Issue #98  11/30/2005
Christie's London Sets Helmut Newton Record, But Only Sells 67% of Lots

Christie's London had the dubious position of following on closely to the New York sales and having to run early to prevent an overlap with its sale in Paris this time around. As a consequence of that plus a real lack of quality material, the house only sold 672,560 pounds sterling (a little under $1.2 million) and 67% of the 94 lots offered here. But that is actually fairly typical of the Fall auctions here.

On this auction I will report on items that sold for over the equivalent of $20,000, including the buyer's premium. The pound was at $1.77 during the sale.

Christie's had secured a group of uncut and, in some cases, undocumented Egyptian and Nubian images by Felix Teynard from a French collector. These rare 19-century images led off the auction. Unfortunately many were in very poor condition and/or not particularly interesting images, and were bought-in. Most of the ones that were the exception sold, but at or below the low estimate.

Michael Sachs bought lot 6, "Colossi" for under the low estimate at 21,600 pounds sterling (a little over $38,200) for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The price put the lot into sixth place in this sale's top ten most expensive lots. Sachs also bought the companion piece to this image in the published format from New York dealer Hans Kraus, Jr. On lot 7, Teynard's "Large Speos", a U.S. collector had to go to the midpoint in the range to take home this beautiful print at 30,000 pounds (about $53,000). That set a world's auction record for an individual print by this artist--although several images have sold privately for more. It also placed the print at number three in the top ten.

After the first of two Man Ray rayographs bought-in, the second managed to get to its reserve of 36,000 pounds (about $64,000) thanks to the bidding of an American collector. That was sufficient to move the lot into second place in this auction's top ten. Neither of the rayographs was particularly attractive and condition was just so-so.

Ansel Adams' "Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite" (lot 34) got its share of attention and went to a U.S. dealer for 22,800 pounds (just over $40,000). The image had sold at Christie's New York for $57,600 just two weeks before, so this was a decent price, even though it was virtually at the top of the estimate range here. The price boosted it into fifth place on the top ten list.

A U.S. collector pushed lot 38, Lee Friedlander's self portrait "Wilmington, DE" well over its estimate range. Estimated at a tempting 10,000-15,000 pounds, the image flew to 28,800 pounds (about $51,000). That also made the lot the fourth highest of the day. The next lot, an unsigned Friedlander of "Atlanta, 1962" also sold to this U.S. collector for 15,600 pounds (just under $28,000), which placed it in a tie for eighth place.

Horst did well in this sale: all his lots sold and sold very well. Lot 62, "Nude Study of Lisa Fonssagrives, NY" printed later, sold for 11,400 pounds (about $20,000), just over the high estimate. And lot 64, "Nude Study of Lisa Fonssagrives, NY" in a vintage print, did even better at 18,000 pounds (nearly $32,000), selling to a U.K. collector. Estimated at 8,000-10,000 pounds, the lot did well enough to place seventh on the top ten list. Lot 65, a printed later "Black Bodice, Fashion Shot", sold at the high estimate at 10,800 pounds (just over $19,000).

Helmut Newton's "Big Nude III" was the big lot of the sale in more ways than one. Perhaps images such as this one have now replaced, or been bought in addition to, that midlife crisis red convertible sports car. All the buyers that I have seen to date on this type of material are middle-aged white guys who don't look like James Bond. Maybe this U.K. collector was different, but Helmut Newton and his ilk appear to have replaced Penthouse and Playboy centerfolds on the wall in an acceptable fashion. The question remains: Is this really art? Or is it just a newly acceptable form of sexism and sexual possession by proxy? Why are photography critics and curators so reluctant to tackle this subject? In any case, this life-size "blow-up doll", estimated at 80,000-120,000 pounds sterling, soared to a new world auction record for the photographer of 176,000 pounds (a little over $311,000). This was, of course, the top lot of the day here.

Newton's other images had mixed results (several lots, including his portfolio, bought-in), although they did better when they were in a state of undress. Lot 69 (not quite appropriately numbered, but almost), his "Mannequins quai d'Orsay II" (two models--one nude--kissing each other), sold to a European collector in the estimate range for 15,600 pounds (nearly $28,000). That tied Friedlander's "Atlanta" for eighth place in Christie's top ten. Lot 70, "Givenchy & Bulgari, French Vogue" (a model having her bodice adjusted by a man), sold to a European collector in the estimate range for 13,200 pounds (just over $23,000). That was enough to edge it into the tenth spot among the highest prices paid at this auction.

Robert Mapplethorpe's nude images of Lisa Lyon (lots 77 and 78) sold for more than double the high estimate at 10,200 (over $18,000) and 11,400 pounds (over $20,000) respectively.

Lot 82, Peter Lindberg's group of models for Vogue taken in Brooklyn, soared to more than double its high estimate at 10,200 pounds (over $18,000). And someone will have to tell me why Patrick Demarchelier's work is worth nearly $18,500--well over its presale estimates--for a mediocre portrait of a black sweatered model (lot 86). If I didn't know better, I would swear there might be a little manipulation going on here.

The bidders on Shirin Neshat's "I Am Its Secret" (lot 92) must have mistaken this color copy of the unique work for the real thing, as they bid up (from an estimate of 2,000-3,000 pounds) the work to 10,800 pounds (or just over $19,000).

And, finally, Susan Derges' large-scale color work, "The River Taw (Oak), sold for over the estimate at 12,000 pounds, or about $21,000.