2021 New York Auction Summary


Par the course, the three major houses held their spring photography auctions in close proximity, with Christie’s sales on 6 and 8 April, Sotheby’s sale on April 7, and Phillips on April 8.

Christie’s general sale included 88 lots that found buyers with $2,093,994 in total sales and a buy-in rate of 36.7%.  The highest price realized during the sale was Man Ray’s Le Violon d’Ingres, 1924 which sold for $475,000, well over the estimate of $200,000 to $300,000.   Over 80% of the lots had proceeds in or above their respective estimate ranges.  An additional specialized sale was presented alongside online titled Ansel Adams and the American West.  This sale included 47 lots, of which all but one found buyers, totaling $806,250 in sales exceeding the pre-sale high estimate of $628,000.

Sotheby’s sales followed with 114 lots sold, or a buy-in rate of 29.6%, and total proceeds of $2,093,994.  Highlights include Richard Avedon’s Marilyn Monroe, New York City, 1957 which sold for $163,800 and Irving Penn’s Miles Davis, Hand and Trumpet, New York, 1986 realized $81,900, both with estimates of $80,000 and $120,000.  Although presented later in April separate from their general sale, Sotheby’s presented a two-part online sale on 21 and 22 April.  The 50 Masterworks to Celebrate 50 Years of Sotheby’s Photographs sale took place first in New York and then in London and realized combined total sales of $4,380,140 with 30 lots finding buyers. Highlights included a selection of salt prints, albums, and manuscripts by William Henry Fox Talbot sold for $1,956,000 and Chris Levine’s Lightness of Being, 2008 sold for approximately $162,000.

Phillips was the final sale of the spring season and most successful, with 206 lots sold, a 19.5% buy-in rate, and total sales reaching $5,410,062.  Just over 95% of the lots sold within or above the estimate range.  The top lot sold was the iconic Trolley – New Orleans, 1955 by Robert Frank which sold for $403,200.  Other highlights included Flip Schulke, Ali Underwater, 1961 which sold for $32,760, with an initial estimate of $7,000 to $9,000; three separate Stephen Shore lots that achieved prices exceeding $20,000, all with initial estimates between $5,000 and $7,000; and Vik Muniz’s Three Flags, after Jasper Johns (from Pictures of Magazines 2), 2014 sold for $163,800 with an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000.

The fall sales occurred between 5 and 7 October.  Sotheby’s sales were split between Classic and Contemporary Photography, with a total of 233 lots offered, a buy-in rate of 33.5%, and total sales realizing $3,215,646.  During the Classic’s sale, the top lot sold was Calla Lilies, 1931 by Man Ray which realized $352,800 with an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000.  The Contemporary sale had muted results with roughly a third of the works selling below their estimates.  The top lot of the sale was Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Water Towers, 1963-1980 which sold for $119,700.

Christie’s fall sales fared well overall, with some high prices and unique sales achieved.  Their general photographs auction included the first sale of a photography lot coupled with an NFT (non-fungible tokens).  The work is entitled Twin Flames #83, Bahareh & Farzaneh, accompanied by Twin Flames Full Physical Collection (100 prints), 2017-2018, by Justin Aversano.  It consists of one NFT and100 16 x 20-inch chromogenic prints that sold for an impressive $1,100,000 (over 10x the low estimate).  Overall, the sale incorporated 154 lots, with a 30.5% buy-in rate, and totaled $4,766,125.  Over 80% of lots sold achieved prices in or above the estimate ranges.  The second sale was dedicated to de-accessioned Civil War Photography from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The sale included 168 lots and realized $257,625 total with a 36.3% buy-in rate.  The high lot sold was Timothy O’Sullivan The “Mine”, Petersburg, Virginia, 1864 which sold for $15,000 with an estimate of $4,000 to $6,000.  While several lots sold above their estimates, prices were modest and generally below $10,000.

Lastly, Phillips’ offered two sales, a general sale and Reframing Beauty: A Private Seattle Collection.  The general sale included 246 lots and achieved $4,568,130 with a buy-in rate of 24.8%.  The top outcome of the sale was Ansel Adams’ The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942 which realized $289,900 with an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000.  The sale also saw new records set for Deana Lawson, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, and Ori Gersht. The second sale brought together 65 lots by various artists which totaled $1,039,274 in sales with a 15.3% buy-in rate.  One notable highlight was a new record set for Peter Hujar with David Wojnarowicz Reclining (II), 1981 which sold for $157,500 with an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000.

By Alison Riley