Issue #106  6/16/2006
Boosted By Refco Images, Christie's Take Is Nearly $7.5 Million With Only 12% Buy-in Rate

By Stephen Perloff
Editor of The Photograph Collector

Christie's evening sale on April 24 started off with a bang and didn't let up. (The top ten all appeared in the evening sale.) Irving Penn's "Lavender Glory Poppy" ($30,000-$50,000, from an edition of 21) was plucked by a phone bidder for $108,000. Art consultant Turid Meeker added Robert Mapplethorpe's "Parrot Tulip in Black Vase" ($30,000-$50,000) to her bouquet at $72,000. The catalogue for the evening sale was very cleverly sequenced, with pairings on facing pages of similar subject matter (as here) or related formal elements.

The next two pages of the catalogue featured older men: Robert Frank's "Jehovah's Witness" ($20,000-$30,000), who proselytized Peter MacGill out of $78,000, and William Eggleston's "Morton, MS" (the man with a gun on a bed) ($40,000-$60,000), which commanded $72,000 from a phone bidder. Already we can see that the estimates were irrelevant, and while they were somewhat low, they were still often exceeded by healthy margins.

Adam Fuss's Untitled (Dress), a delicate photogram ($30,000-$40,000), went at its low estimate of $36,000 (estimates, of course, do not include the premium) to collector Jack Hastings. Its pair, Robert Frank's Café--Beaufort, South Carolina, the baby and the jukebox with grillwork much like the lacework on Fuss's dress ($30,000-$50,000) danced to its high estimate, $60,000.

A phone bidder dove in for Roni Horn's Still Water ($2,000-$28,000) at $48,000. An order bidder went just over the low estimate at $38,400 for Ansel Adam's Moonrise. Next up were a pair of Irving Penn images. Father and Son with Eggs, Cuzco ($25,000-$35,000) brought $62,400 from the phone. And Jack Hastings came back for "Cuzco Town Photographer with Barefoot Girl" at $42,000 on the same estimate.

At this point--after the first dozen lots had sold--I turned to dealer and appraiser Sarah Morthland, who was sitting next to me, and said, "That's a higher total than Swann used to get for a 300 lot sale just a few years ago." And we hadn't even gotten to any of the top ten yet.

Two Penn still lifes were next. "Frozen Foods", a dye transfer print ($30,000-$40,000, edition of 33), melted the heart--or at least the wallet--of yet a different phone bidder at $60,000. Then another new phone bidder smoked the field for the four-part "Cigarette #69" ($50,000-$70,000) at $144,000, good for fourth place.

Andy Warhol's "Top Gun" ($15,000-$20,000), four prints of an airplane wing stitched together, flew to $43,200. Richard Avedon's important series of 20 prints mounted on newsprint, "The Family" ($40,000-$60,000), was adopted by a phone bidder who outlasted dealer Jeffrey Fraenkel at $228,000, second place on the top ten.

Hiroshi Sugimoto's Yasser Arafat ($40,000-$60,000) found no peace, as it passed. But Peter MacGill snared Diane Arbus's Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade, N.Y.C., 1967 ($70,000-$90,000) at $120,000, eighth place.

Ute Hartjen of Germany's Camera Work set a world auction record for William Klein at $144,000 for a possibly unique large exhibition print of Klein's Smoke and Veil, Paris, 1958 (Vogue) ($40,000-$60,000), tied for fourth place. A phone bidder won Horst P. Horst's American Nude ($40,000-$60,000) at $90,000.

Another phone bidder danced off with Mapplethorpe's Thomas and Dovanna, a platinum print on linen with silk panels at the low estimate, $120,000, tied for tenth place. London gallerist Michael Hoppen went to $50,400, over high estimate, for Avedon's Dovima and Elephants. And a phone bidder hopped to $57,600 for Helmut Newton's Elsa Peretti as a Bunny ($25,000-$35,000). That same phone bidder came back for the next lot, David Bailey's stark portrait of Lennon & McCartney ($25,000-$35,000) at $57,600.

Robert Frank's diptych London ($15,000-$25,000) proved as expensive as the city itself as it soared to $50,400. A vintage print of Imogen Cunningham's "Magnolia Blossom", seemingly with some condition issues, brought $120,000 from an order bidder. That tied for tenth place. A phone bidder won the third highest lot of the sale, Robert Mapplethorpe's Photo Screen, at $204,000, below the low estimate. Three very silvery prints by Mapplethorpe of Lydia went just over high estimate at $74,400.

William Eggleston's Untitled (Peaches) ripened at $90,000, well over high estimate. Howard Read of Cheim & Read, cleaned up Eggleston's "Memphis", showing the inside of an oven, at $42,000. That image was cleverly paired in the catalogue with Penn's "Three Women of Rissani" ($25,000-$35,000), one of whom is holding several large pieces of flat bread. That print tied for tenth place at $120,000. Penn's "After Dinner Games" played out at $84,000.

And then Peter MacGill, bidding for a client with whom he was consulting on a cell phone, set a world auction record for Penn for "Harlequin Dress" (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), doubling the high estimate at $352,000. The print is one from an edition of 30. Howard Greenberg needed to go only 20% over the high estimate to buy Penn's "Woman with Roses" at $72,000.

Two different Mapplethorpe prints of a Calla Lily sold for $78,000 and $57,600 respectively.

Stephan Loewentheil of The 19th Century Shop in Baltimore, paid $144,000 (tied for fourth) for a complete set of Camera Work. A couple of dealers thought he had somewhat overpaid, given some condition problems, but how many complete sets are available?

A phone bidder bested collector Gary Wolkowitz at $138,000 (seventh place) for Arbus's "A young waitress at a nudist camp, N.J., 1963". The print had some foxing and a crease.

Turid Meeker went high fashion as she took Helmut Newton's Sylvia in My Studio, Paris at $48,000 and Peter Lindbergh's Christy Turlington at $90,000, the latter two-and-a-half times over estimate.

Lastly, a Neil Selkirk print of Arbus's Junior Interstate Ballroom Dance Champions ($20,000-$30,000) waltzed to $54,000. Fifty-seven lots, 6 passes, around $4 million in sales. Not a bad night.

The next morning began with a no-reserve sale of about 180 lots from the Refco Collection of contemporary photography. While many of the lots sold, others got little bidding, and bidders clued into the fact that if they waited, the auctioneer would drop the opening bid of, say, $1,000, down to $200. The auctioneer claimed that there was an order bid for that amount, but we suspect it was just Christie's guarantee. The result of this is that while the bidding might eventually reach several thousand dollars, it took a lot longer--A LOT LONGER--to get there. And yet there was sufficient interest that Christie's phone bank was staffed by 22 people, perhaps a record for a photo sale. Also, those phone bidders lost out by not being in the room. Several times they jumped in at the opening bid, whereas if they had been in the room they might have waited for the opening bid to drop.

There is not much to report. An untitled work showing an aerial view of a city by Naoya Hatakeyama (48 color prints mounted on aluminum) ($10,000-$15,000) flew to $72,000. Peter MacGill put together a bid of $42,000 for Robert Frank's "Assembly Line--Detroit". Five bidders, including Rose Shoshana, fought over Bill Owen's complete set of 177 prints of Suburbia, but it eventually went to an order bidder for $90,000, just below the high estimate.

Two Untitled pictures by Cindy Sherman, #116 and #112, went to the same phone bidder for $45,600 and $57,600 respectively. Penn's portrait of Georgia O'Keeffe standing in his famous corner, brought $44,400.

Peter MacGill usually hosts a lunch for dealers and collectors at his gallery the day of Christie's auction. But while that lunch was going on he had to stay until the end of the very late morning session to bid on an oversized print of Joel Sternfeld's "McLean, Virginia" for a client--or actually, for the brother of a client, as he related. Bidding flamed by the $30,000 upper estimate and MacGill's client finally got it for $96,000.

All told, the Refco Collection garnered $1.9 million and only four lots "sold" for the minimum $200. But the morning session did not end until 1:42 p.m., with the afternoon session slated to begin at 2 p.m. There were just too many lots. At least Christie's delayed the afternoon start until 2:15 p.m.

The afternoon began with a phone bank of only nine, a vast change from the morning. But prices were strong, even lacking any high-end material. Eggleston's "Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, January 1970" brought just over high estimate at $42,000. An Adams Moonrise passed. Ute Hartjen took Larry Fink's 82 Photographs 1974-1982 (Social Graces) at the low estimate, $48,000.

Alex Novak of Vintage Works seduced Irving Penn's "Girl in Bed" ($20,000-$30,000) with a bid of $54,000. And closing the sale, lot 414, Martin Schoeller's large, seductive color print of Angelina Jolie almost tripled its high estimate at $24,000.

When this marathon finally came to its grueling conclusion, Christie's had amassed $7,471,480 with a buy-in rate of only 12%. Yowser!

(Copyright ©2006 by The Photograph Collector.)

My thanks to Steve Perloff and The Photograph Collector Newsletter for giving me permission to use this information. The Photograph Collector, which is a wonderful newsletter that I can heartily recommend, is published monthly and is available by subscription for $149.95. You can phone 1-215-891-0214 and charge your subscription or send a check or money order to: The Photograph Collector, 140 East Richardson Ave, Langhorne, PA 19047. Or to order The Photograph Collector Newsletter online, go to: http://www.photoreview.org/wordpressindex/shop/.