awards, one (or two) Golden Lion(s) are awarded every two years to honour the entire career of an artist, some already famous and highly rated, others less so. The winner this year is a woman: the American artist Carolee SCHNEEMANN who has dedicated her whole life to the issue of femininity in artistic and social circles. Her Golden Lion award establishes, by happy coincidence, a male-female parity in the following auction rankings.

Other American female artists received the Golden Lion before Carolee Schneeman: Barbara Kruger in 2005, Yoko Ono in 2009 (the same year as American conceptual artist John Baldessari), Elaine Sturtevant in 2011 (the same year as Austrian artist Franz West). In hindsight, there is evidence that winning a Gold Lion can create a profound change in demand and have more or less long-term repercussions on the auction market. At least notably for Barbara KRUGER, since between winning the award and setting an auction record in 2011, the value of her work has shown a remarkable rise of more than 444%. There is no doubt that sellers have benefited greatly from the Venetian Holy Grail in order to sell their works at the best time. Her value has gone down and prices have since stabilised. The same was true for Yoko ONO, whose auction record was established the year after she won the award. In her particular case, the Golden Lion effect has boosted a market short of tangible works, Yoko Ono being more famous for creating events (performances) than actual artworks…

The fifth woman in the ranking is the Italian Carol Rama, recipient of the Golden Lion in 2003, along with her compatriot Michelangelo Pistoletto. If Pistoletto was already recognised as a major figure in the history of art and the art market when he won his award, Carol Rama did not benefit from such recognition. Having worked far from the spotlight for a long time, Carol RAMA truly benefited from winning the Golden Lion in the years following: she was first supported by galleries such as Repetto in London and Maccarone in New York, which were soon joined by major cultural institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, where she was given her first French retrospective in 2015, the year of her death. The auction market took longer to catch on. After the 2015 retrospective, an explosive year was expected in 2016 (best annual turnover of her career with $626,000) and, above all, an absolute record on March 8th, 2017 at Sotheby’s in London for a sculpture (“Arcadia (Ti Amo… Ti Amo)”) doubling its optimistic estimate by going through the roof at $289,000. When awarded for an artist’s whole career, the Golden Lion is more perceptive than the auction market as it always rewards artists in their lifetime…

Two African artists have also been honoured in recent years with a Golden Lion: the Ghanaian El Anatsui in 2015 and, before him, the Malian photographer Malick Sidibé, who was the first African artist to receive the Hasselblad Foundation’s International Prize in 2003, and the first African artist to win a Golden Lion in 2007 for his entire body of work. Discovered at the first African “Rencontres de la Photographie” in Bamako in 1994, the photographic work of Malick SIDIBÉ (1936-2016) was brought to the fore by the great specialist of contemporary African art André Magnin (who wrote his biography in 1998 and still exhibits his work). Today, Malick Sidibé’s work is also represented in New York by the Jack Shainman Gallery and in Brussels at the Nathalie Obadia Gallery, and shown at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the National Portrait Gallery in London. The Golden Lion won by Sidibé marked a turning point for the recognition of Africa as a hotbed for artists praised by all international cultural players. This prize also kick-started an immediate acceleration of sales, with the total of the annual sales of his auctioned works rising from $5,000 to $44,000 between 2006 and 2007. Today, Malick Sidibé is at the bottom of the ranking with a record of $25,753, far behind the $5,093 million by American appropriationist STURTEVANT (1930-2014). Whatever the market, the gap between artists in terms of sales seems very difficult to bridge…