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Spring Photo Sales Rebound From Year-Ago Low

Spring auctions of photography at Sotheby’s and Christie’s on April 13–15 indicated a healthy rebound in sales from the auctions of a year ago.

NEW YORK—Spring auctions of photography at Sotheby’s and Christie’s on April 13–15 indicated a healthy rebound in sales from the auctions of a year ago. The two houses posted a total of $14.4million, more than triple the $4million total they realized last year (ANL, 4/1/4/09). (A report on Phillips de Pury & Company’s photo sale on April 16 will be published in the next issue of ARTnewsletter.) The results were still well below the $36.7million spring total realized at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in 2008.

Sotheby’s sale on April 13 took in $5.1million for 240 lots offered, at the top end of the $3.4million/5.1million overall estimate. Of the lots offered, 196, or 82 percent, found buyers. By value the auction was 90 percent sold. The top lot was a vintage print of Edward Weston’s famous image Nautilus, 1927, which doubled the estimate of $300,000/500,000 to sell for $1.1million to a ­California-based collector. The work had been acquired by photographer Bernice Lovett in 1927, and had remained in her family since that time. “Alone among the few Weston nautilus shells that have appeared on the market in recent decades, this print has an unbroken family provenance from the time it was made in 1927 until now,” according to Sotheby’s catalogue. The second-highest price was $290,500, paid for a unique László Moholy-Nagy Photogram, early 1920s (estimate: $200,000/300,000). Weston’s Civilian Defense, 1942, of a nude Charis Weston wearing a gas mask and lounging on a sofa, was acquired by the Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg collection for $152,500 against an estimate of $50,000/70,000. Gargoyle, Chrysler Building, New York, 1929–30, a warm-toned print with black borders by Margaret Bourke-White, sold for $206,500, above its estimate of $120,000/180,000.

Among the more modern offerings at Sotheby’s was Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Six Spherical Gas Tanks, 1998, a sequence of six photographs, which sold for $86,500, within the $70,000/100,000 estimate. The Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, bought Garry Winogrand’s Women Are Beauti­ful, 1981, a portfolio of 85 prints, for $76,900 on an estimate of $60,000/90,000.

Denise Bethel, Sotheby’s head of photographs, said the results showed that the photography market “is strong across all categories, from the 19th century to the 21st.”

Christie’s held three sales, which took in a total of $9.3millon, up considerably from the $1.6million total achieved last year. On April 14 the house opened its photo series with the 70-lot sale “Three Decades with Irving Penn: Photographs from the Collection of Patricia McCabe,” Penn’s former assistant. The auction was 100 percent sold by lot and by value, realizing a total of $3.8million.

The top lot was a 1977 print of Penn’s 2 Gue­dras, 1972, a haunting portrait of hooded Guedra dancers in Goulimine, Morocco. The work sold for $314,500, five times the $40,000/60,000 estimate. The ­second-highest price of the sale was $165,259, paid for a 1985 print of Four Guedras (Morocco), 1971, against an estimate of $40,000/60,000. A dye-transfer print, Broken Egg, NY, 1959 (printed no later than 1964, according to the catalogue), sold for $206,500 against a modest estimate of $7,000/9,000.

Christie’s sale of photos from the Baio Collec­tion of Photography on April 15 realized a total of $1.4million. Of 120 lots offered, 86, or 71 percent, found buyers. By value, the auction was 89 percent sold. The sale featured work by artists ranging from such early masters as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Harry Callahan and Eugène Atget to such contemporary photographers as Sally Mann and Loretta Lux.

The highest price of the sale was $686,500, paid for Atget’s Joueur d’orgue, ca. 1898–99, a gelatin silver chloride print of a Parisian organ grinder with a petite, beaming young woman at his side. The price was far higher than the estimate of $100,000/150,000, and set a new auction record for the artist.

Christie’s various-owner sale of photographs on April 16 realized $4.1million for 158 lots offered. The auction was 75 percent sold by lot, and 87 percent sold by value. The top lot of the sale was a 1983 ­platinum-palladium print of Penn’s Woman in Moroccan Palace (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Marrakech, 1951, which sold for $446,500 on an estimate of $300,000/500,000.

After the sale, Philippe Garner, Christie’s international head of photographs, said the “excellent results demonstrate a renewed confidence in the photography market.”

AIPAD Posts Stronger Attendance, Sales

Dealers at the annual Association of Inter­national Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) show, held March 18–21 at the Park Avenue Armory in New York, also noted improvement in the photography market since last year’s edition of the fair. Orga­nizers reported an slight uptick in attendance, to 8,300 from the 8,000 reported last year. Joshua Mann Pailet, owner of A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans, reported that the gallery’s sales included three works by Cartier-Bresson at prices in the range of $21,000/23,000.

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