Top Contemporary Sculptures


Our fortnightly series of theme-based auction rankings keeps you up to date on the secondary market’s best results. This week’s Friday Top article looks at the highest bids for works of Contemporary sculpture over the last 12 months.

Rang Artiste Adjudication ($) œuvre Vente
1 Jeff KOONS (1955) 22 812 500$ Play-Doh 17/05/2018 Christie’s New York
2 Robert GOBER (1954) 7 287 500$ Untitled 17/05/2018 Christie’s New York
3 Antony GORMLEY (1950) 6 911 977$ A Case for an Angel I 06/10/2017 Christie’s Londres
4 Jeff KOONS (1955) 6 437 500$ New Hoover Celebrity IV 16/11/2017 Sotheby’s New York
5 Jeff KOONS (1955) 5 487 500$ Lobster 17/05/2018 Christie’s New York
6 Felix GONZALEZ-TORRES (1957-1996) 5 195 600$ Untitled 16/11/2017 Sotheby’s New York
7 Damien HIRST (1965) 4 412 500$ Away from the Flock 17/05/2018 Christie’s New York
8 Antony GORMLEY (1950) 3 971 342$ Angel of the North 07/03/2018 Sotheby’s Londres
9 Thomas SCHÜTTE (1954) 3 511 715$ Bronzefrau Nr. 7 06/03/2018 Christie’s Londres
10 Thomas SCHÜTTE (1954) 3 375 000$ Großer Geist Nr. 9 16/11/2017 Phillips New York
copyright © 2018

Jeff Koons still King

Jeff Koons is still a major star of the art market and this ranking clearly shows the high level of demand for his multi-million dollar sculptures. The results of the past twelve months prove beyond any doubt that his neo-Pop-kitsch 3-D artworks are still actively sought-after, particularly his best works. Koons largely dominates this Top 10 ranking with a result of $22.8 million for his sculpture Play-Doh (1994-2014), a work that was new to the auction market and was acquired by its former owner from the Gagosian gallery in 2005. A large-scale representation of a pile of coloured modeling dough (polychrome aluminum, over three metres tall), Play-Doh fetched Jeff Koons’ ninth best-ever result allowing the American artist to post an overall auction total of $30 million for the first half of 2018. These H1 2018 figures position Koons as the top-selling Contemporary artist in the sculpture medium and in eighth place on the Contemporary art auction market, all mediums combined, despite generating only a little over a quarter of his H1 2014 total (2014 was an exceptional year with four of his sculptures fetching more than $20 million each).

Although Koons’ recent news has been somewhat controversial (the Bouquet de tulipes offered to France that has divided opinion and an alleged delivery failure to collector Steven Tananbaum), it includes an exhibition in Amsterdam next to works by Old Masters and ‘celebrations’ marking the 20th anniversary of his Puppy vase (a puppy-shaped porcelain vase) which currently sells for $10,000 on the website of the Gagosian Gallery and for similar sums in auction rooms. That’s roughly ten times its value 15 years ago – for a work produced in a series of 3,000 (plus 50 artists’ proofs). So… even when diluted by large-number editions, the Koons label is still an excellent investment.

The second position in this Top ranking belongs to an artist from the same generation as Koons but whose work, unlike Koons, is rare at auction: Robert GOBER, who represented the United States at the 2001 Venice Biennale, has crossed a significant threshold this year with a new record of more than $7.2 million for an iconic work from the early 1990s. The artist’s record has double since 2014 (year of his retrospective at the MOMA), a clear sign his work is moving into another price range.

Antony GORMLEY is in third place for top-selling Contemporary sculptures over the last 12 months with a work that is both emblematic and monumental: more than 8.5 metres wide (from one wing-tip to the other), A Case for an Angel I fetched a record price of $6.9 million including fees. The work, dated 1989, was a precursor to probably Gormley’s most famous work, Angel of the North, the vast Cor-Ten steel figure that towers over Gateshead in northeast England weighing 200 tons and measuring 20 meters tall by 54 meters wide (1994-1998). In 2014, Angel of the North earned him an OBE for his contribution to British sculpture.

The Cuban-born American artist Felix GONZALEZ-TORRES who died shortly before turning 40 in 1996 has generated two million-plus results over the last 12 months including $5.2 million for a light installation consisting of a garland of light bulbs (a fragile work, using obsolete materials to symbolise melancholy). The ‘power of disappearance’ is always present in the artist’s work.. but for that price, the collector who acquired the work will no doubt replace the lightbulbs when they blow…

The ranking also contains a reassuring result for Damien Hirst whose current prices are still low compared to 2007-2008. Christie’s has managed to sell one of his most powerful works, Away from the Flock (1994), a sheep preserved in formaldehyde, for $ 4.4 million. Over the last 12 months two works by Damien Hirst have fetched million-plus results (in dollars) compared with 65 at the peak of his market in 2008…

Thomas Schütte closes out this Top 10 ranking with two superb results, including one at $3.5 million. A former student of Gerhard Richter and Joseph Beuys and winner of the Golden Lion at the 2005 Venice Biennale, Thomas Schütte is one of the most sought-after artists for exhibitions (often collective) and one of the Contemporary art market’s best performers at auctions. Unlike Damien Hirst’s price index, that of German artist has posted a superb progression, up +525% over the last decade.