The fall auctions took place amid an atmosphere of uncertainty over the direction of the economy, of the war, and of the election. There was also curiosity about how the shifts among the auction house photography department heads at Christie's and Phillips would play out. And there was low-level grumbling among some buyers that there just wasn't a lot of first-rate material consigned. No matter: the fall auctions were remarkable for their low buy-in rates, broad and active bidding, strong prices, and total sales.
Phillips de Pury & Company was up first with an evening sale from the Künne Collection, assembled by the German collector Bernd Künne over the past decade and consisting mostly of the work of the Düsseldorf School. As many of the artists are little known in the United States and many were appearing at auction for the first time there were few scouting reports to go on. One wondered if Phillips's international connections could overcome a lack of familiarity. Surprisingly, again the answer was yes.
Unlike the crowded room of many of Phillips's previous evening sales, there were only between 35 and 40 people in the room, but there were 11 staff members on telephones and there was active bidding from the phones and from absentee bidders. Out of 113 lots only 13 passed, for a buy-in rate of 11.5%, and only 20 sold in the room--10 to German gallerist Clemens Vedder for a total of $59,160--and the other 80 sold to the phones or to order. (Generally in this report, I will limit reporting to lots selling for more than $20,000, except for a few special circumstances.)
The material was mostly estimated in the lower range with only three pieces selling for more than $20,000. The top lot was the cover lot, Thomas Ruff's Nude Fe 16, 2000 ($20,000-$30,000), which seduced $55,200 separately, if I understood the action correctly, to Vedder's gallery Camerawerk. That lot was the only one to crack the top ten when mixed with Phillips's various-owner's sale the next day (coming in number three).
An Elgar Esser landscape, Westhoek, 2001 ($10,000-$15,000), brought $21,600 from the phone. And Thomas Struth's People on Fuxing Dong Lu, Shanghai, 1997 ($10,000–$15,000), was sold for $26,400, also to the phone.
The next day had some interesting material and a number of surprises, though again the in-room audience was small--about 50 people--and a gray, rainy day seemed to depress the energy among the attendees. A Claude Cahun self-portrait ($35,000-$45,000) went to the phone at the mid-point of the estimate, $48,000 with premium, tied for fourth place in the top ten. New York dealer Edwynn Houk outlasted San Francisco dealer Michael Shapiro for Dorothea Lange's White Angel Breadline ($30,000-$50,000) at $46,800 (sixth place). But Man Ray's Magnolia ($35,000-$50,000) wilted at $28,000.
A possibly unique print of Richard's Avedon's photograph of W. H. Auden on a snowy New York street ($20,000-$30,000) found warmth at $36,000 as a phone bidder topped Lee Marks. Peter MacGill outbid Clemens Vedder (who took several other smaller lots here) for Robert Frank's Mary and Pablo on 11th Street, 1951 ($20,000-$30,000), for $66,000, well over the high estimate. MacGill came right back for Frank's image of a couple on a bus ($35,000-$45,000), this time for $42,000.
Helmut Newton continued to bring strong prices. Miss Livingstone II ($12,000-$15,000) demanded $26,400 from collector Michael Mazzei. Likewise for Vik Muniz, whose Origin of the World ($8,000-$12,000) commanded $24,000 from the phone.
Two Cindy Sherman's, both untitled from 1975 and both estimated at $20,000-$30,000, elicited $31,200 and $28,800, respectively, from the same phone bidder. Larry Clark's Teenage Lust portfolio ($20,000-$30,000) shot to $48,000. Clark's Tulsa portfolio ($10,000-$15,000) also gave its consignor some bang for the buck as a phone bidder almost doubled the high estimate to $33,600 with premium.
Robert Polidori's Vintage Car with Composite Parts, Havana ($8,000-$12,000) surreally sold to phone bidder 1066 over collector Jack Hastings for $19,200. (I'm sure you all know that the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066…)
Then came the biggest run-up of the night, topping even Google's climb in the stock market. Peter Lindbergh's portrait of Keith Richards, oversized at about 71"x47"--but not bigger than the personality itself. Estimated at $30,000-$50,000, it brought double the high estimate as a phone bidder rocked the room at $120,000.
A Thomas Struth black-and-white New York scene, Dey Street (Wall Street), 1978, doubled the high estimate at $19,200. A blurry Thomas Ruff building ($30,000-$40,000), passed at $24,000. Andreas Gursky's Düsseldorf Flughaven I, 1985 ($30,000-$50,000), took flight at $36,000, but his Zoobrücke, 1988 ($20,000-$30,000) was grounded.
The day sale had a buy-in rate of 33.6% but together the two sales were at a respectable 23.6% with total sales of $1,917,600. It was a decent result for new photographs department head Rick Wester, given how little time he had to pull together a sale. It will be interesting to see what he can organize for next spring.
(Copyright ©2004 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/.