“Good vs Evil” by Maurizio Cattelan

This is the analysis of Maurizio Catalan artwork and its performance at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Sale 2013.

Maurizio Cattelan is an Italian artist, who was born in Padova in September 1960. He is famous mostly for his sculptures and installations, but he also works with photographs and acrylics. Maurizio uses a very wide range of materials in his work such as steel, wood, papie mache, glass, stuffed animals, taxidermized animals, skeletons and wax.

Maurizio Cattelan is a commercial artist, who does not consider himself as an artist. In his interview published in 2000[1] he said “I am not an artist. I really don’t consider myself an artist. I make art, but it’s a job.” This statement and idea of art as solely a job may be a part of marketing strategy and image creation. This self-criticism and doubt may be attractive to customers and by buying his art consumers admit the talent of Cattelan and his artistic qualities. The range of different business moves for profit support the idea of artist being commercial, the artist participated in the advertisement, for example the advertisement of Absolute vodka in 1997[2]. He also issued a magazine Together with Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Paola Manfrin called “Permanent Food” (1996 to 2007)[3]. Three years later Maurizio introduces new magazine and manages magazine “Toilet Paper”, bi-annual publication and illustration-based, since 2010[4].

Maurizio Cattelan is placed at a high end of the market and he is well known artist, with strong established reputation. He had travelled with solo exhibitions all over the world and had some works presented in the museums and galleries. The most significant and most recognizable are Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Project 65 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Tate Gallery, London (1999), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2003). Maurizio Cattelan also participated in the Venice Biennale (1993, 1997, 1999, and 2002). His works are also a part of important collections throughout the world such as Rubell Family Collection, Miami; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Castello di Rivoli, Turin; the Dakis Joannou Collection, Athens and Fondation Pinault, Paris.[5] The more popular the artist is the more cultural, hence, market value is added to his works. Therefore, the long list of the galleries and museums suggests that the prices for his art are relatively high.

This overview of the artist, his background and key points of his career may help to analyze and understand his position in the market, as well as to determine where in the market fits the chessboard “Good versus Evil”. In this section I am going to outline the structure of the market for Maurizio Cattelan, determine his works’ price range and summarize key points.

The record price for Mauricio Cattlans’ work was achieved in 2010 for untitled sculpture of the man in the hole made from wax. It was sold for hammer price of $7,000,000 (4,710,000 GDP), which was strongly over the estimate of $3,000,000 – 4,000,000 (2,020,000 – 2,700,000 GDP).[6] Maurizio Cattelan has some works that are sold for millions and were underestimate, such as “Not afraid of Love” sculpture, “The Ballad of Trotsky” or “La nona ora”.

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The table above represents the price range of the average data for the hummer price from 2000 to 2012 as steps of 10%. We can see that the half of the lots was sold for less than $51,218, which is relatively low. However, if we are looking at the top end of his works, we can see that 10% of his works were sold somewhere between $550,000 and $7,000,000 which is relatively expensive.

From the chart bellow it can be seen that Maurizio Cattelan accumulates his wealth and if the outliers (such as 7 million sale in 2010) are omitted we have a decline during the economic crisis, but general trend increases overtime. This means that more works are being sold or fewer but at higher prices, and the more art works are distributed the more fame the author gains and hence, the prices may be expected to keep rising. This means that the Cattelans’ works may be considered not only as art but also as investment. The investment might not be bringing return in the very short run, because the prices rise slowly and the market is rather stable, but in 10-20 years it might bring a significant return.

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All the data provided starts from 2000, hence the analysis is limited and it can not be determined when the market started to rise or how the artist was developing his niche in the market before 21st century, in his early career.

In order to determine the main clients of the artist we should analyze the pie-chart bellow of the structure of transactions made by countries. It can be seen clearly that the most interest in Cattelan is showed by USA, where the artist has lived and worked for a long time, UK and native country – Italy. This chart shows that Maurizio Cattelan is a cross border artist, which means that he has more markets to sell his works, hence, it increases his chances to sell the work.

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Another important indicator to look at in this particular case is the proportion of sculptures, photographs and other media category. As we can see from the chart bellow, sculpture is the main media used by the artist. Hence, we can expect the prices for the sculpture to be higher, because the hand of the master is seen more explicitly rather than, for example, in furniture. This pattern can help us in analyzing the performance of the chessboard “Good versus Evil” which was categorized into Ceramic media category.

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This section is devoted to the lot itself. The subject matter is never out of fashion, which is unresolvable battle of good and evil. The fact that the chessboard has two “teams” – good and bad – and the player can choose a side to fight for might be very appealing and attract more attention and interest from bidders. There are 32 figures hand-painted and crafted by renowned Italian ceramicists Bertozzi and Casoni. Two teams have a mixture of fictional, historical and popular characters from all times. The idea behind this mix is to show good and evil forces in a very broad way and question the concept of reality. Adolf Hitler and Cruella De Vil represent black king and queen, whereas on the “good” side Martin Luther King Jr. and the Virgin Mary appear as main figures. For the white side of the chess there are firefighter, Pinocchio, Mother Teresa, Supermen, Gandhi, Che Gevara and others. For the black side of the chess set we can observe the tree from Adam and Eva’s garden they took the forbidden fruit from, Count Dracula, Rasputin, Donatella Versace and others. There are all unique figures except for Sigmund Freud, whose figure appears on the both sides of the game. The variety of characters brings together different potential byers and attracts different social groups. There are also figures of diverse level of recognition, which implies thin note of irony and humor that can be recognized by educated and intelligent people, which makes byers feel special and smart.

There is a set of seven pieces of this chessboard. This one is the 7th edition. There are only two sets that can be followed with resources available (2nd and 7th), further research will be needed to find other editions, however, it might be suggested that they are in hands of private collectors. In order to understand the estimate, that was given to this lot by experts, previous sales of the chessboards should be analyzed. Sotheby’s New York has estimated the second edition at $3500000-45000 (230000-290000 GDP) in the beginning of 2000s, unfortunately, there is no sign neither of successful nor failing. At 2009, in the very beginning of the economic crisis Christie’s New York reduced the estimate to $250000-35000 (170000-220000 GDP) and lot was sold over the high estimate at $4585000 premium (2768000 GDP). Even during the economic instability and overall decline of the market the lot was sold at unexpected rate, which should attract attention and increase interest among the series of chessboards, hence, increase its market value and price.

Another edition that can be followed is the 7th, which is the lot of my choice. The chessboard is dated by year 2003 and before it was sold at the auction for the first time, chessboard had been exhibited in RS&A LTD in London and Perry Rubenstein Gallery, New York, private collection. In 2007 7th edition appears at evening sale in Christie’s London in “Post War and Contemporary art”, estimated at the $240000-320000 (150000-200000 GDP) and sold over the estimate $423000 (264000 GDP). The market was at its hot spot; hence there might be a lot of bidders who push the hummer price up. Considering constant underestimation and recovered market after the recession, the estimates might have been more aggressive at recent Sotheby’s sale in 2013. However, estimates were the same as in previous sale $240000-320000 (150000-200000 GDP). The popularity of the artist has increased recently, which has added market value. Considering all the factors it might be expected to perform better than the last sale at the auction. The fact that the estimated level had remained the same might be explained if there are issues with condition of the work. If the condition is relatively bad with some extreme damage it may bring the price down. However, after reading the condition report of the Sotheby’s electronic catalogue entry it might be concluded that it is not the case, because “This work is in very good condition. Close inspection reveals a small number of minute scratches to the surface of the wooden chess board in a few isolated places.”[7] Minor scratches unlikely to lower the estimated price.

The placement of the work on preview is also important part of marketing plan to sell the work. The chessboard was placed to the right from the main entrance, next to the star lot. It was placed on such an accessible spot to ensure that as many people as possible will see it. This place adds number of people viewing it and hence creates potential buyers.

In regards of the catalogue entry, there were two whole pages devoted to this lot, which indicates its significance and attracts attention. Since it is a day sale, most of the lots have no more than one page and not much written text about the lot. In case with “Good versus Evil” we have high-resolution picture of reasonable size as well as whole page of catalogue note.

It can be seen in the catalogue, that there is an extra payment for intellectual property rights to the artist as well as temporarily import duties. This shows that the work has been imported and the artist is popular across borders and outside EU as well.

Catalogue note is trying to attract bidders by making the work more desirable. This is achieved through different means; one of them is the language that is used in work and artist description. For example use of subjective adjectives and attaching opinions such as “beautifully executed and intricately detailed”, “[Mauricio Cattelan] one of the most eloquent voices in contemporary art”. Another method used in the catalogue note is to intrigue the readers and add more personality to the text by quoting either artist himself or famous people about the artist or his piece of art. In this particular case it is a quote of contemporary artist Diana Kamin, who says that the chessboard is “battlefield to imagine an epic confrontation between the titular forces”.[8]

In order to bring closer the work and the viewer, there is a short description of some characters from the board, written in a funny and ironic manner. Nevertheless, from my point of view, one of the most important ways to “sell” the lot is description of the exhibition of “The Art of Chess” which was devoted to the legendary and fictional or not game between Napoleon Bonaparte and General Henri-Gratien Bertrand. By making the reference to world known people from history this chess set becomes much more desirable than others. Further research may show that the exhibition was hold in RS&A LTD, London to celebrate the art of playing chess, among other famous contemporary artist such as Damien Hirst, Barbara Kruger, Yayoi Kusama, Paul McCarthy and others. This also adds to the cultural value and therefore market value.

Literature list in the catalogue is not very long and consists only from three entries. All of them are publications in the catalogues for the “Art of Chess” exhibition, catalogues are published in London, Moscow and New York. The work is date 2003, hence, the provenance will not be long, however, for a decade it is followed by clear ownership.

Overall performance at the auction was relatively good, but hummer price (140000GDP) was slightly under the estimate, but still above its reserve price. Unfortunately, the number of bidders is unknown, but final price suggests that there were not many and competition was not strong enough, otherwise hummer price would have been higher. Moreover, since it is an edition of 7 chess sets, it might be argued that the work is not unique, hence, lower the price.

There were two works presented at the auction: “Good versus evil” and “Angolo del Ricordi” installation of a glass mailbox with mail in it. The second lot was 10 lots after the chessboard and was bought in. Unsuccessful performance may be due to unappealing subject matter, unsatisfying condition or other factors that need to be researched further.

To conclude with the topic it should be said that I would have expected higher estimate of this lot and much better performance, because of its previous successful sale and high and stable artist’s position in the market. The fact that the chessboard was downgraded from evening sale in 2003 to day sale in 2013, may have affected the performance as well. It might be argued that if the chessboard were presented at evening sale instead of day may have attract more generous bidders and attention from the “higher” end. Also, this work is not typical for Maurizio Cattelan, so that may have lowered the price as well, because people pay for the brand as well as art, hence, they want it to be recognizable. From my point of view this is a good investment, because I would expect the prices on this artists’ work to increase over time. Moreover, it is a very attractive piece to possess, because not only it is art, but also a chess that has history and meaning behind it.



[1] Phaidon Press Limited, published in 2000, ISBAN 0714838667, Untitled, catalogue of Maurizio Cattalan work

[2] Internet source, Absolutad, http://www.absolutad.com/absolut_lists/ads/pictures/?id=1364&_s=ads

[3] Internet source, Cattelans’ Books, available on http://www.postmedia.net/cattelan/publisher.htm

[4] “Toilet Paper”, internet resource http://www.toiletpapermagazine.org

[5] Internet source, ArtSalrsIndex, available at http://artsalesindex.artinfo.com/asi/search/Maurizio_Cattelan/artistProfile.ai?artistID=30148

[6] Internet source ArtPrice available at http://web.artprice.com/artist/149247/maurizio-cattelan/lots/past?idcurrencyzone=2&iso3=GBP&l=en&p=1&sort=price_desc&unite_to=in

[7[ Condition report, available on http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2013/contemporary-art-day-auction-l13023/lot.320.html

[8] Sotheby’s catalogue sale, day sale of “Contemporary Art sale” , 2013

[9] Artnet and Artprice were used for indices and graphs, as well as estimates and performance of 2nd edition of the chess set.

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