PART TWO: AUCTIONS APPEAR UNAFFECTED BY 9/11 EVENTS BUT SOME REFLECT LOWER QUALITY OF IMAGES; CHRISTIE'S ROCKEFELLER CENTER AUCTION ERRATIC; CHRISTIE'S EAST TAKES THE HIT WITH OVER 52% BUY INS AND LESS THAN A $½ MILLION TAKE; CHRISTIE'S LA STILL TO COME ON 11/13; INDIAN PHOTOGRAPHY SPOTLIGHTED IN CHRISTIE'S LONDON AUCTION; HELPING OUT CHARITIES
PART TWO: AUCTIONS APPEAR UNAFFECTED BY 9/11 EVENTS BUT SOME REFLECT LOWER QUALITY OF IMAGES; CHRISTIE'S ROCKEFELLER CENTER AUCTION ERRATIC
If the auctions had gone relatively well up to this point at Swann and Sotheby's, it did not mean that it could not tail off at Christie's two NYC auctions, which did not have a lot of exciting material this go-round, especially Christie's East.
First up was Christie's New York at Rockefeller Center. It didn't blow the doors off, but managed to eke out a respectable $2,133,595 in total sales including the premium (of 17-1/2% on the first $80,000 and then 10% above that) with a 59% sell-through rate, a rate that was down quite a bit from the spring sale. Interestingly enough only US buyers were represented in Christie's top ten most expensive prints.
It might also have been a better sale had a group of 25 Ansel Adams prints not been withdrawn at the last moment, not because of the tragedy of 9/11, but reportedly because legal limitations placed on the previous owners put the collection's ownership in question. Apparently the U.V. trust wasn't supposed to sell the prints. Just using the low estimate for the lots, the withdrawn lots cost Christie's at least $135,000 off of its totals, and it probably impacted negatively on its sell-through rate. The lots were excluded from the sell-through rate above, but Adams' prints tend to sell at higher rates than other material.
But there were some bright spots. For instance, the Jackie Napolean Wilson collection of cased images of African Americans did surprisingly well, realizing $261,902--more than double the presale estimate. Only four out of the 44 images in the collection were bought in, helping to boost the meager sell-through rate of the overall sale. Two images in the collection even made it into Christie's top ten prices for the sale. Lot 71 Freemen of Color sold to a phone bidder for $30,550 including the premium. That was good enough for 10th place. Prices in this story will include the premium. The determined underbidder was David Raymond, who was bidding for an institution, which my sources say was the Getty, which had shown the pieces earlier. Raymond underbid another phone bidder on the next lot "Portrait of a Mother and Child (Madonna)", dropping out after the lot topped $55,225, which was good enough for 5th place in this sale.
Raymond was also frustrated on another top lot from the collection when he underbid another phone buyer on lot 56, a slave and child, which brought $19,975. But, by my count, he did manage to pick up seven images from the sale for his client.
While I was pleased for Wilson and Christie's, I do think that some of the prices were a bit silly and not reflective of the true market for the material. But that is what auctions sometimes do to people (and institutions).
The start of the sale was a mixed bag for Christie's. Although the buy-in rate was horrendous through the first 20 lots (12 were bought in), there were four of the bigger lots sold at the same time. Lot 12, Westchester, NY, Farmhouse by Walker Evans brought a $44,650 bid from the room, which netted it 6th place on the Christie's top ten list. Lot 13, another Evans, Faces, Pennsylvania Town, was knocked down for $32,900 for 9th place in the sale. Lot 15, still another Evans, this time of Allie Mae Burroughs, Hale County, AL, took in $28,200. And finally, lot 16, the Walker Evans portfolio went to West Coast dealer Barry Singer for an incredibly reasonable $25,850. The Sarasota image alone should bring close to that.
Alfred Stieglitz's Marie Rapp at '291' was the first of the "big" prints at Christie's to hit the podium. Estimated at $100,000-$150,000, it got one bid at $60,000 and then passed at $65,000. It was not the only big item to fall, or to sell at or below the low estimate. It was not because it was a bad image or print, just one that failed to stir the pocketbook at that price level. Three out of four of the next Stieglitz lots also failed to find buyers--all at reserves well below their ambitious estimates.
But on the next lot, a Paul Strand of The Family, Luzzara, Italy (lot 122), Christie's hit one of their top two money-winners of this auction. It sold to Lee Marks for a total of $160,000. Marks was probably bidding on the item for collector Howard Stein.
Lot 123, also by Paul Strand and estimated at $80,000-$100,000, passed at $65,000. I wondered why it and the Dubreuil, The Driver, did not get two pages in the catalogue instead of just one, considering the importance of these two images. Is Christie's trying to save money? It seems a poor way to promote.
Ansel Adams' Moonrise, Hernandez, NM once again made an appearance during this autumn season. A nice print of it sold to the phone for $35,250. Then two more Adams prints also did very well: lot 129, Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine, brought $22,325 from a phone bidder and lot 130, a three-panel folding screen of Grass and Pool sold for $28,200. In fact, all the Adams, but one sold, reinforcing what I said above about the impact of losing the large group of Adams from the sale (lots 138-162).
In the afternoon session, Christie's did not exactly get off to a running start. The first lot of the session, lot 163, a Blossfeldt plant, passed at $38,000 against an estimate of $50,000-$70,000. It was frankly boring. The next lot, a Herbert Bayard of a Bauhaus Book Jacket, had been withdrawn. And the following lot, a Brancusi, was passed over at $4800 against an estimate of $7,000-$9,000. After that it was all start-and-stop action (or lack of action that is).
It was not until lot 182 that anything big happened. Here was the Pierre Dubreuil print of The Driver that I talked about above. Dubreuil was always one of the prime moneymakers for Christie's over the last few years. Former Christie's VP Rick Wester had always done well with his images. Now that Wester has moved on, it seemed that Christie's was almost reluctant to push the image, which admittedly was not one of the photographer's best efforts. Despite all that, the image sold to the phone for $82,250--good enough for fourth place on Christie's top ten.
The Man Ray Rayograph (lot 195) had been hyped in the catalogue and in the press coverage, but it was barely sold to the phone, a US buyer according to Christie's, for $160,000, which equated to a hammer price that was $10,000 below the low estimate. It was certainly a stopper, but I did not particularly find it very likeable. Timothy Baum bought the next Man Ray Rayograph, a later one from 1947, for $30,550--certainly a better buy, in my opinion.
There were a depressing 10 passes out of 11 items from lots 198 through 208. Then Christie's hit another bad string with most of the Futurist material, which, although extremely rare, was in poor condition. From lots 218 to 234 there were 14 passes out of 17 lots--the last six lots all passes. And lot 235 was supposed to be one of the stars of this auction: Diane Arbus' Self Portrait.
The Arbus bucked the trend. Estimated at $80,000-$100,000, it was bought by Thea Westreich of Art Advisory Services for $127,000 with the premium. This print came in at No. 3. She had a cell phone in her ear so she was clearly bidding for a client. Dealer Howard Greenberg underbid, with dealer Jeffrey Frankel also displaying considerable interest.
The contemporary market showed it still had some steam left: lot 305, Shirin Neshat's Offered Eyes from Unveiling sold in the low part of its range for $35,250.
And, once again, the only impact of the World Trade Center disaster seems to be to increase the prices of those images of the towers that are pre-9/11. Christie's had announced that it would donate the proceeds of lot 310, Tseng Kwong Chi's New York, an image of a young Mao-look-alike in front of the twin towers. Estimated at $3000-$4000, it sold to the phone for $17,625! Christie's will donate this to the World Trade Center Fund, which was a nice touch. My congrats to them for their generosity.
CHRISTIE'S EAST TAKES THE HIT WITH OVER 52% BUY INS AND LESS THAN A $½ MILLION TAKE
After a week that saw the auctions holding their own or better and had most in the photography trade breathing sighs of relief, it was bound to happen: the other shoe finally dropped. Christie's East had the unfortunate position to be the last auction up in a week that saw a gradual deterioration in results, but the real reason for the poor sales was a simple one: poor material. Most of the sale was made up of late-printed photographs and unexciting images. Even those prints that had a little interest were lost in the forest of mediocrity. Besides, everyone was tired from an exhausting week and many simply went home. I imagine that there were a number of real bargains here with the reduced reserves.
The results, however, were not pretty: $499,281 total sales, including the Christie's buyer's premium, and a meager sell-through of only 47.71%, down dramatically in both areas from the spring auction.
Only four images made it to five figures (just barely) if you include the premium (see above for Christie's premium details). Lot 14, a large format photogravure of Stieglitz's Steerage, sold for a total of $11,163, certainly a bargain. Lot 109, a late print of Alfred Eisenstaedt's Sailor Kissing Woman in Times Square, VJ Day, sold for $14,100. Lot 245, a late print of Bernice Abbott's New York at Night, needed some help from the premium to make it to $10,575. A group of 52 Muybridge plates from Animal Locomotion sold for $15,275, which made this one the high lot of the day!
Lot 216, unless it was a typo on the Christie's results sheet, must be a modern record of sorts for photography auctions. Its $24 net including premium had to be the lowest I have seen at a major photography auction over the last 20 years. Why bother?
Christie's East has become a dumping ground for its main photography auction. Now that Christie's is moving this department over to the Rockefeller offices, it is about time they took this branch more seriously. When it gets a major collection, as it did last auction, it can be a place where collectors might get a bargain. But the kind of auction just held does not do anyone any good and just gives Christie's a black eye.
CHRISTIE'S LA STILL TO COME ON 11/13: DOENITZ INFLUENCE SEEMS TO BE MAKING ITSELF FELT
As many of you know, I had been a strong proponent of Amanda Doenitz's eclectic auction work at the old Butterfield's before eBay messed them up. After Butterfield's let her go when it eliminated a photography department, and Christie's wisely picked up her option to head up the photo department in LA (even though she is based in San Francisco), I wondered if she would have the freedom to build an auction and catalogue like she used to at B&B.
We will soon see. Her first auction is to be held November 13 in Beverly Hills, CA. While I have not received a catalogue yet (I just got as we were sending this newsletter out), the press release Christie's sent me details what look like classic Doenitz material, although I suspect it will be a year or two before we see the full results of her efforts as she rebuilds contacts and confidences.
The top lot is by Helmut Newton, currently hot once again with a show at the ICP. Newton's Sie Kommen (Dressed and Naked) sports an estimate of $80,000-$100,000. As the PR release notes, it is "Newton's masterwork." From an edition of only three, the giant women will be a hit, I am sure.
Lots of other fashion images, an area pioneered by Doenitz, including Avedon's Dovima with Elephants (estimate $40,000-$60,000) and more Newton (at more reasonable prices). Also some interesting contemporary work: something else that Amanda has a very good eye for, including the cover lot Red Marilyn, a self portrait by Yasumasa Morimura (estimate $10,000-$15,000). And some very intriguing 19th century lots. Oh, and a nice Edward Weston Nude on the Sand, Oceano, 1936 (estimate $40,000-$60,000). This is vintage Doenitz: working with the best of the material that other auction houses often neglect.
Doenitz always put together a catalogue with interesting juxtapositions rather than by alphabetical order as most auctions do. We will have to see how much Christie's will let her get away with here. But the last few B&B catalogues were always fascinating to look at. (Note: it looks like Amanda won out on this one.)
You can reach Christie's LA and Doenitz or Yuka Yamaji at 310-385-2676.
Now if only Christie's took a page out of Doenitz's book to try to rejuvenate what was Christie's East.
INDIAN PHOTOGRAPHY SPOTLIGHTED IN CHRISTIE'S LONDON AUCTION OF THE GUJRAL COLLECTION
Before I left Europe for the New York auctions, I attended Christie's sale of 19th century Indian photographs from the Collection of Kanwardip Gujral. Gujral is a very bright and pleasant man, who told me to call him "Steve because my first name is too difficult to pronounce" when I made a phone call to him after the Dr. John Murray sale.
I got a chance to talk to him again in person just before the sale and meet his wife, who though very nice is apparently not into photography quite like Steve and I. In fact, Gujral joked that he had to either sell the collection or lose his wife. I suspect that he will occasionally be tempted in the future to look at the market he obviously loves. At least I hope so and that he keeps his wife as well.
This was the first major photography sale that I attended after the 9/11 tragedy. Christie's staff was clearly a bit nervous before the sale and relieved afterwards. Lyndsay Stewart and Michelle Jarman, the specialists in charge of the sale for Christie's noted that "the success of this sale confirmed the strength of interest in photographs from this evocative period in Indian and British history."
Overall the auction did quite well, bringing in 417,324 pounds sterling including the buyer's premium, which was about $615,000 (the pound was equal to about $1.48 at the time). Not bad for only 123 lots offered and 98 sold. The sell-through was an impressive 79.67%. The attendance was actually better than at the Dr. John Murray Archives sale. A little over 50 people were in the room, but the phone and order book were also kept busy for the sale as you might expect.
The auction was held at the posh King Street location, which is where future London photography sales will be held instead of at the dilapidated and noisy South Kensington office. It is a big improvement on the facility for Christie's, although I liked the South Ken area itself. Now the Christie's and Sotheby's London sales will be a long, but invigorating walk from each other.
While many of the albums and groups disappointed me, there was still much interesting material for an Indian photography enthusiast. The Bourne albums were simply fantastic.
The three important Samuel Bourne albums--perhaps the most complete known and in excellent condition--sold well indeed. Lot 53, the album of the Himalayas with the rarest of the images sold for 71,950 pounds, a world record price for the artist. Lots 54 and 55 sold for 18,800 pounds each. To add a little spice, all of these were apparently Bourne's personal albums. Throw in a silver chalice presented to Bourne for 2820 pounds and you have a pretty important collection. A British buyer in the room purchased the entire group. All prices above and below include the buyer's premium.
Lot No.1, a great daguerreotype (4 x 5 in.) attributed to Henry Pybus, showed a group of servants of W.S. Brown, Bombay. It sold to a UK buyer on the phone for 9,400 pounds. I unfortunately underbid.
An early album by Oscar Mallitte of North India from 1858-60 (lot 64) was hammered down to a UK buyer on the phone for a total of 11,162 pounds.
A Felice Beato Lucknow group of 38 prints (lot 74) sold for 11,162 pounds to an order bidder.
Lot 78, a rare book of images by Capt. Eugene Clutterbuck Impey (I love those English names) sold to the order bidder over the efforts of Indian expert and author Clark Worswick, who was in the room, for 25,850 pounds. Clark, Michael Sachs and myself were among the few Americans who previewed or attended the sale, although a few English dealers found themselves previewing and bidding for clients.
I bought my one image at the sale (lot 80, a Blanquart-Evrard process salt print of a Hindu Temple), and then I underbid once again (something I found myself doing a lot that day) on the next number, another daguerreotype--this time a half-plate of Calcutta with St. Paul's Cathedral. It sold to the phone (but a different bidder) for a still reasonable 6,462 pounds. I still liked the dag in lot 1 better, but this one was also pretty good.
Lot 85, a presentation album by Lala Deen Dayal, Views of Central India, sold to a UK buyer on the phone for 11,162 pounds. Lot 90, a second album by Raja Deen Dayal & Sons of Central India, sold again to the phone for 25,850 pounds, which I thought a very high price for the material.
The next lot (lot 91, William Johnson's Photographs of Western India) sold for the second highest price of the sale. It too sold to a UK buyer on the phone for 27,025 pounds.
Lyndsay Stewart, Christie's photography expert, told me that there would be other material from Gujral's collection coming up in future auctions, so stay tuned.
FEEDBACK ON THE LAST NEWSLETTER
Dealer Charles Isaacs let me know that, besides underbidding William Schaeffer on the Civil War prints, he was also the underbidder to Lee Marks on the Tina Modotti Worker's Paradise image in the Sotheby's sale. Not, as he told me, that he would LIKE to get credit for underbidding.
Michael Mattis let me know that I missed one on my "restaurant review" of Sotheby's lunchroom. "Down the steps to the right upon entering Sotheby's, there's a 'real' restaurant called BID (which is Sotheby's NYSE moniker). It's modeled on the Sotheby's UK in-house restaurant. (The 10th floor is merely a sandwich shop.) Good food, good service, but not cheap.
Sid Morse let me know that he and dealer Terry Etherton were the buyers on the partial Strand portfolio at Swann.
HELPING OUT CHARITIES
Art for New York Auction
The Focus on AIDS Foundation has established an Art for New York Auction, which will be held on Sunday, October 28, 2001 at 1:00 pm at Butterfields, 7601 Sunset Blvd., L.A., CA. Previews will be held on Saturday, Oct. 27 from 9 am to 5 pm and on Sunday from 9 am to 1 pm, just before the auction.
Focus on AIDS is a volunteer-based nonprofit organization with zero overhead, so 100% of the proceeds will be sent to MercyCorps to help the children affected by the World Trade Center and Washington, DC attacks. A number of photography galleries have already become involved.
For galleries and individuals wanting to donate works of art, they must be received by October 20th (I realize that is only three days from now, but we just were informed about this event yesterday). Send all art (and please, no junk for this cause) to: Art for New York C/O Focus on AIDS Foundation, 844 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035. If you have questions, call either Renee Kyriazis or Hossein Farmani at 1-800-395-0682 or Susan Baraz at 1-310-828-5474. Tax deductible donation forms and other information can be found at their website at http://www.artforny.org
While you are at it, you might send a check as a donation to the Focus on AIDS Foundation itself since they are postponing their own usual auction. They have not asked for this, but I thought we should not ignore our other important charitable areas during this crisis too.
The Photo Review Annual Auction
On Saturday, November 3 at 7 pm, the nonprofit Photo Review will hold its 2001 Benefit Auction at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Among the work featured are rare vintage prints by Arnold Eagle, Walker Evans, Laure Albin Guillot, Philippe Halsman, Lewis Hine, Russell Lee, Arthur Rothstein and Lou Stoumen, as well as some wonderful contemporary work from such photographers as Jayne Hinds, Bidaut, Elinor Carucci, Keith Carter, Lucien Clergue, Larry Fink, Lois Greenfield, Arthur Tress, Jerry Uelsmann and William Wegman. In addition, a broad range of 19th century photographs is up for bid.
A preview at the University of the Arts, Dorrance-Hamilton Building, Broad and Pine Streets, Philadelphia, will be held on Friday, November 2 from 11-5 pm, and on Saturday, November 3 from 11-6 pm.
Attendance at the annual auction is free of charge. A fully illustrated catalogue is available for $10 from The Photo Review, 140 East Richardson Avenue, Suite 301, Langhorne, PA 19047-2824. Phone 1-215-891-0214. You may call and charge your catalogue. They might actually get this up on line at http://www.photoreview.org
sometime before the auction, but I would not count on it. Better to order a catalogue by phone now.
Vintage Works Donation
We here at Vintage Works and I Photo Central would also like to do our part. From now until the end of the year, we will donate to charities 10% of any purchases made from our websites:
And, in the spirit of the holidays, we will waive all shipping charges in the continental US until the end of the year.
Can we suggest that you, our loyal readers, also be extra giving this year? Thanks.
NEW YORKER MAGAZINE ARTICLE ON AUCTION HOUSES MAKES INTERESTING READING
You might try to pick up the October 15, 2001 copy of the New Yorker Magazine. It has an article called "Annals of Law: Bidding War--Christie's, Sotheby's, and the Art of Betrayal", which purports to give the inside scoop on some of the goings on in the recent auction antitrust scandals.
The author James B. Stewart has a very sly wit and the story makes a very interesting read, although you, as a newsletter reader, will have already heard many of the details. Stewart does have some cuttingly funny remarks about the participants. It does show that the New Yorker occasionally publishes something worthwhile besides the cartoons.
By the way, I particularly like the cartoon in this issue that shows an airline employee speaking to a traveler at check-in: "You thought we would offer lower fares? How insensitive?" Especially in view of the conversation that I recently had with my travel agent over the high cost of flying to Europe, AND having to pay the taxes on a $15-billion-plus bailout of an incompetent industry.