Wednesday, December 5, 2007
the Guennol Goddess sold.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, the goddess exceeded all expectations, selling for $57,161,000., including buyers premium, at Sotheby's. That is fifty seven million dollars, when I thought the estimate was ambitious at 14 to 18 million dollars. To me, that is a frightening amount of money; while I think the object is priceless, this is enough money to fund a small nation, to remake a museum, or city in the US, it is allot of money. It is abstract, which might be the whole point, when it comes to objects of world class importance and unquestioned provenance, the money is meaningless, nothing is too much.
I went to the reception at Sotheby's on Monday evening and the theatrical display of the goddess complimented the little video about it on their website. They created a room with panels of cloth, with huge blow up images of the figure in front of it, you entered behind one such image to go into a black draped room, in the center of which was a black stand with the goddess in a Lucite case, dramatically lit. It was a temple and the cult image was the Guennol Goddess. Very effective, it allowed for the monumentality of this tiny sculpture to dominate the space. I have never seen such lengths gone to before with the display of an antiquity at auction. Sotheby's was rewarded for their efforts with a sales result that is beyond any achieved before for a sculpture at auction.
Finally I was able to speak to someone who attended the sale, and have the scoop on how the auction progressed. The room was packed, this attendee had never seen an antiquity auction at Sotheby's so well attended, and at the beginning of the bidding on the Goddess there were eight to ten bidders. At ten million the bidding stalled, the tension and disappointment in the air was palpable. At this point George Ortiz started the bidding back up, and at about 20 million dropped out. By this point the unidentified English gentleman started bidding, against the phone. By 30 million or so, it was just him and the phone, and he won it at 51 million hammer, the buyers premium brought the total paid up to 57 million. The winning bidder was a small time London dealer, who wished to remain anonymous but known to the cognoscenti in attendance, who could scarcely believe that he was bidding at that level. It is thought that he was buying on behalf of the Sheik of Dubai, who is building a world class museum in his efforts to transform his nation and prepare for when oil can longer be its primary source of wealth. It is thought that the under bidder on the phone was another Middle Eastern potentate.
While this price could only be realized by a bidding war between several buyers, unfortunately not all ancient objects have gained in value. This is the highest auction price for a sculpture of any kind, of any period. This will be the second time that record has been set by an ancient object; the Artemis from the Albright Knox being the first at a mere twenty eight million dollars. Perhaps people will begin to look at ancient art with fresh eyes and interest.
Other pieces also did quite well, my favorite piece aside from the goddess, was the head of Zeus, above, estimated at 300 to 500 thousand dollars, which sold, with buyers premium, for $965,000. This seems right to me, just under a million dollars for a beautiful sculpture that is monumental in size and impact.