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Last week, Sotheby’s announced that it would sell Alberto Giacometti’s iconic “Grande femme I” (conceived and cast in 1960) through the unusual format of a “sealed bid” private sale, with a starting minimum bid of $90 million. This Tuesday, October 27, the bidding for the totemic, nine-foot-tall sculpture came to a close. Sotheby’s confirmed to Hyperallergic that it will not release any information about the bids, including the final sales price or the buyer’s identity.
The anonymous seller is rumored to be Ron Perelman, the billionaire American financier and major art collector perhaps best known for his hostile takeover of cosmetics giant Revlon Inc. in 1985. Perelman’s net worth is estimated to have dropped from $19 billion to $4.2 billion over the course of two years. Last month, he sold masterpieces by Joan Miró and Henri Matisse in the Sotheby’s London Rembrandt to Richter evening sale for a total of $37.3 million. He is expected to sell “hundreds of millions of dollars” of work through Sotheby’s, part of which will be used to pay off a Citigroup loan, according to Bloomberg. Perelman’s former in-house curator Liz Sterling is the head of the private sale division at Sotheby’s in New York.
The piece currently on offer, “Grande femme I”, is a spindly female figure cast in bronze. Made in Giacometti’s hallmark late style, the totemic sculpture is one of four variants that he produced as part of an installation for the Chase Manhattan Plaza in New York City’s Financial District. Giacometti planned for the installation to include a head on a pedestal, a walking man, and a standing woman: three of his most important motifs. He cast four female figures, each about nine feet high. Having never been to New York, he worried that the sculptures would be too large relative to the surrounding buildings. When he saw Manhattan in person in 1965, he decided that the women should instead be 25 feet tall. He died before he could complete the work.
A known smasher of auction records, Giacometti is the only sculptor whose work has sold for over $100 million at auction. At Christie’s in 2015, his 1947 sculpture “L’homme au doigt” sold for $141.3 million, setting a record as the most expensive sculpture ever sold at auction. His sculpture “L’Homme qui marche I” sold for $104.3 million in 2010 and his sculpture “Chariot” sold for $101 million in 2014, both at Sotheby’s.
The auctions that one might typically associate with institutions such as Sotheby’s or Christie’s are “English-style” auctions, in which bidders outbid one another at ascending price points within a set time frame. These public auctions court open competition to reach the highest sales price possible for the work. The auction houses also have private sales arms, a desirable option for those who prefer that the sale stay out of the spotlight or want to have some say in who buys the piece. A sealed bid private sale is a hybrid form infrequently used by auction houses. Qualified bidders privately submit bids for a work without knowing what their opponents are offering. The bids are “sealed” until the end of the timed sale — in this case, October 27 — when they are reviewed, and the highest bid wins. The exposure mimics that of a public auction, while exact price points and identities remain private.
Sotheby’s Chairman of Global Fine Arts Amy Cappellazzo in a statement: “We are extremely excited to share such a monumental sculpture by Alberto Giacometti in an innovative and creative sale format. Presenting such a unique and unparalleled work in a way that combines the benefits of a private sale and an auction, we have created a bespoke sale that was designed for this moment in time.” Two additional works by Giacometti — “Femme Leoni” and “Femme de Venise IV” — will feature in Sotheby’s marquee Impressionist & Modern Art evening sale on October 28. They are estimated at $20 to $30 million and $14 to $18 million, respectively.
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