2015 Fall Auction Summary


2015 Fall Auction Results:

This Fall, five photography sales were held at New York’s three major auction houses, with some sales more successful than others.  Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips brought in a combined total of $10,231,500 from the sale of 427 lots out of 687 offered, resulting in an overall 62% sales rate.

Christie’s led off the week of sales, with both Evening and Day auctions.  The overall results were lackluster, with major lots failing to sell, including Ansel Adams’ Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, c. 1940, printed in 1960s (lot 33) and Irving Penn’s Ginko Leaves, New York, 1990 (lot 34), both with estimates of $300,000 to $500,000.  The top selling lot at Christie’s, was Karl Struss’ Man’s Construction, 1912 (lot 29), which sold for $161,000 with an estimate of $90,000 to $120,000.  This lot was also the only lot estimated above $100,000 that realized a price above its high estimate.  Three lots worth noting that also exceeded their estimates include John Chiara’s Seven Chimneys-Carter-Highway 1, 2013 (lot 21), which sold for $16,250 with an estimate of $5,000 to $7,000; Candy Darling on her Deathbed, 1973 by Peter Hujar (lot 31), estimated at $20,000 to $25,000, which realized $50,000; and Iceberg #23, Disko Bay, Greenland, 2000 by Lynn Davis (lot 105), which sold for $25,000 with an estimate of $6,000 to $8,000.  The two auctions were unfortunately resulted in the lowest recorded total for a primary Christie’s, New York photography auction since the height of the recession.  The combined sales sold 122 lots of 217 offered and realized $2,722,375, with a buy-in rate of approximately 44%.  One possible reason for these uninspiring sales is the overhaul of the photographs department at Christie’s, with the notable loss of specialists Deborah Bell, Stuart Alexander, and Elizabeth Eichholz, who have since moved on.

Sotheby’s sale followed, with some noteworthy lots garnering major interest.  The most highly anticipated lot of the season was Robert Mapplethorpe’s Man In Polyester Suit, 1980 offered with an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000, which realized in impressive $478,000.  Another lot of particular interest was a vintage Diane Arbus print, National Junior Interstate Dance Champions of 1963, Yonkers, which failed to sell with an estimate between $250,000 and $350,000.  Examples of lots that successfully sold with prices exceeding the high estimate included Ruth Orkin’s An American Girl in Florence, 1951, printed later (lot 96), estimated at $10,000 to $15,000, sold for $32,500; Andreas Feininger’s 42nd Street, as viewed from Weehawken, 1942, printed in 1990s (lot 98), estimated at $5,000 and $7,000, realized $27,500 ; and  Neil Leifer’s Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston, St. Dominick’s Arena, Lewiston, Maine, 1965, printed later (lot 210), sold for $15,000 with an estimate of $5,000 to $7,000.  Although Sotheby’s sold more of their highly priced lots than their competitors, their buy-in rate was lower than Christie’s at approximately 40%, and this fall season also proved to be their lowest total since 2009, with 130 lots sold out of 223 offered, realizing $3,280,375 overall.

Wrapping up the week of sales was Phillips, which held two consistently strong sessions, realizing $4,228,750, the highest overall results of the season.  Of the 247 lots offered 172 found buyers, resulting in the lowest buy-in rate of the season of approximately 30%.  The top two lots sold included a vintage Diane Arbus print, A Family on their Lawn one Sunday in Westchester, NY, 1968 (lot 17) and William Eggleston’s vintage Memphis, 1969-1970 (lot 21), both with estimates of $250,000 to $350,000.  The Arbus, which went unsold during the auction but sold after the sale completed sold just after the sale closed for $305,000, while the Eggleston was the top lot of the sale, realizing $365,000.  Other highly anticipated lots included Richard Avedon’s The Beatles, August 11, 1967, printed 1988 (lot 69), which failed to sell with an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000, and Robert Frank’s Trolley, New Orleans, 1955, printed 1980s (lot 209), which realized $149,000 with an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000.  Other noteworthy lots included, Harry Callahan’s Ireland, 1979 (lot 11), which was estimated at $5,000 and $7,000 and sold for $16,250; Frank Gohlke’s Ten Minutes in North Texas #1, Clay County, 1995, printed 2011 (lot 13), which was estimated at $1,500 to $2,500 and sold for $5,250; and Larry Sultan’s Sharon Wild from The Valley, 2001 (lot 44), which realized $33,750 on an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000.  Although Phillips came out on top with the highest grossing sales of the season, the 2015 fall auction represented its lowest gross total since October 2010.

By Alison Riley