Curious wrought iron artwork
The Trick to Selling a 17-Foot-Tall Bronze Hare
By ANNA RUSSELL
How does one sell a sculpted, 16-foot wrought-iron teapot? Christie’s hopes the answer lies on a lawn at a Renaissance-style château 50 miles from London, where it’s wooing lovers of one of the more unusual—but thriving—art categories: monumental sculpture.
These works break all sorts of rules because they present such huge challenges of transport and display—whether it’s the Joana Vasconcelos teapot (“Tea Pavilion”) or “Nijinski Hare,” Barry Flanagan’s 17-foot bronze rabbit in midjump, or a 34-foot horse head by Nic Fiddian-Green unveiled at Parx Casino and Parx Racing in Bensalem, Pa., in August.
$425,000-$2.5 Million: That’s the price range at Sotheby’s selling exhibition in Derbyshire, England, of Barry Flanagan sculptures. Here, his 17-foot-tall ‘Nijinski Hare.’
The Christie’s show is one of at least three “selling exhibitions” running this month. “Monumental sculpture is notoriously difficult to sell at auction,” says Alex Platon of Sotheby’s. So the firm, like Christie’s, has taken over the exterior of a great house. Sotheby’s show is in Derbyshire, England, and contains 15 bronze Flanagan sculptures. The auction house is planning yet another selling exhibition of monumental works, these by London-based Zadok Ben-David in Singapore’s Botanic Garden later this month. Prices for the steel works, up to 20 feet high, will range from $204,000 to $407,000.
The reason for all the effort is what Conor Jordan, senior specialist in Impressionist and Modern art at Christie’s, calls “quite rapid growth and demand” in the category. In 2010, he expected to sell Henri Matisse’s “Back IV,” a large bronze abstract sculpture, for $25 million to $35 million. The work sold for close to $49 million to a collector, setting a record for Matisse that holds today. Last February, a 1951 Henry Moore bronze sculpture sold to a European collector brought in $30 million, or almost four times its high estimate at auction and a record for any Moore piece sold at auction.
Asked why the XL category is doing so well, Mr. Jordan said most buyers today are private collectors, sometimes inspired by public sculpture parks. His colleague Mr. Platon added, “It’s a very aesthetically pleasing area, rather than requiring deep artistic or academic knowledge.”
$204,000-$407,000: That will be the price range at a Sotheby’s show in Singapore by London-based Zadok Ben-David. Above, ‘Sunny Moon.’
At various properties he owns, 75-year-old Joel Schur, based in Boca Raton, Fla., has installed a 10-foot-high owl, a giant frog and a 15-foot-high peregrine falcon, all by the contemporary British sculptor Geoffrey Dashwood. Getting the falcon positioned right was a challenge. “It’s an engineering marvel because if the claws of the falcon were 2 inches forward or backward the thing would topple over,” Mr. Schur says. Maintenance, though, is negligible: “These things develop a patina from the weather outside.”
Everyone in the field seems to have a war story about logistics. In 2010, Storm King Art Center brought the 28-foot-tall copper “Three Legged Buddha” by Zhang Huan in five pieces through London from his studio outside Shanghai. The art center, about 60 miles north of New York City, had to wait while the “Buddha” was held up during shipping on concerns that it wasn’t just art. “It probably raised some eyebrows,” said David Collens, director and curator at Storm King. Maintaining Maya Lin’s 2009 “Storm King Wavefield” has meant battling groundhogs making homes in its four acres of rolling “waves” of gravel and topsoil.
Then there are the challenges presented by Mr. Fiddian-Green’s horse-head sculptures and the other monumental sculptures that pass through London’s Sladmore Gallery. Sladmore’s Gerry Farrell recalls taking down a foundry wall because one of the works didn’t fit through the door, as well as frightening neighboring herds of llamas and using cranes, giant trucks, a cherry picker and even a helicopter. “The sight of huge disembodied horse’s heads traveling along motorways and through the center of London always draws crowds,” he says.