DAVID COHEN, Editor           
       May 2005  

 


SPRING 2005 PHOTOGRAPHY AUCTION REPORT AT SOTHEBY'S, CHRISTIE'S AND PHILLIPS de PURY & COMPANY

By BRIAN APPEL

 


Man Ray Erotique Voilee 1933
gelatin silver print, 1933, "vintage," 11-1/2 x 9 inches
inscribed 'Meret Oppenheim dans l'atelier de Marcoussis 15 rue Hegesippe-Moreau' in ink (on the verso)
Christie's New York Auction #1502
"Photographs," April 26, 2005
Estimate: $140,000 - 180,000
Sold for (incl. buyer's premium): $284,800

It's no secret the photography market is on a roll. Its growing stature as an artistic activity at a price point other areas of fine art collecting cannot compete with is drawing more and more collectors into the field. Including their mid-February $1,063,764 sale, Joshua Holdeman, international head of photography at Christie's came in with the number one spot in total sales this season with a whopping $6,064,904, a $1.3 million increase over last season. He issued the following statement at the completion of the sale:

“We are exhilarated by the level of healthy activity both in the room and from abroad illustrating the further expansion of the market.”

Including the mid-February sale of photographs from the Kennedy Family Homes sale, Denise Bethel, director of Sotheby's photography department since 1995 was a close second in gross total sales with $5,950,700, a 1.2 million increase over last season, but walked away with both the number one slot in highest price received at auction for any one photography lot with Diane Arbus's, “A Box Of Ten Photographs,” 1970, edition #23/50, at an astounding $553,600 (a new auction record for Arbus) as well as the highest lot average of the big three at an impressive $28,887 for 206 lots (compare this to Christie's 536 lots with a $11,315 average). Unbelievably, the house sold eleven lots with final prices over six figures. Her press office quotes her as saying:

“We are stunned by the strength and energy of today's fine art photographs market.”

Rick Wester, department head over at Phillips de Pury & Company, grasping the important relationships between classic photography of the 20 th century and the contemporary photographic tracings of the 20 th and 21 st centuries continued to reach out to the growing younger photography audience closing the gap between the big three with an impressive total sales figure of $4,284,720.


Robert Mapplethorpe Tulips 1977
unique gelatin silver print diptych, each 14 x 13 7/8 in.; in the artist's original frame
annotated in pencil 'Left' and 'Right' (on the reverse of the mounts) 
Christie's New York Auction #1502
"Photographs," April 26, 2005
Estimate: $90,000-120,000
Sold for: $156,000

In many ways, this season was Diane Arbus's season. Her looming retrospective, “Revelations,” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art presided quietly but pervasively over not only the photography market (she took the number one and two top slots) but, in subtle ways, the entire contemporary market as well. In fact, for the first time I know of, a single Arbus photograph will be auctioned off at the big-ticket Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale on the 11 th of May, sandwiched between a seminal “corridors” Dan Flavin fluorescent light piece (estimated at between $550,000 and $750,000) and a rare and important Gerhard Richter oil on canvas “fighter jet” piece from the 60s (estimated at between $1,200,000-$1,600,000).

Looking closely at the very strong showing of photography this season led by the Neil Selkirk printing of Diane Arbus's, “A Box Of Ten Photographs,” gives us an indication of the money to be made as well as the plum of prestige that accompanies owning an American photographic icon. At Phillips, back in October of '03, “A Box Of Ten Photographs”, edition 15/50 went for $405,500. April 27 th 's sale represents an increase of almost $150,000, or, a not too shabby 36.5% in just 19 months. Let's not forget the fact that at more than half a million a pop, the entire edition of 50 portfolios could garner just shy of $28 million dollars at today's market value or almost 10% of the entire post-war contemporary art market in New York last season. Arbus, along with Man Ray, William Eggleston, Andreas Gursky, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Edward Steichen, Imogen Cunningham, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Thomas Struth, Jeff Wall, Robert Mapplethorpe, Thomas Demand, Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Thomas Ruff, and to a slightly lesser extent, Robert Frank, Robert Adams, Cartier-Bresson, Rineke Dijkstra, Vic Muntz, Gregory Crewdson, Irving Penn, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Walker Evans and August Sander are pushing photography into price points one traditionally associates with painting or sculpture. Many more photo artists are on the cusp of breaking through the symbolic demarcation line of, as Joshua Holdeman has been quoted, “the ghetto of photography”. Prices for the very best material have always done well at market. But there are signs that “secondary” choices are heating up as well.

When the iconic “originals” of master photographers, are unavailable in a heated market due to exponential gains in perceived value, collectors can and are appearing to turn to “printed later” versions at auctions. By “originals”, I mean the “vintage print”, or a print executed by the artist in close proximity to the original exposure. “Vintage prints” are rarely editioned. The first print of an image (especially back before photography was widely thought of as a “collectable”) was usually printed within a few days or weeks of the exposure and was often put aside by the photographer for study, given away as a gift, or sold or traded to another enthusiast. Years might go by before the photographer's reputation creates demand to make additional prints from the same negative. By the time these “printed later” prints are printed, the silver content of the paper has been reduced by the manufacturer and the resolution and verisimilitude of the image is compromised (think pre-war versus post-war construction of apartments in New York City ). Deep blacks may not have the depth of the original “vintage” variety and the whites or top tones might not sparkle as brilliantly.

As an example of this phenomena occurring at all price points of the photography market, let's take a look at an extremely popular image offered up by posed-for-stardom-lensman Lee Friedlander whose eagerly anticipated retrospective opens next month at The Museum of Modern Art. In the most recent round of auctions, “New York City, (Shadow On Fur Collar),” from 1966, a seminal image from Friedlander's highly-regarded 1970, Haywire Press book, “Self-Portraits: Lee Friedlander,” appeared at two auction houses – Sotheby's on April 27 th and Phillips de Pury & Company a day later. The former, Lot #162, sold for $38,400. The Phillips version, Lot #223, sold on the 28 th for $24,000. Why the $14,480 difference in price? Close inspection at the auction preview prior to the actual auction, revealed the difference. Sotheby's print was both exposed and printed in the year 1966 making it a “vintage”, consequently rarer, and much more valuable print. Although there was a substantial difference in price between the two prints, it is only recently that “printed later” versions have brought in that kind of money. The Phillip's image (printed 70s) was estimated to sell for $10,000-$15,000.


Lee Friedlander N.Y.C. (SHADOW ON FUR COLLAR) 1966
signed, titled, dated and numbered '29-21' by the photographer in pencil and his copyright/reproduction rights stamp on the reverse, matted, gelatin silver print, printed 1966, "vintage" 6-1/4 x 9-1/2 inches
Sotheby's New York Auction N08086
"Photographs" April 27, 2005
Lot 162
Est. $12,000 - 18,000
Sold for $38,400


Lee Friedlander N.Y.C. 1966
gelatin silver print, "printed 1970s," 7-3/8 x 11 inches
signed, titled, dated in pencil and copyright credit reproduction limitation stamp on the verso
Phillips de Pury & Company Auction NY040105
"Photographs," April 28, 2005
Lot 223
Est. $10,000 - 15,000
Sold for $24,000

Make no mistake at the world of difference between “vintage” and “printed later,” however. This season's second highest lot, Diane Arbus's iconic “Child With A Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C.,” 1962, signed, titled and dated by the artist herself brought over $400,000 from a private European dealer at Christie's. A “printed later” version of the same Arbus image (printed in 1974 by Neil Selkirk) sold just eight months ago at Sotheby's for $60,000 including buyer's premium ( Lot #184, Sale N08018).

Apparently, you don't have to be a millionaire to feel like one in the present heady photography market. Garry Winogrand's complete portfolio of 85 – 11 x 14 inch prints (edition 66/80) entitled “Women Are Beautiful,” 1964-1975, printed by RFG publishing in 1981, sold at Christie's for $84,000 on April 26 th . The identical edition sold at the same house in October, '03 for $65,725. That's almost a $1,000 a month increase over 19 consecutive months.

But, buyer beware. Connoisseurship (actually interfacing with prints one-on-one) at auction previews or in dealer backrooms is the only way to become acquainted with works of art in a medium where the difference between a “vintage” and a “printed later” print can mean thousands of dollars. Buying a so-so image from a brilliant photographer can mean languishing in minute incremental increases in value over long periods of time. Or buying someone who was “white hot” five years ago can leave you with an image that doesn't sell in the very public place of the auction room. Go and look at every show you can possibly fit into your schedule. Take time to assess the emotional impact the work had on your psyche, if any. Read everything you can get your hands on and talk to as many specialists who are interfacing with the work day in and day out to learn about the artist's signature footprints. Follow the artists you are drawn to for at least a handful of years before making an investment. Look at old auction catalogues to trace value trajectories of images you are particularly drawn to. Oh, and try not to use your credit card. Don't forget that when you buy a lot at auction you will pay 20% on top of the first $200,000 and 12% on the balance of the hammer price, and when you sell, you will have to cough up a seller's fee which could run you as high as 15%. All in all you should factor in 35% for the cost of buying and selling (now you know why auction houses have prestige addresses, hire the best experts and can afford to publish lavishly illustrated and annotated catalogues) before you realize a dime of profit. Don't let this faze you a bit, however. Pick an area of photography you find a close emotional, psychological and intellectual connection with and become a master.

Rapid increases in value, the relative low price-points of “world-class” quality photographs, and the addition of a younger collector who normally buys in the contemporary market but is being seduced by “trophy images” from the latest medium to gain “cache” is feeding fine art photography's growth. The influx of new money from the burgeoning real estate and hedge fund markets are also stoking desire and driving prices.

The new reality is that the market is quickly being dried up of top quality works. Important “vintage” prints are all owned. This is when desire for “originals” reach record highs and “printed later” images become more and more valuable. The market place, especially the transparency of the auction market with the publication of the hammer prices establishes clarity.

I recently approached Paul Sack, one of America 's most respected collectors of photography (“Top 25 Collectors of Photography”, February, 2004 “ARTnews”) and an active player in the auction market and presented him with the following queries:

“Paul, off the top of your head, did you sense this season that the desire to acquire rare, “vintage” works in photography has been out-stripping availability? Are collectors being driven to buy more “printed later” versions because the most desirable are unavailable? Did you sense that what was available this season wasn't as generous as last season? Are there more people collecting photography?”

Mr. Sack, whose exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) of 285 “vintage” photographs, entitled, “ Taking Place : Photographs from the Prentice and Paul Sack Collection” is opening next month (June 2 through September 6) responded:

“Brian, off the top of my head, I can say that the prices of rare, “vintage” works seemed so high that I concluded new people must have come into the market – perhaps people who normally collect paintings but thought to add a few trophy photographs. The prices of some “printed later” pieces, for instance some images by Neil Selkirk, are becoming amazing, but I have no sense that the general run of “printed later” photographs is surging in price. But I could be wrong. I just don't closely watch the “printed later” market. (I myself just bought two Selkirk prints of less famous images at very modest prices). I can't make the comparison between the two seasons but very little of interest seemed to be in this year's auctions. I bid on only two pieces and bought them both at much less that I had thought the gallery prices would have been. If the offerings were less tempting and the total sales were up, more people must be collecting or the same number of people are becoming less selective. I think the former is probably the case. Paul.”

 

TOP 10 [ SPRING 2005]

[ final figures includes buyer's premium] Do to severe restrictions from the Arbus estate regarding reproduction of images, this writer regrets being unable to provide illustrations for the first two lots.

1] Diane Arbus, “A Box of Ten Photographs” , New York , 1970, an edition of 50, each signed, titled, dated and numbered ‘23/50' by Doon Arbus, (printed by Neil Selkirk). [SOTHEBY'S, Sale #8086, April 27, '05 , Lot #164]. Estimate: $250,000-$350,000 / $553,600.

2] Diane Arbus, “Child with a Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park , N.Y.C.”, 1962, “vintage print”, signed, titled, and dated on the verso by Diane Arbus. [CHRISTIE'S, Sale #1502, April 26, '05 , Lot #61]. Estimate: $300,000-$400,000 / $408,000.

3] Man Ray, “Erotique Voilee” , 1933, “vintage print”, inscribed. [CHRISTIE'S, Sale #1502, April 26, '05 , Lot # 105]. Estimate: $140,000-$180,000 / $284,800.

4] Alfred Stieglitz, “Camera Work, An Illustrated Quarterly Magazine devoted to Photography and to the Activities of the Photo-Secession , 1903-1917, Numbers 1-49/50, (complete set). [CHRISTIE'S, Sale #1502, April 26, '05 , Lot #7]. Estimate: $50,000-$120,000 / $284,800.

5] Edward Steichen, “Gloria Swanson, N.Y.” , 1924, “vintage print”, titled, dated and annotated in unidentified hands on the reverse. [SOTHEBY'S, Sale #8086, April 27, '05 , Lot #36]. Estimate: $150,000-$250,000 / $273,600.

6] William Eggleston, “ Memphis ” , circa 1970, printed in 1980, dye-transfer print signed by the photographer and dated and numbered ‘8/20'. [SOTHEBY'S, Sale #8086, April 27, '05 , Lot #176]. Estimate: $100,000-$150,000 / $240,000.

7] Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, “F-83, (1926) Fotogramm” (Photogram with Diagonal Shape). 1926. [SOTHEBY'S, Sale #8150, April 27, '05 , Lot #82]. Estimate: $200,000-$300,000 / $240,000.

8] Edward Weston, “Steel: Armco, Middletown , Ohio ” , 1922, “vintage platinum print”, signed, titled, and dated on the reverse of the mount. [CHRISTIE'S, Sale #1502, April 26, '05 , Lot #137]. Estimate: $150,000-$250,000 / $240,000.

.9] Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, “Fotogramm 1922” (Photogram with Spiral Shape) , 1922 , [ SOTHEBY'S, Sale #8150, April 27, '05 , Lot #81]. Estimate: $200,000-$300,000 / $228,000.

10] Hiroshi Sugimoto, “ Brooklyn Bridge ” , 2001, mural-sized, no. 2 of an edition of 5, in original artist-designed frame. [SOTHEBY'S, Sale #8086, April 27, '05 , Lot #200]. Estimate: $100,000-$150,000 / $168,000.

 

AUCTION HOUSE TOTAL SALES [SPRING ‘05]…………………… $16,300,324

(Including Christie's Feb.15, '05 sale of 283 lots grossing $1,063,764 and Sotheby's Feb.17, '05 sale of 13 photo lots from the Property of the Kennedy Family Homes grossing $195,400)

1] CHRISTIE'S………………………………… $6,064,904 (incl. buyer's premium)

2] SOTHEBY'S………………………………… $5,950,700 (incl. buyer's premium)

3] PHILLIPS de PURY & COMPANY………. $4,284,720 (incl. buyer's premium)

 

SALES OVER 6 FIGURES AT THE BIG 3:

1] SOTHEBY'S………………………………….. 11

2] CHRISTIE'S…………………………………... 9

3] PHILLIPS de PURY & COMPANY…………..5

 

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