French contemporary art market under pressure



FIAC, France’s biggest contemporary art fair, runs from 9-13 October 2003, with 174 galleries and an estimated 70,000 collectors expected to attend. With doors due to open in a few days, Artprice takes the pulse of one of the market’s most volatile segments.

Our last review of the French contemporary art scene, on 1 July 2002, was less than encouraging. French artists have little caché internationally and inside France foreign artists are more popular than home-grown talent (see ArtMarketInsight of July 1st 2003). Overall, France is only a minor player in this segment.

Recent results tell a similar story. None of the ten top hammer prices for contemporary works between 1 January and 15 July 2003 were for works by a Franch artist. The highest bid for a French artist was the EUR 27,000 paid for Gérard GAROUSTE’s Le Qohelet-Salomon (1989), on 18 June 2003, just ahead of Il est des nôtres (1985) by Robert COMBAS (EUR 26,000). The indices of French artists generally lag their foreign competitors, but Combas remains number one in terms of turnover, thanks to the high number of lots sold. Fifty of his works were knocked down in the early season for a total of EUR 254,000. Gérard Garouste’s turnover was less than a third with only seven sales over the same period.
Other favourites among French collectors include Jean-Charles BLAIS, who managed the third highest turnover thanks to the Castellbajac sales at Christie’s despite a 59% bought-in rate, Louis CANE with a 2002 canvas sold for EUR 13,000 at Kohn in March, Jean-Pierre PINCEMIN, Bernar VENET and Philippe FAVIER. The best result for Favier, from Saint-Etienne, was the EUR 4,500 paid for Nature morte aux poires (1984-1986), on 24 March at Cornette de Saint-Cyr. By way of comparison, the top price paid in France for any contemporary work of art was the EUR 80,000 for Diretto direttore, a painting by Italian Sandro Chia, at Christie’s Paris rooms on 3 July 2003. How can the French compete with this trans-avant-garde artist whose market is 75% in English-speaking countries or against the American Jean-Michel Basquiat whose major works go for over a million dollars?

A wider perspective shows a still gloomier picture of France’s influence in this market segment. In the first half of 2003 French artists were responsible for just 3.9% of turnover in contemporary art, compared to 4.5% in 2002. This is primarily due to a slump in turnover during the six months, which was down by 30% year-on-year and by 50% compared to the first half of 2001. Remember that the contemporary art sector, often highly speculative in periods of growth, gets deeply unstable in times of economic uncertainty. At the moment, contemporary art buyers are being more cautious and selective than ever: 47% of lots remained unsold in the first half of 2003 compared to 45% last year and less than 39% in 2001. Plummeting sales have at least kept average prices firm (see ArtMarketInsight of May 21th 2003). But how much longer can this last?

French market: 10 top hammer prices for contemporary* works (1st Half 2003*Artists born after 1940RankNationality / AffiliationArtistWorkSale1Sandro CHIAEUR 80.000 : «Diretto direttore.» (1981)07/03/03 (Paris, Christie’s)2Jean-Michel BASQUIATEUR 50.000 : Squelette (1985)03/24/03 (Paris, Cornette de Saint-Cyr)3Julian SCHNABELEUR 40.000 : The Motherhood of Lola Montes (1983)07/03/2003 (Paris, Christie’s)4Takashi MURAKAMIEUR 39.000 : Jellyfish Eyes Cream (2000)07/01/2003 (Paris, Artcurial)5Sandro CHIAEUR 38.055 : Regazzo con bandie Italiani (1984)04/30/2003 (Paris, Artcurial)6Claudio PARMIGGIANIEUR 38.000 : “Phisiognomoniae Coelestis (Per Adalgisa) (1975)07/03/2003 (Paris, Christie’s)7Donald BAECHLEREUR 38.000 : “Hours and Jewels” (1986)07/03/2003 (Paris, Christie’s)8Miquel BARCELOEUR 36.000 : Menja-se la cua (1982)04/30/2003 (Paris, Artcurial)9Takashi MURAKAMIEUR 31.000 : Mushrooms (2000)07/01/2003 (Paris, Artcurial)10Fred NALLEUR 27.000 : Security Blanket 06/06/2003 (Paris, Chochon-Barré-Allardi)