LONDON—Charles Saatchi continues to trade in and trade up his holdings of the Young British Artists (YBAs), whose careers he helped to launch. Following the disposal of a large number of works by Damien Hirst in 2003 and, later, the iconic pickled shark purportedly sold to U.S. collector Steve Cohen for $12 million (see ANL, 1/4/05), Saatchi is now off-loading his collection of hyper-realist sculptures by Australian-born Ron Mueck.
New York dealer James Cohan, who represents Mueck in North America, has confirmed that he recently sold two of the artist’s works from 1997, Angel and Mask—on behalf of Saatchi—to “prominent US collectors.” Two other works by Mueck from the Saatchi collection—Pinocchio, 1996, and Dead Dad, 1996-97—are being handled by the Gagosian Gallery, trade sources report. Though the gallery would neither confirm nor deny the details, the sources maintain that Saatchi would receive $1 million for Pinocchio and $1.5 million for Dead Dad. (Actually, one source notes, Gagosian’s asking price for Dead Dad is “closer to $2 million.”)
Mueck has come a long way since Saatchi discovered his work in the studio of artist Paula Rego, Mueck’s mother-in-law, in 1996. He was then working as a model maker, but Saatchi convinced him he was an artist and offered £3,000 ($4,650), much more than Mueck had asked, for Pinocchio, his first purchase.
Saatchi then bought Dead Dad, a scaled-down portrait of the artist’s father, which was unveiled in the “Sensation” exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1997 to great effect. At about the same time he bought two large-scale sculptures of babies, one reportedly for his then wife Kay as a birthday present. One of them was sold to Chicago collector Stefan Edlis when the “Sensation” exhibition traveled to New York City in 1998. The other was sold at Christie’s in 1998 for $68,000.
Saatchi also persuaded London dealer Anthony d’Offay to give Mueck an exhibition. In 1998 four works priced from £10,000/20,000 ($16,000/32,000) were shown. One, Ghost, was sold to the Tate Gallery; another, Untitled (Man Under Cardigan), went to collectors Kent and Vicki Logan; and two, Mask and Angel, fell to Saatchi. After that d’Offay raised the prices, and Saatchi bought no more.
A 15-foot-high crouching boy, shown at London’s Millennium Dome, had originally been priced at £50,000 ($70,000), but after the Dome closed in 2001, d’Offay raised the price to £500,000 ($700,000). In 2002 a smaller 8-foot sculpture, Pregnant Woman, was sold to the National Gallery of Australia for $461,300, a record price for a living Australian artist.
Mueck’s auction record is far lower. The highest price was £41,100 ($68,000), paid for Big Baby 2 in 1998 at Christie’s London.