Issue #90  6/18/2005
Christie's Lead Off in NY Hits a Home Run, Bringing in $5 Million+

By Stephen Perloff
Editor of The Photograph Collector

Christie's led off the spring auction season with a bang and through to the end there was no let up. Houston dealer John Cleary, not normally a big spender at auction, took the first lot, Ansel Adams's Moonrise, at $42,000, its high estimate. An unidentified institution bidding on the phone bought a complete set of Alfred Stieglitz's Camera Notes at the low estimate, $24,000, then came right back to buy a complete bound set of Camera Work ($90,000-$120,000) for $284,800, double the high estimate--and tied for the second highest selling lot of the day. Keith Davis, bidding for the Hallmark Collection, scaled Eadweard Muybridge's Cathedral Rocks at $54,000, not quite twice the high estimate. (As these sales would show, estimates seemed irrelevant time and time again.)

April showers (of bidder's money) brought out the flowers. Peter MacGill picked a lovely bouquet: Edward Steichen's Heavy Roses, 1914 (printed 1920s-1930s). The $108,700 purchase price was right at the high estimate--and seventh in the top ten--but this very print sold at Sotheby's in 2001 for $154,250. Go figure. Robert Mapplethorpe's Flowers, 1988, a portfolio of 10 toned photogravures ($30,000-$50,000) found a new home in the garden of a phone bidder at $96,000 (tenth place). And his unique diptych, Tulips, 1977 ($90,000-$120,000) reached sixth place at $156,000, going to a different phone bidder.

London dealer Michael Hoppen snapped up Man Ray's La Prière ($25,000-$35,000) for $60,000. Bruce Silverstein claimed André Kertész's Chairs, The Medici Fountain, Paris, 1925 ($18,000-$22,000) for a premium of $36,000. Edwynn Houk went for Kertész's abstract wheel and shadow, In Les Halles, 1928, at $48,000, the mid-point of the estimate.

Robert Frank's, London (Belsize Crescent) (the hearse), 1951-52, printed before September 1966 ($25,000-$35,000), was bid up by Peter MacGill but ultimately won by Jane Jackson, buying for Elton John, for $72,000.

Prices for Irving Penn also continued their upward spiral. Penn's Woman in Chicken Hat, c. 1949 ($30,000-$50,000) went to a phone bidder for $78,000. And his Man Lighting Girl's Cigarette, 1949 ($20,000-$30,000) went to a different phone for $57,600.

Robert Mapplethorpe's three prints of Lydia ($60,000-$80,000) and Helmut Newton's Night Nude II, Nice, 1981 ($30,000-$40,00) were the first significant passes. Garry Winogrand's Women Are Beautiful portfolio ($35,000-$45,000) soared to $84,000. And Andy Warhol's Untitled (Holly Solomon) sold near its high estimate at $66,000.

Diane Arbus's postcard of Identical Twins didn't make it to its $40,000-$60,000 estimate. One could argue that it's more a talisman than a work of art. But next up was the much anticipated signed vintage print (one of probably seven) of Arbus's Child with a Toy Hand Grenade ($300,000-$400,000). The room was strangely quiet throughout the bidding, which ended with a European collector bidding on the phone winning at the mid-point of the estimate, $408,000, the top price of the day.

Mapplethorpe's Mark Stevens, NY, 1976, more than doubled its high estimate at $38,400. William Eggleston's Sumner, Mississippi, c. 1972 ($40,000-$60,000), the back cover image, was fought over by multiple bidders, eventually going to Julie Saul for $108,700, tied for seventh place. Next, his Greenwood, Mississippi, 1973, (the red ceiling), went to Ute Hartjen of Germany's Camera Work gallery at the low estimate, $120,000.

Rose Shoshana outdueled Howard Greenberg for 60 dye-transfer prints of color Farm Security Administration images, 1939-42, printed 1982-86 ($15,000-$20,000), by bidding $50,400. A phone bidder went over high estimate at $48,000 to buy Walker Evans's Alabama Tenant Farmer (Floyd Burroughs), 1936. Tina Modotti's Mexican Peasant Boy, 1927, brought its low estimate of $60,000.

According to my notes, Rose Shoshana joined the fray again, this time against Edwynn Houk, for Man Ray's Érotique Voilée, 1933 ($140,000-$180,000). The final bid, tied for second, was $284,800, but Christie's lists this lot as having gone to a European collector. Another European collector bidding on the phone, more than doubled the high estimate for Peter Lindbergh's Marie-Sophie Wilson, Helena Christensen and Lionel, Montmartre, Paris, for Vogue, 1991, at $102,000. The European market has been very strong for Lindbergh, who seems to have made relatively few prints.

The cover lot, Adam Fuss's Untitled from the series My Ghost ($20,000-$30,000) didn't scare off any bidders as Ute Hartjen outlasted Jane Jackson at $50,400. John Baldessari's Knees, 1990, a color print with two silver prints, mounted together, more than tripled its high estimate at $33,600.

A palladium print of Edward Weston's Steel: Armco, Middletown, Ohio, 1922 brought the mid-point of its estimate, $240,000, the fourth highest price of the sale.

All of the top lots went it the morning, although the afternoon was relatively strong. Photographer and dealer D. W. Mellor doubled the high estimate for Frederick Sommer's Cut Paper, 1977, at $16,800. Sommer's Arizona Landscape, 1943, had the same result, as Tom Gitterman outbid Keith Davis.

At the end of the day Christie's had a 76% sold by lot rate and an even better 89% sold by dollar rate. That coupled with their $5,001,140 total marked their best sale in years. Joshua Holdeman, International Director and Head of the Photographs Department commented, "It was thrilling to witness the intense display of competitive bidding for objects of high quality. We were exhilarated by the level of healthy activity both in the room and from abroad illustrating the further expansion of this market…."

Before we continue, it would be useful to highlight the European contingent, which has been sometimes noted above and, one assumes, was active in much of the phone bidding. Given the record highs of the euro against the dollar at the time of the sales, the Europeans were enjoying a discount rate of almost 25%.

(Copyright ©2005 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/.