After a weekend break, Christie's offered the largest single-owner sale of the season on Tuesday, April 27, with 369 lots. The sale opened strongly with the first ten lots selling, then eight more in a row selling after a pass. Among them, an Ansel Adams Moonrise ($25,000-$35,000) brought $47,800 from the phone, Clearing Winter Storm ($20,000-$30,000) blew through at $41,825, and 11 prints from Portfolio II also went near high estimate at $35,850.
The mood was helped immensely by the fine auctioneering of Andrea Fiuczynski, the first time she has taken a photography sale, I believe. Elegantly dressed in a white jacket with wide cuffs and a high collar, her dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, she commanded attention with her perfect diction and formal but graceful gestures. Her white gavel complimented the ensemble.
A Gertrude Käsebier platinum print of a woman playing billiards, estimated at only $3,000–$5,000, sold for $35,850 as Michael Mattis triumphed when Edwynn Houk scratched. Clearly Christie's missed something here but fortunately for the consignor, the bidders did not. Margaret Bourke-White's George Washington Bridge ($10,000–$15,000) whistled a catchy tune as it brought $33,360. But a Stieglitz Equivalent ($50,000–$70,000) passed.
Man Ray's solarized portrait of Madame Xupery ($20,000-$30,000) sold to the phone over Edwynn Houk for $33,460, but Houk came back to snare Man Ray's Sur Impression ($30,000-$50,000) for $71,700.
The next significant group of pictures were several fine Edward Weston prints from the collection of Allegheny College, donated by Weston collector and Pennsylvania oil magnate T. Edward Hanley. Weston collector extraordinaire Michael Mattis survived the desert better than Paul Hertzmann as he won Dunes, Oceano ($40,000-$60,000) for $59,750. Peter MacGill captured Nude on Sand, Oceano ($70,000-$90,000) for $83,650. A phone bidder had a heartier appetite than dealer Richard Morehouse as the phone gobbled up Pepper No. 30 ($70,000-$90,000) for $130,700, the fifth highest lot of the sale. Finally, Peter MacGill topped Michael Mattis for Charis, Santa Monica ($50,000-$70,000) at $101,575, number six for the sale.
The auction was rolling along through the first 132 lots when it hit a rough patch of 19 passes in 29 lots, including, oddly, on seven of eight pictures of Marilyn Monroe. But William Eggleston came to the rescue as his Troubled Waters portfolio ($50,000-$70,000) flowed to an order bidder for $71,700.
In the afternoon, auctioneer John Hays took over and gave what was, even for him, a strangely giddy performance. In addition to his usual ear-rattling mispronunciations (e.g. "Dawson-OH" for Doisneau), he was in particularly good humor, making various asides and laughing at his own bad jokes. For instance, New York happened to be abuzz with the arrival of the huge ocean liner, the Queen Mary. When a picture of the Queen Elizabeth in New York Harbor sold for $7,000 (hammer), he quipped, "Things haven't changed much here in New York. $7,000: that's a second class ticket." When a small print of Arbus's Young waitress at a nudist camp went for $12,000, he said, "Young waitress at camp. Heh, heh. That's the price of camp now." And with the Yankees then off to a slow start, when a picture of Mickey Mantle came up, he opined, "There he is: Mickey Mantle. They could use him now." And then he laughed some more.
Nonetheless, there were some good prices in the afternoon, too. Harry Callahan's Grasses ($10,000-$15,000) mowed 'em down at $38,240.
Alvin Langdon Coburn's exquisite Shadows and Reflections, Venice ($120,000-$180,000) brought intense bidding and finally was hammered down to Lee Marks, often bidding for Howard Stein, at a world auction record $365,900, the top price of the sale. Coburn's Portland Place ($60,000-$80,000) then passed at $55,000, meaning it had a very high reserve. But his The House of a Thousand Windows ($70,000-$90,000) climbed to $83,650. Edwynn Houk took the first of the Vortographs ($180,000-$220,000) for $209,100, the second highest price of the sale. The second Vortograph passed.
Man Ray's Icelandic Mask Collage ($18,000-$22,000) went to the phone for $35,850. Two Moholy-Nagy Fotogramms passed, one at $60,000 at a low estimate of $65,000, again evidencing a too-high reserve.
Six images from Frederick Sommer's difficult series, Chicken Parts, sold to order for the high estimate, $47,800. Then Edward Weston's Bananas ($30,000–$40,000) brought out a real hunger in the crowd as private dealer Darren Quintenz outbid Bruce Silverstein and Maggie Weston at $89,625, the seventh highest price of the sale.
Joel Sternfeld's portfolio On This Site ($90,000-$120,000) captured fourth place on the day with a bid of $153,100. A Neil Selkirk print of Arbus's Boy with a Toy Hand Grenade ($25,000–$35,000) exploded to $65,725 as dealer Susan Spiritus outlasted the field.
Jeffrey Fraenkel bought a sequence of six Water Towers by Bernd and Hilla Becher ($25,000-$30,000) for $47,800. But Ed Ruscha's Parking Lots ($50,000-$70,000) passed at $48,000, yet another high reserve.
Five of Helmut Newton's Domestic Nudes ($12,000-$18,000) seduced $38,240 from a phone bidder. And lastly, the aforementioned Newton Panoramic Nude with Gun ($40,000-$60,000) convinced an elegant gentleman in the room to part with his wallet, or at least with an astounding $181,100, the third highest price of the sale.
Leila Buckjune, Head of Christie's Photographs department, commented, "It was gratifying to set the world auction record for a Coburn photograph in today's sale with Shadows and Reflections, Venice, an iconic work for the period. The sale was well-attended with especially buoyant buying activity at the high-end and strong prices achieved at all levels throughout the sale." True enough.
But all this was only a prelude to what was to follow at Sotheby's that evening and the next day.
(Copyright © 2004 The Photograph Collector.)
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