UP AND DOWN WITH NEW YORK SPRING PHOTO SALES
The results in last week's photo sales at the New York auction houses were decidedly mixed. Phillips, de Pury & Co. kicked things off with a three-day, three-part sale Apr. 22-24, 2004, that totaled $4,216,720. Christie's New York photo auction on Apr. 27 totaled $3.8 million. And Sotheby's sales Apr. 27-28 totaled $8.7 million. Overall, the three houses sold $16.7 million worth of photos. "It was the old story," said one art dealer. "Good material not readily available does really well."
Phillips, Apr. 22-24, 2004 Phillips, de Pury & Co. kicked things off on Apr. 22-23, 2004, with "A Century of Fine Photographs 1840s-1940s," an impressive group of rare 19th- and early-20th-century works assembled by Pennsylvania photo dealer Alex Novak, who has said he hopes to use the proceeds to expand his www.iphotocentral.com website. On the one hand, the sale was a disaster, with a scant 76 of the 228 lots finding buyers, or about 34 percent, for a total of $846,360 (est. $2,430,000-$3,710,000). On the other, the sale set auction records for Thomas Annan ($66,000), Charles Clifford ($62,400), Peter Henry Emerson ($26,400) and more than a dozen other photographers.
One striking lot that went unsold was William Henry Fox Talbot's Veronica in Bloom (ca. 1840), a delicate photogenic print of the flowering plant that was estimated at $200,000-$300,000. The estimate is not out of line with Fox Talbot's auction record of 130,000 (ca. $203,000), set in 2000 for another plant impression at Sotheby's London. A prize lot that did find a buyer was Lewis Hine's ca. 1908 print of a Girl Working in a Carolina Cotton Mill, which sold for $90,000 (est. $50,000-$70,000), just below the photographer's auction record.
As Novak pointed out in an email to Artnet Magazine, the results indicate the difficulties involved when a high-profile dealer brings his or her wares to market via auction. Since the consignor is a dealer, many buyers will assume that the material was previously for sale, and will be so in the future as well -- considerations which would encourage interested parties to avoid the heated auction-room atmosphere. Indeed, Novak said that he received "about a dozen phone calls and emails" directly after the auction offering to buy unsold works -- but says he can't make such arrangements due to tax considerations. "Sadly," he said, I think people will look back on the sale and ask themselves why they didn't buy such masterworks at such low prices."
Phillips did better the following day with its general owner sale of photographs. The current market interest in William Eggleston was underlined when a large (ca. 12 x 19 in.) print of his Greenwood, Mississippi (Red Ceiling) (1973) sold for $217,440 (est. $100,000-$150,000), a new action record for the artist. (Sotheby's would sell a 1980 impression of same picture, from an edition of 12, for $84,000 on Apr. 29).
The sale also set new auction records for Gregory Crewdson ($48,000 -- in an edition of 10), Vik Muniz ($69,600) and Larry Clark ($60,000), and set the second highest price ever achieved for a single print by Diane Arbus -- when her signature 1966 print of A Young Man in Curlers at Home on West 20th Street sold for $198,400.
The third section of the Phillips sale was devoted to photographs from the Magnum archives. This selection too was something of a disappointment, totaling $570,060, well below the presale low total estimate of $1.1 million.
Christie's, Apr. 27, 2004
Christie's sale of photographs on Apr. 27, 2004, offered 369 lots; 246 sold, or 67 percent, for a total of $3,778,302. Top lot was Alvin Langdon Coburn's Shadows and Reflections, Venice, a moody asymmetrical image from 1905 of a woman crossing a Venetian canal that went for $365,900, a new world auction record for a work by the artist. The estimate was $120,000-$180,000.
The previous record for a Coburn photo was 139,650 (ca. $228,560) paid for a 1917 "vortograph" at Christie's London in 2003. The current sale included another experimental vortograph from the same year, an abstraction of crystalline forms, which sold for $209,100 (est. $180,000-$220,000).
The third highest price was paid for a ca. 5-ft.-tall black-and-white print by Helmut Newton, Panoramic Nude with Gun, Villa d'Este, Como (1989), which went for $181,100 (est. $40,000-$60,000). The work is in an edition of three.
Joel Sternfeld's stock is also rising, if this sale is any indication. His On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam (1993-96), a set of 53 color prints depicting various locations where infamous crimes took place, went for $153,1000, substantially above its presale high estimate of $120,000.
(Christie's spring photo sales continue on May 18 in London with a sale of 89 daguerreotypes from the archive of Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey, with estimates ranging from 1,800-150,000. In its May 2003 sale of material from the archive, Christies set a new world auction record for a single photograph when Athènes Temple de Jupiter Olympien went for 565,250.)
Sotheby's "Private Collection," Apr. 27, 2004
In Sotheby's sale of "Important Photographs from a Private Collection" on Apr. 27, 2004, all 43 lots found buyers for a total of $3,949,600 (including premium). Though the consignor was anonymous, speculation within the profession gave the collection to Anne Fisher, a board member of the International Center of Photography, who was killed along with her husband, Anthony Fisher, the real estate financier and philanthropist, in a small-plane crash on Apr. 4, 2003.
The collection contained great examples of great photographs, and almost every lot soared well above its presale estimates. The highest price was paid for a print of Diane Arbus' iconic Identical Twins (Cathleen and Colleen), Roselle, N.J. (1967), which went for $478,400, above a presale estimate of $250,000-$350,000. The price is a new auction record for Arbus, and is emblematic of the run-up in Arbus prices at other auctions during the week. The record auction price for a 20th-century photo, by the way, belongs to a 1927 Charles Sheeler photo that sold for $607,500 in 1999.
Sotheby's sale of the anonymous collection also set a new auction record for an Edward Weston nude, when the semi-abstract Breast (1922), a ca. 8 x 9 in. platinum print titled and signed on the mount, sold for $299,200 (est. $150,000-$250,000) and for an Edward Weston dune, when Dunes, Oceano (1936) sold for $176,000 (est. $50,000-$80,000).
The sale set a new auction record, too, for a photograph by Walker Evans, when his Negro Barbershop Interior, Atlanta (1936) sold for $198,400 (est. $80,000-$120,000). The lot used to advertise the sale, Tina Modotti's formalist platinum print of a row of a telegraph poles from ca. 1925, sold for $164,800 (est. $100,000-$150,000).
Man Ray's Boîte à conserves, an assemblage of 15 portraits of Surrealist notables from the 1960s (attached to cardboard blocks so that they can be rearranged) sold for $209,600 (est. $30,000-$50,000). Edward Steichen's glamorous 1924 portrait of Gloria Swanson behind a lace veil sold for $153,600 (est. $20,000-$30,000).
Sotheby's, Apr. 28, 2004
The collection of 33 mammoth-plate albumen prints taken by Carleton Watkins of Yosemite National in 1878-81 went on the block at Sotheby's on Apr. 28, 2004. This group of photos was being sold by the photographer and collector Gordon L. Bennett, who bought them in San Francisco in 1967. All of the pictures found buyers, for a total of $1,993,800.
Top price was $310,400 (est. $100,000-$150,000) paid for Watkins' Agassiz Rock and Yosemite Fall (1878-81) by the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco. Fraenkel was the buyer for three of the top ten Watkins lots, according to the auction house, as was the Robert Klein Gallery in Boston.
Sotheby's general-owner sale the same day sold 144 of 179 lots, or more than 80 percent, for a total of $2,795,200. Among the more interesting results was the sale Tina Modotti's Bandolier, Corn and Guitar, a 1927 gelatin silver print of a kind of Mexican hammer and sickle, for $120,000 (est. $80,000-$120,000) to Howard Greenberg Gallery, and the auction of a 1937 Ansel Adams portrait of a flirtatious Georgia O'Keeffe with Orville Cox in Canyon de Chelly for $43,200 (est. $6,000-$8,000).
Similarly, Robert Adams' Colorado Springs (1974), a 6 x 6 in. gelatin silver print of a suburban house front that was printed in 1983, sold for $21,600, more than four times its presale high estimate of $5,000. A dramatic Robert Mapplethorpe nude, Torso (Lisa Marie) (1987), from an edition of 10, sold for $84,000 (est. $15,000-$25,000).
For complete, illustrated results, consult Artnet's signature Fine Art Auctions Report