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Sharp Drop in Volume at Spring Photo Auctions But Dealers Report Brighter Picture at AIPAD Show

Pared-down sales of photographs at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips de Pury & Company in New York March 30–April 1 realized a combined total of $5.8 million at the three houses, down sharply from the $38.2 million total of last year’s photo sales (ANL, 4/29/08).

NEW YORK—Pared-down sales of photographs at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips de Pury & Company in New York March 30–April 1 realized a combined total of $5.8million at the three houses, down sharply from the $38.2million total of last year’s photo sales (ANL, 4/29/08). Meanwhile, organizers of the 30th annual Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) show, held March 26–29 at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan, reported attendance of 8,000, on par with last year.

New York photography dealer Howard Greenberg, who was an exhibitor at the AIPAD show, told ARTnewsletter he thought the auctions were not an accurate reflection of the photography market, particularly given the lead time in organizing consignments. Sales at the fair, in the week prior to the auctions, indicated an uptick in market activity, he said. “Between the beginning of March and AIPAD things went from lookers but no business to genuine excitement and a reasonable amount of business,” he said. “Things have started up again.”

Dealer Peter MacGill of Pace/MacGill Gallery told ARTnewsletter, “We’re doing business by bringing interesting, important pieces to people’s attention. The flow and momentum that the photo market had gathered is gone, and things are similar to when we were trying to build the market in the 1970s. People are asking for better prices—sometimes they get them and sometimes they don’t.”

The first of the photo auctions, at Sotheby’s on March 30, featured the most talked-about lot of the week, an anonymous mid-19th-century daguerre­otype of an upper Manhattan country house, believed to be one of the earliest pictures ever taken in New York. Estimated at $50,000/70,000, it sold for $62,500 to Tennessee collectors Billy and Jennifer Frist.

The Sotheby’s sale was 63 percent sold by lot, and brought in a total of $2.4million. The top lot was a László Moholy-Nagy close-up portrait of Lucia Moholy, 1920s, which was sold within the $200,000/300,000 estimate to a private collector for $242,500. Two 1970s prints of images from the 1950s by Robert Frank—New Orleans (Trolley) and London (Hearse), both with $80,000/120,000 estimates—garnered the next-highest prices at Sotheby’s, the former selling for $122,500 to a European collector and the second to MacGill for $98,500. Trade buying was notable at the high end of the sale; MacGill was also the buyer of William Eggle­ston’s dye-transfer print Untitled (Peaches! Near Greenville Mississippi), 1971 and printed no later than 1980, which was one of several works consigned from the Bank of America Collection. Estimated at $50,000/70,000, the photograph sold for $80,500.

Galerie Thierry Marlat, Paris, acquired Robert Mapplethorpe’s The Coral Sea, printed in 1985, for $98,500, under the $100,000 low estimate, as well as Irving Penn’s portrait of Pablo Picasso, Picasso (B), printed in 1985, for $62,500 (estimate: $60,000/90,000).

Other lots consigned from the Bank of America Collection included Brett Weston’s circa-1970s print Holland Canal (estimate: $8,000/12,000), which failed to sell, and his vintage 1935 print Ford Trimotor, which sold for $22,500, at the low end of the $20,000/30,000 estimate.

At Christie’s auction on March 31, the total was $1.6million, and 71 percent of the 115 lots sold. The top lot was a 1988 gelatin silver print of Mapplethorpe’s Calla Lily, which sold to a European collector for $122,500 (estimate: $100,000/150,000). Another Mapplethorpe Calla Lily went later in the sale for $52,500 (estimate: $40,000/60,000).

Other highlights at Christie’s included a late-1970s print of Richard Avedon’s Harper’s Bazaar photograph Dovima with Elephants, 1955, which an American collector bought for $116,500 against an estimate of $70,000/100,000, and a 76-print portfolio by Danny Lyon, Conversations with the Dead, 1967–68, which went to an institutional buyer for $56,250, near the low estimate of $50,000.

The April 1 Phillips sale was 67 percent sold by lot and achieved a $1.89million total, slightly below the $2million low estimate. The top lot was an 11-print portfolio of fashion photographs from Paris by Avedon, which was sold for $122,500 on a $100,000/200,000 estimate.

Other highlights included Cindy Sherman’s color coupler print Untitled #122, 1983, which originally appeared in Interview magazine, and sold above its $100,000 high estimate for $116,500. Thomas Ruff’s 541⁄4-by-134-inch abstract inkjet print Substrat 5 II sold within the $60,000/80,000 estimate for $74,500, while a full set of Larry Clark’s 50-piece “Tulsa Portfolio” sold for $43,750 on a $40,000/60,000 estimate.

Two gelatin silver prints by Hiroshi Sugimoto figured among the top lots: Metropolitan Orphe­um, Los Angeles, 1993, sold for $30,000 (estimate: $20,000/30,000), while Vermont Drive-In, South Bay, 1993, sold for $27,500 on an estimate of $18,000/22,000. Andres Serrano’s 1990 dye-destruction print, Klansman (Imperial Wizard), one from an edition of four plus artist’s proofs, sold for $31,250, near the low end of the $30,000/40,000 estimate.

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