Giacometti Auction Records Gives Existentialists Something to Smile About

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Last night at the Sotheby’s London evening sale, a mystery telephone buyer placed the winning bid for Alberto Giacometti’s 1961 Walking Man I for a record-setting $104.3 million. That’s a whole $200K higher than the previous record holder, Picasso’s Boy With a Pipe, which sold at the Sotheby’s New York branch in 2004.* What’s even wilder about a bronze sculpture with Existentialist themes setting the new benchmark for absurdly priced artwork is that the estimate on the piece was only (ha) $19.2 million to $28.8 million.

The Giacometti sculpture in question, at right.

More facts: the $104.3 million sale was more than three times the previous auction record for a Giacometti (set at Christie’s New York in 2008 for Standing Woman II). There are only a handful of collectors in the world with that kind of bank to drop, and most speculate the mystery buyer is either Russian or Middle Eastern. Though Giacometti — a Modernist who was known to destroy his signature elongated, twisted figures as quickly as he made them — is in a slightly lower stratosphere of art history fame than, say, Monet or Picasso, Walking Man I is considered a “trophy piece” due to its iconic form and stature at nearly six feet tall.

*We’re talking auction records here. The highest sum ever paid for an artwork, period, was Ronald Lauder’s purported $135 million for Adele Block-Bauer I, currently residing in the Neue Galerie.

Hi, I’m Adele Bloch-Bauer, and I’ll raise your Modernist Existentialism with a heavy dose of Austrian Symbolism.