Issue #90  6/18/2005
Phillips' Auction Also Does Well, Breaking Over $4-1/4 Million

By Stephen Perloff
Editor of The Photograph Collector

Phillips "new" team of former Christie's veterans Rick Wester and Lisa Newlin may have been holding their breaths as they presented their first sale entirely under their own auspices and with the number three house trying to right itself after a couple of shaky years, but they needn't have worried as the sale brought in a total of $4,284,720 over three sessions, with well over one dozen artist records were achieved. Wednesday night's evening sale of 67 lots itself totaled $2.3 million, as a packed house bid vigorously.

Lee Marks got things underway by bidding just over high estimate for Karl Struss's haunting Storm Clouds, 1921, at $42,000. After passes on Paul Outerbridge, Jr.'s Cyclops, c. 1935 ($60,000-$80,000), and Kertész's Still Life, 1928 ($100,000-$150,000), an order bidder welcomed home August Sander's top-hatted Westphalian Farmer on His Way to Church, 1925/1950 at the high estimate, $108,000, the third highest price of the sale.

Next, Sondra Gilman, Thea Westreich, and Peter MacGill battled over Albert Renger-Patzsch's Buchenlandschaft (Forest), 1936, with MacGill hauling home the prize for $114,000, more than three times the high estimate and a new auction record for the artist--and second place in the sale. Frederick Sommer's portrait of Max Ernst, 1946 ($20,000-$30,000), went to a phone bidder at $51,600. MacGill drove off with Walker Evans's Highway Corner, Reedsville, West Virginia, 1935/1955–60 ($20,000-$30,000), for $54,000, leaving Larry Miller consulting on his cell phone still waiting for a ride. Then MacGill was left out as Jeffrey Fraenkel captured Evans's View of Easton, PA, 1935 ($20,000-$30,000), for $48,000.

Mary Solomon, working with G. Ray Hawkins, bid $120,000 for a large Adams' Moonrise, printed in the 1960s. It was the top lot in the sale. Then MacGill was back for Robert Frank's London (the hearse again), printed before 1975, over high estimate at $43,200 and Louis Faurer's Staten Island Ferry, 1946, at $57,600, more than three times the high estimate, as Howard Greenberg was left standing at the dock. Jeffrey Fraenkel outbid Larry Miller, or rather his son, Tim, who was holding up the paddle, for Helen Levitt's New York street scene, 1945c at $33,600.

A phone bidder won the crown in taking Diane Arbus's Miss Venice Beach, Venice, CA, 1962 ($15,000-$25,000), for $43,200. Then Edwynn Houk bested Howard Greenberg and others for Lee Friedlander's Galax Virginia, 1962 ($10,000-$15,000), an unsigned vintage print, but with a Museum of Modern Art label on the back. At $78,000 it was an auction record for Friedlander. Greenberg came back to buy Friedlander's New York, 1964 ($10,000-$15,000), the sleeping man seen in the clear rectangle of a painted storefront window, for $45,600. Then a phone bidder more than doubled the high estimate for Friedlander's Self Portrait, Provincetown, Massachusetts, 1968, at $45,600.

Ute Hartjen won Robert Frank's U.S. 90, En Route to Del Rio, Texas ($25,000-$35,000) after intense bidding at $102,000 (tied for fourth). Collector Jack Hastings set a record for Avedon of $96,000 for Andy Warhol, artist, New York City, August 20, 1969 (sixth place). Another record was set on the next lot, Robert Heinecken's Nine Squares, 1970 ($20,000-$30,000), as Mary Solomon bid $60,000. It is good to see this pioneering but underappreciated artist getting due recognition. Two lots later Thea Westreich lit a fire under Joel Sternfeld's McClean, Virginia, 1978 ($7,000-$9,000) by setting a record at $21,600. And two lots after that Edwynn Houk bought Stephen Shore's Twelve Photographs--another record (for a Shore lot) at $33,600.

Mapplethorpe's Flower Portfolio ($60,000–$80,000) wilted at $38,000, but his Tulip ($20,000–$30,000), blossomed at $55,200. Helmut Newton's Sie Kommen (Undressed) ($25,000–$35,000) was clothed for $68,400.

No one shed a tear for Louise Lawler, as her Does Marilyn Monroe Make You Cry? ($40,000-$60,000) went to the phones for $78,000. Vik Muniz's Action Painting III (After Hans Namuth) from "Pictures in Chocolate," set a record for the artist at $102,000 (tied for fourth). Another record was set for Philip-Lorca DiCorcia's Mary and Babe, as a phone bidder intervened on Peter MacGill at $62,400. And for the third record in three lots, Tina Barney's Jill and Polly in the Bathroom sold for $42,000.

Elger Esser's Gien, Frankreich doubled its low estimate at $50,400. And Roni Horn's Dead Owl set yet another record at $26,400.

A lot of 36 fashion photographs by Robert Frank ($90,000-$120,000) passed. But Peter Lindbergh's lovely Berri Smithers ($30,000-$50,000) went to order at $90,000 (seventh place). So ended the evening session.

The next morning saw a much smaller audience, as usual, and there were many more passes, but some good prices, as well. Eugene Atget's Parc de Sceaux ($20,000–$30,000) sold for $57,600. A phone bidder more than doubled the high estimate for Hans Bellmer's untitled work from "Les Jeux de la Poupée" at $31,200. And an order bidder bought Alexander Rodchenko's Two Generations at the high estimate, $42,000. Joseph Bellows outjumped Burt Finger for three prints from Aaron Siskind's "Terrors and Pleasures of Levitation" ($9,000–$12,000), paying $24,000 for the lot. Ute Hartjen went to $8,160, almost doubling the high estimate for Joseph Koudelka's Gypsies, c. 1970, printed 1980s. This is the lowest price I have reported on here, but it denotes the growing realization of the scarcity of Koudelka's prints.

Louis Faurer's Untitled (man in rain), 1946c was estimated at $7,000-$9,000. Thus the bidding proceeded by only $500 increments to $30,000, and by only $1,000 increments thereafter, as the auctioneer seemed certain the bidding would end at any moment. But no, Peter MacGill finally surrendered to Deborah Bell at $63,600, a new auction record for Faurer. Then a phone bidder went somewhat over high estimate to take 40 printed-later Faurer images for $84,000.

Ute Hartjen more than tripled the high estimate at $48,000 to groove to Robert Frank's Daytona Beach (First Psychodelic [sic] Motorcycle I've Seen). Then against competition for Shoshana and MacGill, she paid $24,600, almost four times the high estimate, for Duane Michals's The Most Beautiful Part of a Man's Body and The Most Beautiful Part of a Woman's Body. Likewise, Gregory Crewdson's Untitled (Mound of Butterflies) almost quadrupled its high estimate at $28,800.

When the hammer fell on the last lot, Phillips closed another strong sale with a 24.2% buy-in rate.

Rick Wester, Director and Worldwide Head of Phillips, de Pury & Company's Photographs Department said of the sales, "The fullest satisfaction for an auctioneer is to witness a crowd of overjoyed and amazed collectors happily file out of the saleroom at the conclusion of an energetic sale. From the wild enthusiasm of Wednesday evening's inauguration through Thursday's nearly perfect afternoon, Phillips, de Pury & Company's spring sale was all exclamation points. Rarely does the auction theater reverberate with the action and energy we hosted. It's a pleasure to support this market so actively."

As these auctions showed, the photography market is thriving. Photographs were selling like they were oil futures. Right now it seems the only thing that can slow it down is external events. Certainly a spiking of interest rates if the deficit continues to spiral out of control would put a damper on any market. But for now, those thoughts seem far away.

(Copyright ©2005 by The Photo Review.)

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/.