ARTnewsletter Archive

Major Museum Shows Fuel New Interest in Eggleston Photos

Major museum shows of the photography of William Eggleston (b. 1939) have further boosted the already-robust market for the artist’s work in recent years.

NEW YORK—Major museum shows of the photography of William Eggleston (b. 1939) have further boosted the already-robust market for the artist’s work in recent years. A retrospective, which debuted at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in 2008, traveled to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., last year (June 20–Sept. 20), and opens at the Art Institute of Chicago later this month (Feb. 27–May 23). The show will then travel to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Oct. 31–Jan. 16. Currently Cheim & Read, New York, is hosting “William Eggleston: 21st Century,” an exhibition of 24 new works by the Memphis, Tenn.–based photographer, on view through Feb. 13.

Meanwhile, the cover of the most recent album by indie-rock band Spoon features a 1970 Eggleston photograph, shot in Sumner, Missis­sippi, depicting a young boy with a bored expression slumped on a chair in a living room. Over the years, other recording artists—including Primal Scream, Green on Red, Big Star and Chuck Prophet—have also licensed his images for their album covers.

“Eggleston became a star after the Museum of Modern Art put on a big show of his work in 1976,” Howard Read, co-owner of Cheim & Read, told ARTnewsletter. “It really put him and color photography on the map. But there are so many people who weren’t alive at the time of that show who have really gotten into his work, a lot of them under 30.”

He said sales have been brisk for the photographs in the current show, which date from 1999 through 2007. Each photo comes in an edition of seven and is priced in the range of $7,500/12,000 (the prints become progressively more expensive as the edition sells out).

Eggleston’s work is in the collections of a number of museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Dallas Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the Ludwig Museum, Cologne; MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the Sprengel Museum, Hannover, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. The Whitney, which last year acquired 16 prints by Eggleston (13 through funds provided by donors Marsha Dunn and Jonathan Sobel, two purchased directly by the museum and one that came as a gift from the Eggleston Trust), purchased another four photographs from the Cheim & Read exhibition.

A near-identical version of the Cheim & Read show is on view at the Victoria Miro Gallery, London through Feb. 27. “We have sold 30 or so” prints to date, gallery director Glenn Scott Wright told ARTnewsletter. This has been the second Eggleston show at the gallery; a previous one in 2004 “sold out immediately,” predominantly to British and continental European collectors.

Cheim & Read has represented Eggleston since 1984 and has put on at least ten exhibitions of the artist’s work in that time, Read said. He noted that Eggleston’s work from the 1970s is the most sought after, ranging in price from $15,000/20,000 for less well-known images to $300,000 for iconic works on the secondary market. “He has an enormous catalogue of work from the 1970s, much of it never published,” Read said, suggesting that the supply of artworks won’t be running out any time soon. It is not uncommon for Eggleston to make print editions of much earlier work, he added.

Read said that Eggleston’s collectors buy widely in Postwar and contemporary art and are not focused solely on photography. Eggleston’s work has also been offered at public sales a number of times. The auction market for the artist’s work reached its high point in October of 2008, with the sale at Christie’s of the 75-print portfolio Los Alamos, 1965–74, for $1million, nearly double the estimate of $350,000/550,000. Top prices for his work include $289,000, paid for the ten-work Southern Suite, 1981, at Christie’s in April 2008 (estimate: $80,000/120,000), and $253,900, paid for a 1980 print of Memphis, ca. 1970, an image of a tricycle, at Christie’s in October 2004 (estimate: $90,000/120,000). Read said that the gallery has sold prints of Memphis for similar amounts.