€2.3m Calder mobile sets auction record for artist in France

The sale points to a rising interest in conceptual and minimalist art among French collectors, says auction house expert

Alexander Calder's mobile Pour Vilar sold for 2.3m euro, an auction record for the artist in Paris

Paris. Conceptual and minimalist art stole the show at Artcurial’s evening sale of contemporary art on 31 May The auction, held at the Hôtel Marcel Dassault, beat presale estimates handsomely, with strong early bidding from French and international collectors, and 70% of the 105 lots sold. The core of the sale—the first 32 lots—came from a minimalist collection put together by a pair of European collectors from the 1980s onwards, featuring works by Richard Serra, Carl André, Dan Flavin and Sherrie Levine, among others.

The sale included a six-foot long Alexander Calder mobile, Pour Vilar, dating from the early 1950s, from the estate of the French actor Jean Vilar. According to a whimsical anecdote released by the auction house, Calder personally brought over the work to Vilar’s home. “Vilar’s wife Andrée opened the door and found herself face-to-face with the giant [artist]—who smilingly told her, in his ogre’s voice with its American accent, ‘I’m bringin’ ya a little mobile.’ He handed her a flimsy, badly tied-up bundle wrapped in newspaper, then went down on all fours in the lounge to assemble his magnificent mobile.”

After fierce bidding, the work went to a Swiss collector for €2.3m including buyer's premium, against a pre-sale estimate of €500,000-€800,000, the top price of the evening and an auction record for Calder in France. The artist’s market has remained steady despite economic fluctuations, with a similar mobile, Untitled (Autumn Leaves), sold earlier this May at Sotheby’s New York for $3.7m.

The total for the evening, at €6.13m, was almost 30% above the estimate of around €4.8m. But once the Calder was sold half-way through the sale, an initially packed saleroom thinned out and momentum died. The second day of the sale, on 1 June, brought in just €1.8m, in line with an estimate of €1.6m, with only 57% of lots finding buyers.

Still, said Artcurial's minimalist expert Martin Guesnet, the sale showed both the rising interest in conceptualism and minimalism among French collectors, and a growing readiness of US and other international collectors to bid in the French market.

Of the top ten lots from the first day's minimalist collection, six went to French buyers, including a 1989 Serra, =i>Hollywood Lawn, sold for €337,000, more than double its top estimate of €150,000. A 1981 Bernard Frize, Suite Segond, made from skins of acrylic cut from the surface of open paint pots, performed equally well, bringing in €43,000 more than twice its top estimate.

The art critic and agent Ghislain Mollet-Viéville bought two works for MAMCO, Geneva's Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain, paying €91,900 for a 1990 cibachrome print by Thomas Ruff and €23,800 for a photo-diptych by Dennis Oppenheim, depicting the results of the artist lying in the sun for five hours with a book on his chest, his burned skin acting as a kind of sun print.

"There's a new generation of buyers coming through for minimalist and conceptualist art," Guesnet said, adding that most are between 40 and 50 years old and grew up at the same time those movements were developing.

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