Fall Photography Sales Spark Confidence

Despite a slight drop in overall volume, buyer confidence and better material gave the photography market a boost at Christie’s and Sotheby’s most recent round of sales, held Oct. 7–9.

NEW YORK—Despite a slight drop in overall volume, buyer confidence and better material gave the photography market a boost at Christie’s and Sotheby’s most recent round of sales, held Oct. 7–9. The sales were better this fall than they were last spring and last fall, said Peter MacGill, president of Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York. “People who are longtime collectors are tired of not exercising their passion,” MacGill told ARTnewsletter.

Sales at the two houses fell to $10.5million from $13.1million last year. Including Phillips de Pury & Company’s $2.3million sale last year (Phillips did not hold a sale this year), the 2008 fall total was $15.5million, down by almost half from the $29million total of fall 2007.

Sotheby’s sale on Oct. 9 took in a total of $3.75million, just clearing the low end of the $3.5million/5.2million estimate. Of the 245 lots offered, 182, or 74 percent, were sold. By value the auction was 81 percent sold. Sotheby’s total for the fall sale last year was $5.7million for 247 lots.

Christie’s $6.7million total, down from last year’s $7.4million result (ANL, 10/28/08), was boosted by three sales of private collections, as well as a various-owner sale on Oct. 8 that realized $2.7million. “The American Landscape: Photo­graphs from the Collection of Bruce and Nancy Berman” (the same collectors who sold $3million worth of William Eggleston photos at Christie’s last year) took in $1.5million on Oct. 7. A sale of photographs by Sally Mann from a Washington, D.C., private collection took in $667,625 the same day. (“Proud Flesh,” a show of the artist’s work, is on view at Gagosian Gallery’s Madison Avenue branch through the end of this month.) And the Miller-Plummer Col­lection of photographs, which included the work of such artists as Doro­thea Lange, Irving Penn and Alfred Stieglitz, brought a total of $1.8million on Oct. 8.

The single-owner sales yielded solid sell-through rates and several record prices. Philippe Garner, Christie’s international head of photographs, said the results “confirm the ongoing appetite for quality works with interesting provenance and reflect the breadth of connoisseurship that so effectively drives this market.” New York–based photography dealer Deborah Bell said of the single-owner sales, “Given the economic climate, I thought they did surprisingly well. Part of the reason was that Christie’s had very good material.” She noted that the color photographs in the Berman collection in particular have broad crossover appeal to collectors outside the photography market.

The top lot at Sotheby’s was “The Master Collection,” a complete set of the 31 books and 115 prints published by 21st Editions, by artists including Tom Baril, Michael Kenna, Mann and Joel-Peter Witkin. MacGill acquired the ­second-highest lot, Robert Frank’s McClellan­ville, S.C. (Barber Shop Through Screen Door), 1955, probably printed in the 1960s, on behalf of a client. The work soared to a final price of $182,500 against an estimate of $30,000/50,000. “Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans,” an exhibition of the artist’s photographs, is on view at the Metro­politan Museum of Art, New York, through Jan. 3. Robert Mann Gallery, New York, is also showing Frank’s work, including images from The Americans and earlier photos, through Jan. 9.

Man Ray’s image Lee Miller and Friend, depicting two women kissing, was acquired by the collection of Michael Mattis and Judy Hochberg for $98,500, above the estimate of $60,000/80,000. And the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco acquired Pierre Dubreuil’s Eléphantaisie, 1908, for $92,500 against an estimate of $50,000/70,000.

The same price of $92,500 was also paid for Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #95, 1981, a chromogenic print depicting the artist sitting on a bed clutching the neck of her bathrobe closed, though in this case the price fell below the estimate of $100,000/150,000.

Princeton, N.J.–based antiquarian bookseller Joseph J. Felcone acquired a photograph by Ansel Adams, Leaves, Mills College, Oakland, Cali­fornia, ca. 1931, printed 1958, for $80,500, more than double the $25,000/35,000 estimate. A 1988 Calla Lily by Robert Mapplethorpe sold for $80,500, at the top of the $60,000/80,000 estimate.

Postsale Activity Brightens Pictures at Christie’s

At Christie’s various-owner sale on Oct. 8, the top lot, had it sold during the auction, would have been Edward Curtis’s The North American Indian, portfolios 1–20 and text volumes 1–20, which was estimated at $700,000/900,000. The work was purchased following the sale by a private collector for $775,000.

The sale was led by two lots, which both sold for $170,500: Water Lilies, ca. 1906, a platinum print estimated at $150,000/250,000, set a record for a work by the artist, Baron Adolph De Meyer. A gelatin silver print of Frank’s Fish Kill, New York, 1955, made ca. 1969, far exceeded its estimate of $60,000/90,000. Another gelatin silver print by the artist, Political Rally–Chicago, 1956, sold within its $70,000/90,000 estimate for $86,500. Eggleston’s Greenwood, Mis­sissippi, 1973, sold for $158,500, at the low end of the estimate of $150,000/250,000.

Christie’s single-owner sales posted several records, including a new auction high for a work by Mann. Candy Cigarette, 1989, a gelatin silver print, sold for $68,500 (estimate: $30,000/50,000). That was followed by another gelatin silver print by the artist, The Last Time Emmett Modeled Nude, 1987, which sold for $40,000 (estimate: $15,000/25,000).

The top two lots of the Berman sale also set artist records. Bruce Davidson’s Subway, 1980, a set of 47 dye-transfer prints, sold for $146,500, short of the $150,000/250,000 estimate. And Richard Misrach’s Untitled #13-02, 2002, from the book On the Beach, sold for an artist-record $68,500 on an estimate of $30,000/50,000.

Bell, who was bidding on behalf of clients for some lots, told ARTnewsletter that she was amazed that she had to “fight so hard” for the works she wanted. For instance, a William Eggleston print she was bidding on for a client, Untitled, Berlin, 1983, from Kiss Me Kracow, was estimated at $4,000/6,000, but she bought it for $27,500, including premium ($22,000 hammer price). Bell said she took the risk of going higher than the buyer limit, but, in the end, it was the right choice; her client still wanted the work, despite the ­multiple-estimate price tag.

$350,000 Daguerreotype Leads Plummer Auction

The top lot of the Miller-Plummer sale was Anthony Pritchard, ca. 1850, a quarter-plate daguerreotype by Marcus Aurelius Root (1808–88). Estimated at $20,000/30,000, the work soared to an artist-record price of $350,500. Alexander Gardner’s Gardner’s Photo­graphic Sketchbook of the War, volumes I and II, published 1866, sold to a dealer for $92,500 against a $40,000/60,000 estimate. Lange’s Destitute Pea Pickers, California (Migrant Mother), 1936, a gelatin silver print, brought $86,500, also on an estimate of $40,000/60,000. In Bacino di San Marco, Venezia, ca. 1898, a gum bichromate print by Heinrich Kuehn (1866–1944), sold well above its $40,000/60,000 estimate for an artist-record $86,500.

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