Issue #97  11/9/2005
Richard Prince Photo Sells For Nearly $1-1/4 Million and Sets New World Auction Record

A Richard Prince photograph (basically a color copy print) set a new world auction record for a photograph. Untitled (Cowboy), taken from the Marlboro cigarette advertising campaign, and, according to Christie's press release, "arguably the most important and iconic example of Prince’s work" sold for $1,248,000, setting a new world record for the artist. It was also the first single photograph to sell for more than $1 million at auction, surpassing the De Prangey record of $922,000+.

The price of the Prince image matched that of several photographs that have sold privately at around this amount.

There are only three prints known of the image and one is in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I spoke with Christie's photography expert Philippe Garner about the image and the price. He told me that he was "thinking quite a lot today and trying to make sense of it. I see a photographer who has managed to probe and explore a pretty major subject that is highly individual, and with an economy of means. The pictures are not just clippings of ads, but questions about America. The irony, of course, is that at the same time he is questioning American values with his images, these images are being bought up at such market prices. It is truly a Warholian twist, which he has achieved.

"What is a great work of art? Is it about skill or technique? Most would say no. It is about the power to make an image that has reach and provokes. Prince is a worthy disciple of Marcel Duchamp. Yes, it is a different time and social context, but the similarities are there: taking the commonplace and ubiquitous and stopping people in their tracks.

"His work has undoubted relevance and we are delighted to have a record for him and to break the record for a single photograph at auction."

Garner went on to make another point about this price and its importance to the market, saying that it was "symptomatic of a significant shift across the art market to focus on the more recent past. The second part of the 20th century seems to be the hottest section of the art market at the moment. I suppose that the time is close enough that collectors can connect to it."

Christie’s evening sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Rockefeller Center totaled $157,441,600 last night, a record for any sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art worldwide, ever.