Issue #82  12/10/2004
Lambert Sale a Smashing Success as Records Fall For Contemp Work

By Stephen Perloff
Editor of The Photograph Collector

The sale of Veronica's Revenge, the collection amassed by Baroness Lambert over the last 30 years, at Phillips de Pury & Company on November 8 and 9, not only set a record for a New York single sale of photography at $12,473,240 (virtually tying the International record set by the Jammes' collection in October 1999), but may well be judged as the crowning moment of a paradigm shift in photography and contemporary art that has been building for several years.

In a packed sales room with a standing-room-only audience of between 500 and 600 people and with 16 or so staff members on the phones or executing order bids, Phillips' chairman Simon de Pury hammered down every lot in the evening sale. (In order to make this report somewhat smaller than the Sunday New York Times, I'll report mainly on lots that sold for more than $50,000.)

Art adviser Kim Heirston grabbed the first lot, Matthew Barney's Radial Drill: Ottogate ($25,000-$35,000), for $50,400. Rosemary Trockel's dog portrait, Eliana ($20,000-$30,000), fetched the same price from a bidder in the room.

Matthew Barney's Cremaster 5: Her Giant ($150,000-$200,000) brought $265,600 from a phone bidder and his Cremaster 1: Orchidella ($120,000-$180,000) did almost as well at $254,400. Charles Ray's portrait, No ($300,000-$400,000), soared to $534,400, the second highest price of the sale.

Man Ray's portrait of Marcel Duchamp, "Rose Sélavey," one of the few "traditional" photographs in the sale, went to a phone bidder for $78,000, just over estimate. Matthew Marks eloped with Robert Gober's bride, No Title ($40,000-$60,000), for $69,600. Fellow dealer Lawrence Luhring bought back Janine Antoni's Momme ($25,000-$35,000) for $62,400.

Dealer Per Skarstedt doubled his pleasure by winning the Cindy Sherman-Richard Prince Untitled (Double Portrait) for $102,000, below low estimate. A phone bidder corrupted Thomas Schütte's Innocenti at $187,200. An order bidder prevailed in taking Matthew Barney's Envelopa: Drawing Restraint 7 (Guillotine), seven color prints in self-lubricating nylon frames, for $198,400.

A phone bidder bit on Sarah Lucas's Eating a Banana ($20,000-$30,000) for $57,600. Sandy Heller spent $60,000 for Damien Hirst's With Dead Head ($30,000-$40,000). An order bidder snagged Matthew Barney's Ottodrone (Manuel) A for $72,000, just at low estimate. A bidder in the room cleaned up Mike Kelly's No Title Nos. 1–13 (Dust)--yes, 13 photographs of dust balls--at $86,400, one of the few works well off the low estimate.

Andreas Gursky's large diptych, Athens, went for $299,200, just over the midpoint of its estimate. Doug Aitken's Turbulence, a triptych of airplane wings, climbed to $54,000, just above estimate. Felix Gonzalez-Torres's untitled work consisting of five silver prints of birds disappearing into a gray sky ($200,000-$250,000)--an elegiac comment on loss--fell short at $164,800. Roni Horn's Still Water (The River Thames, for Example), a portfolio of 15 offset lithographs, flowed to its high estimate, $96,000, a record for one lot by the artist.

Gabriel Orozco's Common Dream ($4,000-$6,000), a modest-sized Cibachrome of 11 sheep huddled in a barren field, was sheared for $23,000. Is Suicide Genetic ($15,000-$20,000) by Sarah Lucas, a picture of a grossly grungy toilet with the phrase scrawled on the inside of the bowl in blood, was cleaned up by arts reporter Josh Baer for $34,800.

Nan Goldin's touching Cookie Mueller Portfolio went to order just over high estimate at $105,600, an auction record for one lot by the artist. Likewise Gilbert & George's All also went just over high estimate to a different order bidder for $187,200. Nobuyoshi Araki's Tokyo Cube, 36 silver prints, about half nudes ($25,000-$35,000), brought $50,400.

Cindy Sherman's Untitled No. 92 ($250,000-$350,000) sold in the room to Dominique Levy for $478,400, the third highest price of the evening and a record for the artist. Richard Prince's Untitled (Three Men's Hands with Watches) was bought by Tony Meier just over high estimate at $265,600. Prince's Untitled, a close-up of a Marlborough Man's hand ($60,000-$80,000), was gloved at $187,200. Barbara Gladstone, consulting on a cell phone, rode off with Prince's Untitled (Cowboy) ($100,000-$150,000) for $288,000. She had originally sold the picture.

Jeff Koons' Moses, a framed Nike poster of the NBA star, scored at $78,000, almost double the high estimate. Paul McCarthy's Propo Object: Donald Duck, a large Cibachrome of the easily frustrated film and TV star ($15,000-$20,000) brought more than any image of that other Donald, $98,400, from a bidder in the room who didn't have a number. ("We know you very, very well," de Pury approved.)

Mike Kelly's Ahh...Youth, a series of eight large color portraits of stuffed animals with one human portrait mixed in ($150,000-$200,000), went to a phone bidder at $411,200, the fourth highest price and a record for the artist. Then Richard Prince's Untitled (Girlfriend on Motorbike) ($60,000-$80,000) roared off at $332,800, again returning to Barbara Gladstone.

Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Still No. 55, went well over high estimate at $98,400. Likewise her Untitled Film Still No, 20, at $60,000.

Gerhard Richter's Self Portrait Standing Three Times, 17.3.1991 (six unique hand-painted silver prints, $80,000-$120,000) sold well over estimate at $265,600. Thomas Struth's Kunsthistorische Museum III, Wein ($70,000-$90,000) brought $136,800. A bit later his Stanze di Raffaello II, Roma ($100,000-$150,000) sold for $153,600. Louise Lawler's Monogram—Arranged by Mr. and Mrs. Burton Tremaine ($40,000-$60,000) set a world record for the artist at $125,600.

Another Gursky, Union Rave, clambered to its high estimate, $232,000. Peter Fischli and David Weiss's Wursterei Portfolio went to a hungry order bidder at $164,800, almost double the high estimate. Then their Stiller Nachmittag (The Quiet Afternoon), a portfolio of 11 works ($60,000-$80,000), unbalanced expectations as it set a record for the artists at $243,200. Sigmar Polke's unique untitled portfolio of 14 silver prints of arrangements of everyday objects also almost doubled its high estimate at $142,400.

Jeff Wall's An Octopus sold just over high estimate at $265,600. Andreas Gursky's diptych, Cairo ($100,000-$150,000), crowded to $198,400. Bernd and Hilla Becher's Tipples from Small Mines in East Pennsylvania (15 prints) toppled just over estimate at $102,200. Another Becher of nine Cooling Towers (Wood) ($40,000-$60,000) was on fire as photography dealer Lee Marks scorched the room at $176,000. One of only about a dozen photography dealers and collectors in the room, Marks often bids for former Dreyfuss head Howard Stein.

Thomas Ruff's Haus Nr. 411 ($30,000-$40,000) closed at $74,400. And Gursky's Fortuna Düsseldorf, of players on a soccer field, scored at just below high estimate, $209,600.

A phone bidder made a reservation for Sam Taylor-Wood's Wrecked, a Last Supper homage, at $142,400, the high estimate. John Baldessari's Three Types of Light almost doubled its high estimate at $131,200.

The last piece of the evening proved to embody everything about the sale: Barbara Kruger's huge untitled work (I Shop Therefore I Am). Estimated at "only" $80,000-$120,000, it validated its buyer's existence by commanding $601,600, needless to say, the top price of the sale and a record for the artist.

After more than two hours to sell 65 lots--so intense was the bidding--the audience burst into applause.

The next morning there were only about 100 people in the room, but the phone bank was as full as the night before. Again bidding was active--it took three hours to sell the remaining 115 lots--and every lot was sold.

Matthew Barney's Cremaster 1: Goodyear Chorus, an updating of Busby Berkeley, kicked just over high estimate, $187,200. His Cremaster 2: Loughton Ram, a rather handsome beast, was sheared below low estimate at $54,000. Robert Gober's No Title (a mousetrap set amid some ferns) snapped to $69,900.

Cindy Sherman's Untitled No. 223 (Madonne) collected $114,000, while her Untitled No. 147 brought $60,000. Sherman's Untitled Film Stills, No. 50 and No. 49 both sold over high estimate, at $57,600 and $54,000 respectively. Richard Prince's Untitled (Fayy) ($60,000-$80,000) was less successful at $54,000.

Mike Kelly's Color and Form brought $57,600. Gabriel Orozco's Gato en la Jungl (Cat in the Jungle)--a can of cat food placed amidst cans of string beans--nearly quadrupled its high estimate to $26,400. And his group of seven Cibachromes soared to two-and-a-half times the high estimate, $117,600.

Two more Paul McCarthy pictures, Propo Objects: Girl with Penis and Propo Object: Daddies, almost tripled their high estimates at $52,800 and $54,000 respectively. Another Louise Lawler, Salon Holder, estimated at only $8,000-$12,000, brought $62,400 from a phone bidder. Barbara Kruger's Untitled (You are an experiment in terror) also went over high estimate at $57,600.

Günther Förg's two prints, both titled Bauhaus, soared to three-and-a-half times its high estimate, $62,400. And his Villa Malaparte went for four times its high estimate, $33,600. Next, four prints by the Bechers of industrial machinery chugged to $57,600, again over high estimate. Thomas Ruff's large abstract Substrat 4111 nearly doubled its high estimate at $122,240, setting a record for the artist.

Rodney Graham's Paardekastanje, Millen-Rienst ($15,000-$20,000), a large upside-down leafless tree was righted for $81,600. Gary Hume's four differently colored snowmen melted at $62,400. And Fischli and Weiss's Matterhorn ($15,000-$20,000) was scaled for $84,000.

While Baroness Lambert had always thought of this as a photography collection--and her acuity in discovering so many important artists so early in their careers is to be admired--there were only a small number of photography dealers and collectors in an audience made up overwhelmingly of contemporary art dealers and collectors.

At the same time that the traditional photography market is experiencing new price levels, as witnessed by the October auctions, there is also a growing gap between what is considered "photography" and what is considered "contemporary art," this interestingly just as the reopened Museum of Modern Art has installed a Warhol and a Rauschenberg in its photography galleries and integrated Man Ray and Hans Bellmer photographs, among others, with its surrealist art. And while Cindy Sherman's Film Stills provide a focus exhibit in the photography galleries, one of her large Untitled works hangs with Wall, Gursky, and others in the contemporary art galleries. Esthetically the boundaries are dissolving; monetarily, the gap is widening.

(Copyright ©2004 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/.