Sotheby's with the help of the New York Metropolitan Museum put on a show as a number of key records fell during its post-AIPAD February 14-15 photography auction, largely on the first night. Of the nearly $15 million sold at this two-day affair, about $11-1/2 million was bought in just the first evening. And by now, unless you live somewhere on the far side of the moon, you have probably heard that there is a new world record for a photograph--and it is a doosie. At this auction, not one, but three photographs easily toppled the world auction record for a photograph recently set at $1,248,000 by Christie's for the Richard Prince's color copy image of a Marlboro ad. Oh, by the way, every single photograph in this sale was sold (with the help of a re-auction of one lot), and the total take of $14,982,900 was a record for a single-owner photography auction (or any photography auction, for that matter).
Before this Sotheby's sale of photographs from the Met, including the Gilman Paper Co. collection, I had gone on record as saying that I thought Edward Steichen's "The Pond--Moonlight" should break the $2 million mark, despite its rather low $700,000-$1,000,000 estimate, and set a new world record for a photograph at auction in the process. The image was, for me, simply the most breathtaking photograph to ever come up under the hammer. To give you an idea about "the feel of the room", when I walked into the Sotheby's that evening, I immediately said to myself--without the hesitation that I felt before I got there--$3 million. I wasn't to be far off the mark.
Sometimes, as witness last autumn's Sotheby's sale on the Andre Kertesz vintage print of Chez Mondrian, photographs that should sell for very high prices don't always fulfill their expectations. There have not been a lot of buyers for very high six and seven-figure photographs--at least before this sale, so I had a little trepidation about my original estimate. After all it takes at least two people to push prices up at an auction, and who would be those two parties to elevate the Steichen's and Stieglitz's here into that rarified seven-figure atmosphere? Would the images and the sale provide the motivation to send the bidding over the estimates here? Also, who or at least what type of bidders would become players at this sale?
Clearly we saw interest from bidders with an appetite for the paintings of the Stieglitz Circle. I will detail some of that interest shortly. But apparently the whispered hedge fund money managers' interest never really materialized--at least at this photography auction. When I asked San Francisco dealer Jeffrey Fraenkel, one of those heavily involved in the first evening's auction, about the possible bidding of hedge fund collectors, he demurred tongue-in-cheek, "As far as I could tell, the hedge fund folk are not generally interested in dusty old pictures like these. The photographs don't have the same wall power or social cachet as works by Warhol, Hirst or Koons."
In the interest of space (and time) I will mostly only review lots that hit above $35,000 with the premium, although in this sale that only eliminates about a third of the lots and none (yes, none!) from the first night's portion of the sale. All lot prices will include the buyer's premium, which at Sotheby's is 20% on the amount up to $200,000 and 12% thereafter. For this newsletter I will report on the first evening's sales results, and the second day's escapades will have to hold until the next newsletter, which I will get out shortly.
From the first lot (a large-format Steerage), the broader net that Alfred Stieglitz himself had cast also resulted in bidders, who, even before this evening's purchase of photography, were interested in the art circle exhibited and promoted by Stieglitz. The winning bidder John Driscoll, owner of Babcock Galleries, told me, "I bought the photos for inventory. The quality, provenance and history of the works were absolutely irresistible. Lot number one, Stieglitz's "Steerage" was a breathtakingly beautiful example of the image and--to a considerable degree--the following lots were also of great interest and quality." The final price, including premium, was $36,000 for this Steerage photogravure from a rare deluxe copy of "291". Most large format copies that have come on the market have been the less rare version on Japan vellum instead of the thinner Japanese tissue of this print. The final hammer price was $5,000 over the high estimate.
Driscoll was to buy two other images this night--all for inventory, and all will be placed in very good company indeed. Babcock Galleries is the oldest gallery specializing in American Art and the Circle of Stieglitz, and sells and has sold paintings by the likes of Max Weber, Marsden Hartley, Mary Cassatt, William Glackens, Alfred Maurer, George Inness, Fitz Hugh Lane, John Kensett, Severin Roesen, Sanford Gifford, Winslow Homer, Ralph Albert Blakelock, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Thomas Eakins and Childe Hasam. The New York City gallery has been in existence since 1852. If anyone still questioned photography's ability to stand with the rest of the Art World's media, this sale and its buyers may have dealt them a final blow.
But don't think it was all going to be new players making their mark here. One of the other big bidders at the auction was Solomon Fine Art. Mary and Dan Solomon had been long-time West Coast photography collectors, and Mary has been a private dealer who has now refocused on art consultation and has several large corporate and private clients--many of whom were active here. The first successful bid by Solomon was on lot 2, Stieglitz's large format photogravure of "Spring Showers", which she bought for $55,200 for a private collector "who has a nice Stieglitz collection and wanted an image from the sale." Massachusetts photography dealer Mack Lee was also an active bidder on the lot, which soared well over the estimate of $20,000-30,000.
Driscoll of Babcock Galleries came right back on the next lot, another large format photogravure by Stieglitz. This time the subject was the "Flat-Iron", which was also estimated at $20,000-30,000. When the bidding had finally died down, Driscoll had to pay a total of $66,000 for the lot.
The auction was starting to attract serious money and the first actual photographic process print had yet to be sold. Lot 4, Edward Steichen's image of Frederick H. Evans looking at an F. Holland Day photograph, gathered lots of attention, but ultimately sold to the phone for a whopping $84,000--double the high estimate. Two people claimed to be underbidders. Carol Johnson of the Library of Congress thought they were the underbidder, but I guess collector Michael Mattis beat her book dealer surrogate to the punch for this dubious honor.
What better prelude to Steichen's Pond than Steichen's Pool? New York photography dealer Hans Kraus, Jr. paced the early action on lot 5 Steichen "The Pool--Evening: A Symphony to a Race and a Soul", which was largely between him and the phones. But it was to be Babcock Galleries' John Driscoll who took the ultimate plunge at $296,000 for this lot, which had been estimated at $100,000-150,000. That price, which used to be more than enough for first place in many auctions' Top Ten, was here only good enough to just edge the lot into last place on this list. Driscoll, who bid from the floor, later told me, " While I knew that I would not be purchasing the great Steichen "Pond--Moonlight", I did find the smaller "The Pool--Evening" entrancing for its subtle modulation of tone and inherent compositional abstraction."
It was, of course, lot 6 that had everyone holding their collective breathe, or at least most everyone. The famed Edward Steichen "The Pond--Moonlight" was estimated at $700,000-1,000,000, but most observers felt it would go higher--just how much higher would be the question. After all, it was a huge rarity with only two other copies known, a second also at the Met and the other at the New York Museum of Modern Art. Malcolm Daniel, curator in charge of the Met's department of photographs, had told me that he couldn't really tell which of their copies was the better version, but that since Stieglitz had given the other one directly to the Met, they felt that they had to keep that print. He did note that there was some slight conservation work on the one that they kept.
A Richard Prince copy photograph "Untitled (Cowboy)" had sold just a few months previous to New York contemporary art dealer Stellan Holm for a new world auction record for a photograph of $1,248,000. Would it be broken here? And, if so, by how much and by whom?
Let us be honest. Most of us who profess to love photography were shocked and perhaps even a bit appalled at the Prince auction record. Yes, many were happy that a "photograph" had finally brought such a high amount at auction and garnered "recognition" for the medium. But few in the photography community would deem this image a photograph in the normal sense of that word, considering it was a copy print of another photograph's reproduction in a commercial advertisement. For it to hold the record was, to many, akin to Anna Nicole Smith being crowned by the Pulitzer committee as having made the greatest contribution to humanity and intellectual advancement. But, of course, a copy of this image hangs in prime space at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art--ironically the same vaulted source for this auction's treasures, including the Steichen Pond. Many cited the provenance and the museum's review process as the reason for bidding in the Sotheby's sale. Interesting, no?
But, again, would we see more than one bidder to boost the Steichen up the bidding ladder? The battle was on. Up in front Hans Kraus, Jr. nodded his head, and then a little further back and on the right, New York photography gallerist Peter MacGill of New York's Pace/MacGill Gallery raised his hand. But then a bidder in back joined them. Lisa Newlin, bidding for a client of Solomon Fine Art, drove MacGill on, as Kraus gave up the hunt. Up and up the trio had gone, easily past the high estimate, and even past double the high estimate. But, finally, it was MacGill in the end taking the Steichen treasure at the record-setting $2,928,000, with Solomon Fine Art the underbidder. Polite applause erupted in the salesroom. The price was not only a world auction record for the artist, but was also the new world auction record for a photograph. In fact the price was about 730% more than the artist's previous record of slightly over $400,000 paid by the Musée d'Orsay in October 1999 for Steichen's 'In Memoriam' at the Jammes sale in London. Quite a jump. Even more of a jump from the original price tag in 1906 of just $75. It goes without saying that the picture was also the top lot of the sale.
But whom had Peter been bidding for with that phone in his ear? "On behalf of a private collector", said the Sotheby's press material. About the auction (he refused to talk about individual lots), MacGill would only say he "was bidding for a number of individuals, all people who have been collecting photography for at least 10-20 years."
While that may be true, I have also been told via several sources--at least one a non-photography source--that this particular buyer was primarily a painting collector specializing in Stieglitz Circle material and was a client of Philippe Alexandre of the Alexandre Gallery, who, according to these sources, was reportedly working with Pace/MacGill. This company is a very well known and respected painting gallery dealing in American Modernism and which also has a focus on Stieglitz Circle material. Alexandre, when I called him, heatedly denied he was involved in the Steichen lot and then oddly referred me to Peter MacGill for information. Prior to the auction I also heard from sources at Sotheby's that one of its painting clients had been extremely interested in the Steichen. Perhaps the same client?
But if you thought all the fireworks were finished after this lot, you would be sorely mistaken. There was still a lot more action to come.
The next lot, Steichen's 'Balzac--The Open Sky', which was the front cover image on the catalogue, came up in the back draft of the previous lot's excitement. The winning bidder, Dan Solomon, who was bidding for his personal collection, told me that it felt like "the air had left the room after the Steichen "The Pond--Moonlight" had sold." Estimated at a reasonable (for the importance of the image) $500,000-700,000, the print is only known in three examples of the larger size, one other at the Met and another in private hands. Solomon found himself bidding against New York dealer Janet Lehr and Indiana dealer Lee Marks (probably bidding for collector Howard Stein), among others, for this prize, which he finally secured at $632,000. That price, as stunning as it is, might be considered one of the few real buys of this auction. The price though was only good enough for a distant fourth place in this auction's Top Ten.
Lot 8, Alvin Langdon Coburn's Vortograph No.8, was sold to the Milwaukee Art Museum for $132,000--just over the low estimate. It was also a pretty good value when compared to other Vortographs sold at auction in London. I talked to Lisa Hostetler, assistant curator of prints, drawings and photographs of the museum, who told me, " I worked at the Met from 2001-2005, leaving in March 2005 just before the Gilman acquisition was finalized. Since I was responsible for coordinating the maintenance of the Gilman works at the Met and inventoried the entire Gilman collection prior to its acquisition by the Met, I was very familiar with the photographs and knew of their quality. Therefore, I made a concerted effort to raise money for the auction." Some of the significant donations for this effort, which netted a total of four important photographs from this sale, came from the Herzfeld and the Argosy Foundations and Friends of Art, according to Milwaukee Art Museum Director and CEO David Gordon.
The next lot, Edward Steichen's 'Triumph of the Egg', attracted a lot of dealer interest as Charles Isaacs, Paul Hertzmann and, I believe, Maggie Weston all took a shot, but it was German dealer Ute Hartjen of Camera Works who took home the egg at $84,000. It was the second 'Egg' to come up at auction within three months. The other came up at Christie's Paris auction of Claude Berri's collection. There it made 48,000 euros (a little over $56,000) and sold to Howard Greenberg. I felt the prints were comparable. Obviously the price was much higher here, even though most observers felt that Berri did very well indeed at his auction.
Lot ten was the first of the actual Alfred Stieglitz photographs (as opposed to photogravures), a lovely platinum-palladium print of 'Georgia O'Keefe in front of Charcoal Drawing', which was estimated at $150,000-200,000. On this one Peter MacGill had to bid to $531,000 in order to bring it home for his client. The half-million-dollar-plus price tag only put the lot into fifth place in this sale. At the time it briefly (very briefly) set a new world auction record for Stieglitz, but no one seemed to notice. The previous record was held by Sotheby's New York for Stieglitz's 'From the Back Window--291', which had sold for $420,500 in October 1999.
Stieglitz's iconic 'Georgia O'Keeffe (Hands)' was the next lot. It had drawn a lot of attention prior to the sale. There was a mixed quality of tension and beauty to this image of O'Keeffe's fingers nervously pinching the flesh of one of her hands. The estimate of $300,000-500,000 seemed very low in the context of this sale, and the bidding took off like a shot. At the beginning it was Peter MacGill again versus a determined phone bidder. But then West Coast dealer Jeffrey Fraenkel joined the fray, and in the end it was Fraenkel who placed the winning bid of $1,472,000, which was a new world auction record for the artist, and would have been a world auction record for a photograph if the Steichen Pond hadn't preempted that spot. The price put the lot into second place for the auction.
West Coast dealer Jeffrey Fraenkel had told me after the sale, "The Stieglitz prints are the sort of objects that, when studied out of their frames, remind one why Stieglitz was a great artist. We tend to think of Stieglitz with a capital 'S' and of his best images as icons, but the Met's prints had an immediacy and authority that barreled through the myth."
Barrel indeed is what Fraenkel did, right through the next pair of Stieglitz lots, despite the valiant efforts by New York dealers Peter MacGill and Howard Greenberg and others, such as Ute Hartjen of Camera Works, to stop him. First he took lot 12, Stieglitz's '291--Braque--Picasso Exhibition', for $262,400 (estimate $50,000-70,000); then lot 13, the stunning nude of Georgia O'Keeffe, for nearly another world record at $1,360,000 (estimate $300,000-500,000), the third picture of the night that had eclipsed the old world auction record for a photograph. Third place in the Top Ten list was also claimed.
Three more Stieglitz lots also did well. Lot 14, his portrait of Marsden Hartley (estimate $50,000-70,000) managed to attract triple the mid-range at $216,000 from an Indian-looking man with a phone, who walked out immediately after winning the lot. Art consultant Jill Quasha was the underbidder.
Quasha also found herself to be the underbidder on the next lot, Stieglitz's portrait of John Marin. This time the Milwaukee Museum of Art was the winner at $84,000, against an estimate of $25,000-35,000.
One of the true "bargains" of the night had to be the next Stieglitz, which was a 1919-21 palladium print of O'Keefe fixing her hair. It came down to a two-man race between San Francisco dealer Paul Hertzmann and collector Michael Mattis. Estimated at just $50,000-70,000, Mattis won it by bidding just over the high estimate at $90,000 including the premium. Mattis told me later, "It's not a picture of O'Keeffe as an icon, but an intimate portrait of O'Keeffe as a wife and lover." He bought it for his own wife as a Valentine's Day present.
Then the emphasis switched briefly to other photographic masters. The first was Edward Weston, whose wonderful platinum print of the 'Scene Shifter' seemed to bridge his pictorialist and modernist work. Estimated at $30,000-50,000, which might have seemed reasonable in other auctions for a pictorialist work by Weston, lot 17 briefly seemed not to have any upward limit. Paul Hertzmann took on the phones, although I think Maggie Weston may have jumped in too. But in the end the last remaining phone bidder, which was later identified as the Bluff Collection, was too much, taking the lot for a final stunning price of $284,800.
On lot 18, Margrethe Mather's 'Pierrot' in a platinum print also had strong phone activity, but this time it went to Santa Monica dealer Rose Shoshana, who had to pay a new world auction record for the artist of $228,000 against an estimate of $30,000-50,000. Pictorialism seemed to be back, at least for this auction.
Lot 19, Paul Outerbridge's 'Marmon Crankshaft', had been estimated at what I would consider a reasonable $100,000-150,000, but it quickly soared to $374,400. It went to a phone bidder, which again turned out to be the Bluff Collection, which has recently lent work to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Great image, but somewhat overpriced in my view. It set a new world auction record for the artist and nabbed sixth place in the sale's Top Ten.
Lot 20 took us back to another Stieglitz, 'Georgia O'Keeffe by Car', which was estimated at $80,000-120,000. It got a lot of attention and Zurich dealer Kasper Fleischmann had to pay $329,600 to snare the print. That put this lot into seventh place for the auction.
Margaret Bourke-White's large print of the iconic 'Gargoyle, Chrysler Building, NY' (lot 21), which I seem to recall was the cover of one of Edwynn Houk's catalogues, had been estimated at $100,000-150,000. Dealer Lee Marks battled up a phone bidder to $352,000, but lost it in the end to the private collector on the other end of the phone. The price was a new world auction record for the artist.
Another Stieglitz print ('Looking North, from an American Place', lot 22), which was estimated at $30,000-50,000, sold to Peter MacGill for $120,000 over bids from the front aisle. Likewise, MacGill took the next lot, another Stieglitz of 'Rain Drops on Grass, Lake George', for $55,200 against Massachusetts dealer Mack Lee.
A man in the back of the room won lot 24, another Stieglitz (Popular Trees, Lake George), at $43,200.
Then a print of bananas by Edward Weston came up, estimated at $80,000-120,000. The print drew bids in the room and on the phone. A phone bidder paid $216,000 for this bunch. By the pound, they must be the most expensive bananas ever sold.
The same bidder in the room, who I could not identify except for their number, bought the next three lots (26-28), which were three small Stieglitz Equivalents all estimated at $20,000-30,000 each. The bidder paid a moderately steep $57,600, $60,000 and $84,000 respectively for the three. Peter MacGill underbid at least the last of these lots. Nice provenance and all, but higher prices than normal auction on these equivalents, which have tended to go in the $40,000+ area.
The large print of 'Pere Ubu' by Dora Maar had to draw New York dealer Adam Boxer, whose gallery sports the last part of the name (Ubu). (Quickly now. No peeking at the Sotheby's copy on the lot. Where does the title come from? Hint: It is actually a character who was part of the first Polish joke. No emails of protest now; I am Polish myself.) Besides Boxer, the rest of the room, phone and commission bidders were all very active. In the end the Bluff Collection had once again made its phone presence felt, bidding up lot 29 to nearly double its low estimate to $216,000, which was not only a new world auction record for the artist, but more than doubled the previous record.
Several early Andre Kertesz prints (lots 30-33) also drew strong attention, especially since they all had such temptingly low estimates of only $30,000-50,000 each. New York dealer Edwynn Houk picked up the first two at $192,000 and $114,000 respectively. So much for low estimates.
Sotheby's dated lot 32, a matt silver print by Kertesz, as 1926, but several Kertesz dealers thought it might be a mid-1930s print despite the "evidence" presented in the catalogue. Perhaps their talk was just to scare off the tourists. In any case, West Coast dealer Maggie Weston picked up the lot for $38,400 and Jill Quasha underbid her.
For me the best of the Kertesz lots (especially condition-wise) was the last lot of the group (lot 33), a nice still life. There was some talk of removing the light silvering on the edges, but I felt that only meant it was untouched, the way it should be. I found myself bidding against Edwynn Houk on this one, but in the end neither he nor I managed to overbid the phone, which got it for $102,000.
The evening's bidding ended with two lots by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. The first lot, a photogram (lot 34), was estimated at $40,000-60,000, but sold to the phone for $114,000 over the underbid by the Milwaukee Museum of Art. Frankly, while not everyone liked the image, I thought it was an excellent buy. The second Moholy-Nagy and last lot of the evening session was his 'Winter--Berlin Vom Funkturm', which had been estimated at a very low $25,000-35,000, probably because of the print's mediocre quality/condition. But its rarity and importance still drew active bidding from dealers such as Adam Boxer, Kasper Fleischmann, Paul Hertzmann and others. But the same phone buyer who won the last lot took home the prize at $162,000.
The first evening of the sale had concluded and its echoes will be felt for a long time in the marketplace, even though they may be somewhat limited and muted in their effects.
I solicited some comments from many who were successful bidders in this auction. Their responses and observations were interesting to say the least.
Referring to the lots in the first evening of the sale, Jeffrey Fraenkel told me, "The numbers they fetched were not a surprise. If I judged correctly, it appeared that the winners of most of the top lots were people who have been involved with photographs for a long time. It did not feel as if anyone was speculating. People had done their homework."
Fraenkel, who was so active on some of the top lots of the evening, felt that this sale would result only in insignificant shifts in price. He doesn't expect to reevaluate his inventory or to see colleagues dramatically increase their prices because of this sale: "I don't expect that to change any time soon, but the auction reinforced the importance and relevance of the medium. Photography still feels undervalued, especially when compared to other aspects of the art market. And bargains remain to be found."
When pressed to propose a photographer whose work is still undervalued, Fraenkel suggested Lee Friedlander, a photographer his gallery represents, "who still wakes up each morning to make his own prints, and who cannot be doubted as a master of the medium. At $6,800 for Friedlander's recent landscapes, his work costs less than that of many newly minted Yale graduates."
Discussing the photographs in the sale, Peter MacGill said to me, "They form an extremely important group of pictures which has an extraordinary provenance. That they passed through the Gilman or Metropolitan selection process also means a great deal. I was relieved and happy to see these kinds of prices at auction. We have been selling pictures in the $400,000-$1 million-plus range for years. To realize these prices in the public arena is very healthy for the market. We will now be able to spend less time trying to convince people of the rarity of this material and its value."
John Driscoll of Babcock Galleries reiterated this point: "The sale was a watershed event in the history of photography, and American art. It demonstrated that superb works accompanied by important provenance is always a winning combination in the marketplace."
Collector Michael Mattis reminded me, "People who only learned of the Sotheby's sales results after the fact from the Sotheby's website or from press reports would naturally assume a boisterous bidding atmosphere. Quite the contrary, it seemed that the room was preternaturally subdued. Much of the serious action was from anonymous bidders on the phone, or from art advisors whispering to their clients on cell phones ("his master's voice"). In deference to the doubly impeccable provenance of Gilman and the Met, the atmosphere was solemn, even reverential. We all knew we were witnessing a sea change in the photography world; though whether the magic dust that was sprinkled over this sale's offerings (even the more mundane lots) carries over to the April auctions, or partially blows off by then, remains to be seen."
Michael, like many other keen observers, is having a hard time making sense of a future photography market. I feel that many may be slightly exaggerating the results of this extraordinary auction, and the "sea change" in the market that both Mattis and the New York Times talked about may not be so deep or so imminent. There are not many auctions that combine the aura of one of the most important and influential museums and private collections in the world, plus rare and important material being sold at a strong market peak. Add the spice of Sotheby's purposefully teasingly low estimates and you have the recipe for over-enthusiasm, at least on much of the second part of the sale. Yes, the prices achieved here and those at the end of last year may drive out some additional rare material, but the bulk of the market will remain largely unchanged. Fraenkel is more on the money here, in my opinion.
As a few more wealthy individuals are convinced of the viability of photography as art and investment, you will indeed see higher prices on a few top items as they come out into the market either by auction or as offered by dealers. But how that affects the rest of the market is still not known, but don't expect your $5,000 photo to go up tomorrow.
Mattis did note the schizophrenia affecting many of us: "The new price levels are definitely a double-edged sword. On the one hand, photo collectors that I've spoken with feel vindicated that classic photography has finally attained the market value, ergo the level of art world acceptance, that we always thought it ought to have: a great Steichen gum print should indeed sell for as much as any other masterpiece in any other medium from the Stieglitz circle (an Arthur Dove oil has sold for $1.25 million, and three Marsden Hartleys have auctioned between $2 and $3 million). Let me flat out say it: after the Gilman sale, that old expression that we all grew up with, "photography is undervalued," can finally be put to rest. And the startling new prices will definitely flush out a lot of great pictures in the near future. Personally, I predict that after the April sales, it will be clear that for the best material these price levels are indeed "real", and there is no going back. On the other hand, I also sense no small degree of wistfulness that our little private club has been crashed (as in, do we really have to share our toys now with these hedge-fund guys?)."
Mattis continued, "Several dealers bemoaned the fact that they were totally aced out at the sale, and are despairing of being able to replace the top tier of their inventory at the new price levels. One dealer that I know is going to try to segue from between-the-wars Modernism to sixties and seventies material, much of which now seems undervalued by comparison (the silly season for posthumous Arbuses notwithstanding). Another dealer is now looking more at the 19th century. This type of refocusing by dealers, collectors and curators is to be expected and is not inherently a bad thing; such is the nature of the art market in general. It is a sign that photography has, finally, come of age."
On this last point, I do feel that Mattis had caught the dealer frustration correctly, but perhaps the resulting changes might not be as radical as he suggests. Dealers will take the easiest and safest route, which in this case is to continue what they have always done before. And most photography prices, as Jeffrey Fraenkel noted, will not be affected by this sale in any way. Just don't expect to grab an early and important Stieglitz or Steichen for 1980s prices, as if one could have bought them for Sotheby's silly (or teasing, depending on your point-of-view) estimates any way. On a smaller scale, I do fully expect that the Camera Works photogravure of the Pond to now shoot up in price from the previous $3,000+. With a great sense of timing, I sold my last two of this image for about $2,000 each.
If anything, dealers are now--god forbid--the reasonable alternative to the auctions. But where could you find the type of Stieglitz and Steichen material that was sold at Sotheby's, in any case? It was pretty important and very rare, hence the prices, which were not unexpected (in the first part of the sale). Now the second part of the auction, which I will cover in the next newsletter: let's just say that some collectors were a bit too exuberant to win a piece of the Met or the Gilman collection.
It is always amusing to me to hear collectors bemoan the "high prices of dealers" at AIPAD and other shows, and then to pay even higher prices (usually 20-40% higher in fact) at auction, often the next day, for the same or similar material, usually with condition problems that they will always overlook in auction. Dealers only reflect the market; auctions are currently making it--at least on the blockbuster items. Certainly there are always some prices that are higher than they should be on exhibit walls, but at least there is time to reflect instead sacrificing yourself on the emotional roller coaster of auction one-up-man-ship where you have literally seconds to make what is often a bad decision. Even professionals can get caught up emotionally, paying a higher price than they planned because of the "room"; and collectors often find themselves the victim in this ritual designed to make the most for the house and not its bidders. It's no accident that Sotheby's just reported its best results to date for the past year.