Spring 2019 New York Photography Auctions Review
Phillips, New York
New York’s spring photography auction season was notedly successful, as indicated by the sales held at the three major auction houses: Christie’s, Phillips and Sotheby’s. Phillips outperformed the other two houses bringing a total of $10,490,875 in proceeds between its two sales including their seasonal spring Photographs sale followed by the single owner sale, Passion & Humanity: The Susie Tompkins Buell Collection. In all, 202 of the 253 lots offered sold, resulting in an impressive overall 80% success rate.
All but four of the 58 lots offered during the Passion & Humanity: The Susie Tompkins Buell Collection found buyers. Known as the co-founder of Esprit and The North Face, as well as for her political activism and philanthropy, Susie Tompkins Buell has been an important figure in the photography market, particularly in its growth stages in the 1980s and 1990s. The collection is noted for focusing on influential female photographers, such as Tina Modotti, Dorothea Lange, Margaret Bourke-White, Imogen Cunningham, Consuelo Kanaga, and Alma Lavenson, in addition to masterworks by other established masters such as Edward Weston and Edward Steichen, among others. The highest price achieved was $788,000 for Edward Weston’s Circus Tent, 1924 (estimate $400,000-$600,000). This was followed closely by Modotti’s Telephone Wires, Mexico, 1925, which sold for $692,000, significantly higher than its estimate range of $250,000 to $350,000, marking a new record for the artist. These two works, along with others offered that realized exceptional prices by Weston and Modotti,, are important as they represent their evolving modernist style, particularly influenced by one another in the midst of their love affair in Mexico during the 1920s. Each work demonstrates their respective interest in the formal qualities of photography, evoked through the abstracted subject matter and extreme angles. Another highlight from the sale is Edward Steichen’s Heavy Roses, Voulangis, France, 1914, a celebrated solarized still life by the photographer, which sold for $524,000 (estimate $400,000-$600,000). In addition to these three lots, twelve other works sold for $100,000 or more. Other lots of note include: Margaret Bourke-White’s Flood Refugees, Louisville, Kentucky, 1937, sold for $400,000 (estimate $150,000-$250,000); Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936, sold for $337,500 (estimate $100,000-$150,000); Consuelo Kanaga’s Profile of a Young Girl from the Tennessee Series, 1948, sold for $106,250 (estimate $15,000-$25,000). Another interpretation of displaced children and their mother by Dorothea Lange, titled Mother and Children on the Road, Tulelake, Siskiyou County, California, 1939, sold for $55,000 surpassing its’ low-end estimate by five times (estimate $10,000-$15,000). As a whole, this was a very successful sale with many lots selling significantly over their estimates, often double and even triple their high estimates.
The lot that stood out at the Philips general Photographs sale was an oversized Helmut Newton work consisting of four panels titled Sie Kommen, Paris (Dressed and Naked), 1981. With the highest estimate between $600,000 and $800,000, this set sold for an impressive $1,820,000, marking a new record for this artist. Other highlights from the general sale included US 285, New Mexico, 1956 by Robert Frank, which realized $187,500, greatly outperforming its estimate between $25,000 and $35,000. Sally Mann’s work The New Mothers, 1989, sold for $62,500 more than double its high estimate (estimate $20,000-$30,000). A remarkable representative of documentary photography, Charles Moore’s Dogs used by Birmingham, Ala. Cops to quell Negro Race Riots, 1963 realized $62,500 after being estimated between $15,000 and $25,000. A few other lots sold over their high estimate with most sales occurring within their respective estimate ranges.
Christie’s, New York
Christie’s photography auction featured three installments: The Face of the Century: Photographs from a Private Collection, a 90-lot sale with key figures of the European avant-garde movement; Daydreaming: Photographs from the Goldstein Collection with 69 lots; and lastly, the general Photographs sale including 141 lots. The proceeds from all three sales totaled at $6,938,500, with 223 lots selling from the 300 offered or an overall 74% sales rate. The top lot sold during the auctions was Richard Avedon’s Dovima with Elephants, Evening Dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, 1955 which realized $615,000, the second highest auction price achieved for this particular image.
In addition to this top selling lot, highlights from the Goldstein Collection include Irving Penn’s Harlequin Dress (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), NY, 1950 which realized $325,000 (estimate $200,000-300,000) and Edward Steichen’s Loretta Young, Hollywood, August 1931, which surpassed its estimate of $10,000 to $15,000 by hammering at $47,500.
Helmut Newton’s work performed exceptionally well during the The Face of the Century: Photographs from a Private Collection sale, claiming the top selling two lots: Self Portrait with Wife and Models, Paris, 1981 and Tied-Up Torso, Ramatuelle, 1980. Each work realized $100,000, much higher than their estimates ($40,000-$60,000 and $50,000-$70,000, respectively). Three other Newton lots surpassed their estimates of $25,000 to $35,000, achieving $87,500, $75,000 and $56,250, respectively. Similarly, an early 20th century portrait by Baron Adolph de Meyer achieved $50,000 (estimate $10,000-$15,000).
The top lot of the general Christie’s auction was Alexander Rodchenko’s Lestnitsa (Steps), 1929 which realized $281,250 (estimate $150,000-$250,000). Other noteworthy results were Paul Strand’s The Family, Luzzara, Italy from The Collection of David and Susan Barron, which realized $250,000 (estimate $250,000-$300,000); Diane Arbus’ A family on their lawn one Sunday in Westchester, N.Y. 1968 which realized $275,000 (estimate $250,000-$350,000) and Edward Weston’s Nude on Sand, 1936 which outperformed its estimate of $70,000 to $90,000 reaching $150,000. Richard Misrach’s Untitled #328-02, 2002 set a new record for the artist selling for $125,000 (estimate $60,000-$$80,000).
Sotheby’s, New York
Sotheby’s auction sale was the smallest among the three houses in New York, resulting in approximately $4,036,875 from the sale of 131 lots out of 189 offered, an approximately 69% success rate. The morning and evening sales featured works representing the full spectrum of photography’s history, from early daguerreotypes to large contemporary works. Top estimated lots with a minimum of $100,000 consisted of prints by El Lissitzky, Margaret Bourke-White, Imogen Cunningham, Irving Penn, and Ansel Adam, the majority of which sold within their estimates. The top selling lot was a rare print by El Lissitzky titled Pelikan Tinte, 1924, which is among the artist’s most famous works combining a photogram and typography. The work came from the collection of renowned collector Manfred Heiting and brought in $462,500 (estimated $300,000 to $500,000). An oversized print of Margaret Bourke-White’s celebrated image Gargoyle, Chrysler Building, N.Y.C. had one of the highest estimates between $250,000 to $350,000 however failed to sell. Interesting selections included a group of 78 photographs by Nicholas Murray, featuring previously unpublished images of personalities from the Mexican cultural landscape in the 1920s to the 1940s, including Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Miguel Covarrubias and their circle, selling for $35,000 (estimated $30,000 to $50,000). Another group lot consisted of 200 SX-70 Polaroid prints by artist Nobuyoshi Araki which realized $62,500 (estimate $50,000-$70,000).
The majority that sold realized prices within or close to their expected ranges with few surprises. Irving Penn was represented with 13 lots, with nine selling, led by a platinum print of Black and White Vogue Cover (Jean Patchett, New York), 1950, which realized $187,500 (estimate $150,000-$250,000). A mural-sized horizontal version of Aspens, Northern New Mexico, 1958 by Ansel Adams also realized $187,500 (estimate $150,000-$250,000). An unusual photograph by Adams, a 4 ¼ x 4 ¾-inch mounted print of Picket Fence, c. 1936 also from the collection of Manfred Heiting, sold for $62,500 well over its estimate of $15,000 to $25,000. Other lots that sold significantly higher than their estimates included: a portrait of Demi Moore by Annie Leibovitz, estimated $5,000 to $6,000 and selling for $20,000; a self-portrait with a mask by Francesca Woodman, estimated $40,000 to $60,000 and selling for $82,250; a portrait titled Cotrane + Elvin, 1960 by Roy DeCArava, estimated $8,000 to $12,000 and selling for $32,000; Nude, New York, 1941 by Edward Weston, estimated $25,000 to $35,000 and realizing $60,000. On the contemporary side, a mural-sized pigment print by David Yarrow, titled Amboseli Kenya, 2018 sold for $106,250, over three times its high estimate ($25,000 to $35,000).
By Dora Yordanova