Paris-based auction house Artcurial reported a total of €149.2 million ($180.5 million) in sales for the year 2020. The total is down 19 percent compared to last year’s collective sales figure of €203.1 million ($223.4 million).
The top works sold via auction include a monumental standing sculpture by Alexander Calder, which went for €4.9 million ($6 million), marking a record price for large-scale sculpture by the artist and the highest price achieved for a single lot at the house in 2020. (By contrast, that is about half the price of the top lot of 2019, a Paul Gauguin painting that sold for €9.5 million, or $10.5 million.) Also among the top lots was Bernard Buffet’s 1989 canvas Deux clowns trompette, which sold for €1 million ($1.2 million), more than double the low estimate of €400,000.
In spite of the current health crisis which has hit us hard, we have been able to increase visibility and attract many new buyers,” said Martin Guesnet, European director at Artcurial. Modern and contemporary art sales account for 39 percent of the house’s sale total; auxiliary fine art categories, including Old Masters, Asian art and books and manuscripts, account for 18 percent; and the luxury category accounts for 43 percent.
The Penitent Magdalene—which went for €1.7 million ($2.1 million) in October, realizing a record high for the Old Master—was also among the top lots of the year for Artcurial. The department also sold the private collections of Baron François Empain and the Donon-Maigret in 2020 and realized three auction records in the process. According to the house, 21 museums made acquisitions through the Old Masters department this year.
Across a total of 16,678 lots sold throughout the year, the house realized a solid sell-through rate of 78 percent. Collectively, the house reported sales of 12 works in excess of €1 million ($1.2 million) and 17 lots above €500,000 ($613,025). Sixty-seven lots were either acquired or pre-empted by museums. (In France, pre-emption refers to the legal right for museums to override the highest bidder at auction on a select lot.)
Alongside the top auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s, which together reported annual sales of $9.4 billion, Artcurial increased its online sales volume substantially as the pandemic forced art vendors to move selling channels digital. The house cited a 59 percent increase in online sales volume.
Recently, Artcurial has made moves to expand its footprint abroad in the new year. The auction house recently appointed Christophe Person as the head of a newly-founded contemporary African art department, which is based at Artcurial’s headquarters in Paris and has an outpost in Morocco. The first sale there is due to take place on December 30.
In the past decade, Artcurial has been bolstering its presence in the regional hub as the market around contemporary African artists expands internationally. The Paris house held its first contemporary African art sale in 2010, and in 2017, it staged “Paris#Marrakech, African Spirit,” the debut auction at its Morocco venue.
“It is in our DNA to expand into new territories, and in doing so we have become the first international auction house to have a presence on the African continent,” said Guesnet.