NEW YORK—Sotheby’s sale of photographs from the Polaroid collection June 21–22 was one of the largest photo auctions ever held by the house, with strong demand for fresh-to-the-market works resulting in a total of $12.5million, exceeding the $6.9million/10.7million overall estimate. The sale included original works by many major photographers, as well as works from the so-called Library Collection of photos taken without Polaroid equipment, which was assembled by Ansel Adams, a friend and collaborator of Polaroid founder Edwin Land, beginning in the 1950s.
The four-session, 473-lot auction was 97 percent sold by value and 89 percent sold by lot. Of the 473 lots offered, 420 found buyers. Fourteen artist records were set, including ones for single photographs by Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol, Lucas Samaras and Harry Callahan, as well as for photographic works by Chuck Close, David Hockney and Robert Rauschenberg.
The sale began with an evening session on June 21 in which all 100 lots were sold, bringing a total of $7.2million against an estimate of $2.9million/4.5million. The top lot of the evening and the sale was a mural-sized print of Adams’s 1938 Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, probably printed in the 1950s or ’60s. Estimated at $300,000/500,000, it sold for a record $722,500 to the Alinder Gallery, Gualala, Calif., which specializes in Adams. Gallery owner James Alinder told ARTnewsletter that “quality and rarity” factored into the price. “We’ve done research on Ansel Adams and his murals for the last 30 years,” he said. “Of all the murals, this is one of the rarest, and it was in really excellent condition.”
The top six lots were all works by Adams, which brought a collective total of $2.9million. The second-highest lot of the sale was Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941, also mural-sized and probably printed in the ’50s or ’60s, according to the catalogue. It sold for $518,500, topping its estimate of $300,000/500,000.
Other top-selling Adams works include Aspens, Northern New Mexico, 1958, probably printed in the 1960s, which sold for $494,500 on an estimate of $150,000/250,000; Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada, from Lone Pine, California, 1944, printed in the 1950s or ’60s, which fetched $482,500 on an estimate of $300,000/500,000; and two prints of The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942, likely printed in the 1950s or ’60s, which sold for $350,500 and $326,500.
Also among the top lots were 9 Part Self Portrait, 1987, a composition of nine unique large-format Polaroid Polapan flush-mounted prints by Close, which sold for $290,500, far above the $50,000/70,000 estimate, and Warhol’s unique large-format Polaroid Polacolor print Self-Portrait, Eyes Closed, 1979, which fetched $254,500, far surpassing its similarly modest $10,000/15,000 estimate. Callahan’s “Trees and Mist” (Chicago, Trees in Snow), 1950, printed no later than 1958, sold for an identical price of $254,500 on an estimate of $70,000/100,000. And Rauschenberg’s Japanese Sky I (from the “Bleacher” series), 1988, a composition of four unique bleached Polaroid Polapan prints mounted to aluminum, was sold for $242,500, four times the $40,000/60,000 estimate.
Several photographs from the Library Collection that were featured in the later sessions also sold well, such as a group of 11 plates from Edward Weston’s Fiftieth Anniversary Portfolio, 1951, which fetched $86,500 against an estimate of $50,000/70,000, and Attic Door (The Photographer’s Home, Rochester, NY), 1956, by Minor White, which sold for $10,000 on a $6,000/9,000 estimate. Laura Gilpin’s The Rio Grande Yields Its Surplus to the Sea, 1947, printed no later than 1957 (originally acquired for the Library Collection in 1957), sold for $28,125 after a four-way bidding war (estimate: $6,000/9,000).
The Polaroid collection was sold by order of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Minnesota.