ARTnewsletter Archive

Upbeat Photo Sales Outstrip Last Year’s Totals

The sale of works from the collection of former commodities traders Refco Inc.—which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last October—underscored the market’s growing interest in contemporary photography, while vintage 20th-century images also sold well in sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips, de Pury and Company in Manhattan from April 22-26.

NEW YORK—The sale of works from the collection of former commodities traders Refco Inc.—which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last October—underscored the market’s growing interest in contemporary photography, while vintage 20th-century images also sold well in sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips, de Pury and Company in Manhattan from April 22-26.

The 183 Refco works were sold without reserve in the Christie’s sale on April 25 and achieved a total of over $1.9 million. Overall the 413-lot Christie’s sale was 88 percent sold through, for a total of $7.5 million. At Sotheby’s on April 22, the total was $6.3 million, with 89 percent of the 218 lots selling through. The Phillips auction on April 26 sold 77 percent of 417 lots, for a $6.16 million total. By comfortable margins, all three houses surpassed last year’s totals of $5 million, $5.75 and $4.3 million, respectively (ANL, 5/10/05).

Among highlights of the Refco pictures: seven lots of color coupler prints evoking the African-American past, by Carrie Mae Weems, with text sandblasted into the glass of the frames. Drawing multiple bids, all sold for high multiples of their estimates, for a total of $113,400, against combined estimates of $21,000/32,000. The highest price given for a single lot from the Refco collection was $96,000, for Joel Sternfeld’s large-format, color coupler print McLean, Virginia, December 1978, more than triple the high estimate of $30,000. Christie’s plans to sell 40 more lots from the Refco collection in an evening sale on May 5, and 100 more as part of its postwar and contemporary art sale on May 10.

The top lot at the Christie’s sale was a 1979 platinum-palladium print of Irving Penn’s Harlequin Dress (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), 1950, which went for $352,000, more than double the high estimate and an auction record for Penn.

Ansel Adams Stars at Sotheby’s

At the Sotheby’s auction on April 22, Ansel Adams’ Surf Sequence, San Mateo County Coast, California,1940, a set of five images, also achieved $352,000 (estimate: $150,000/250,000) and set an auction record when it was acquired by the Weston Gallery of Carmel, Calif.—the same gallery that initially had sold the work to the consignor, 7-Eleven, Inc. Another Adams from the same collection, The Grand Tetons and Snake River . . ., printed circa 1955, fetched $251,200, about double the high estimate.

All told, only four of 58 lots from the 7-Eleven collection were bought in at Sotheby’s, and the total realized was $1.9 million. Other high points at Sotheby’s included two portfolios of photogravure images of the “North American Indian” by Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952). Estimated at $15,000/ 25,000 each, both were purchased by Seattle dealer Lois Flury of Flury & Co. Flying way above their estimates, Curtis’ Portfolio 3, 1908, went for $132,000, while Portfolio 4, 1909, took $120,000. Sotheby’s sold all 17 lots of Curtis’ North American Indian pictures on offer at the sale. Helmut Newton’s Panoramic Nude with Gun, Villa d’Este, Como, 1989, sold for $120,000, within the estimated $100,000/150,000.

“Today’s results show that the market continues to be as strong as ever,” said Sotheby’s director of photographs Denise Bethel. Noting the contrast between the material on offer and the works included in its groundbreaking sale of photographs from the Metropolitan Museum of Art last February (ANL, 2/28/06), Bethel pointed out that, “from 19th-century tintypes to a mammoth architectural study by Hiroshi Sugimoto, we had spirited bidding for a completely different range of photographers.”

Over at Phillips, the top lot was Man Ray’s Rayograph, 1926, a unique 10-by-8-inch silver gelatin print that fell near its low estimate for $296,000. Paul Outerbridge Jr.’s The Piano, 1926, a 5-by-4-inch platinum print, made an above-estimate $108,000; and Robert Mapplethorpe’s uncharacteristic Flag, 1987, realized $100,800 (estimate: $40,000/60,000), a record price for a silver print of the work. A portrait, Frida Kahlo Rivera, 1935-37, by Imogen Cunningham (estimate: $18,000/24,000), took $42,000.

“Our clientele is global and continues to broaden,” said Phillips’ head of photographs Rick Wester. “For the third sale in a row, our client base expanded by high percentages.”

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