Issue #130  7/18/2007
Christie's NY's Multi-Owner Spring Sale Brings in Nearly $7.4 Million

By Stephen Perloff
Editor of The Photograph Collector

Christie's New York packed in a lot in its first day of its Spring sales. First the Elfering collection of Horsts and then the James Hyman Modernist sale (both already covered previously in our last issue), and after a short breath, the bidding continued with the first 50 lots of the various-owners sale.

That short breath may not have been enough as the bidding on the first few lots--all Avedon--was positively breathless. Collector Leon Constantiner leapt to $240,000 for Avedon's Fashion portfolio, 35/75 ($30,000–$50,000). That tied for the third highest price of this sale. Jeffrey Fraenkel took the next two lots, Avedon's Minneapolis portfolio, 7/35 ($50,000–$70,000), over Peter MacGill, also for $240,000, and seven images of Avedon's father, Jacob Israel Avedon (in my opinion, the strongest and most humane of all his portrait work), 2/10, ($15,000–$25,000) for $84,000. Then New York gallerist Yancey Richardson snared Dovima with Elephants, 5/50, for $132,000, just under high estimate (eighth place). Clearly prices for Avedon are on the upswing.

A 16x20-inch dye-transfer print of Joel Sternfeld's McLean, Virginia ($15,000–$25,000) burnt a hole in the pocket of a phone bidder at $45,600. Paul Strand's Lusetti Family, 1953, printed early 1960s, found a home at $84,000, although under the low estimate.

Howard Greenberg made a reservation for a vintage print of Cartier-Bresson's Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy, 1933 for $72,000, the low estimate. The print was possibly exhibited at the Julien Levy Gallery. Helmut Newton's Rue Abriot, Paris, seduced $78,000 from a bidder standing in the back of the room. And Ansel Adams's Portfolio Four: What Majestic Word, In Memory of Russell Varian, San Francisco soared to $144,000, one-third over high estimate (tied for sixth place). Illustrated in the catalogue over six pages with two gatefolds, the portfolio was sold to benefit the Sempervirens Fund, a non-profit land conservancy, for redwood land preservation.

Peter MacGill picked up Robert Mapplethorpe's unique silver print, Orchid (with Black Bowl) for $84,000, over a high estimate of $25,000.

Then Edward Weston's Shells ($200,000–$300,000) passed at $140,000. According to Michael Mattis, who has a stellar Weston collection with his wife Judy, "The print had a 3-inch break in it. Even more significantly, the upper shell had apparently moved a little during the multi-hour exposure, which knocked the upper half of the picture out of focus. There is an interesting comparison to be made to a close variant of this image [that had been in the Schieszler sale a few years ago] in which both shells are in sharp focus."

Mattis didn't hesitate for the next lot, however, Weston's Pepper 2P, a print originally in the estate of Tina Modotti, as he wrested it away from dealer Paul Hertzmann for $90,000.

Phone bidders took the next two lots: Irving Penn's Cuzco Children for $114,000 (tied for tenth place) and Helmut Newton's Mannequins, Quai d'Orsay II for $66,000, the latter more than double the high estimate. Ansel Adams's Clearing Winter Storm also blew by for $66,000.

Next up was Newton's Private Property, Suites I, II, and III, totaling 45 prints (and also illustrated across six pages, with three gatefolds) ($250,000–$350,000). Although there seemed to be no other bids, it went to an order bidder for $288,000, the second highest price of the sale.

A complete set of Camera Work ($150,000–$250,000) went to a U.S. dealer by order for $144,000 (tied for sixth place). A Robert Polidori image of Havana, 1997, in an edition of 10, brought $54,000, one and a half times high estimate, and a world auction record for the artist. And Jeff Wall's Just Washed, 1997, cleaned up at $120,000, just over its high estimate (ninth place).

Ute Hartjen of Germany's Camera Work Gallery battled a phone bidder for Irving Penn's Woman in Moroccan Palace (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Marrakech, 1951, printed 1983, 20/40 ($250,000–$350,000), finally yielding at $396,000, a world auction record for the artist and the top lot of the sale. A copy had sold for $307,200 at the Elfering sale in October 2005.

Robert Frank's Parade--Hoboken, New Jersey marched off for $108,000, but an oversized 30"x40" print of Adams's Moonrise, printed c. 1970 in a probable edition of three in this size ($120,000––$180,000) passed at $110,000.

Peter Beard's Baby Cheetahs snuck by at the low estimate of $96,000. And Jeffrey Fraenkel walked, ran, galloped, and flew off with 400 plates from Eadweard Muybridge's Animal Locomotion series for $114,000 (tied for tenth) and just under the low estimate.

If there were questions about whether bidders would hold off for the Maggi Weston sale coming up at Sotheby's or whether there would be pockets deep enough to absorb the vast range of incredible--and slightly more pedestrian--material over these four days of sales, those questions seemed to be answered with confidence after this first evening.

The day sale had many decent pictures but not nearly as many highlights--and many more buy-ins. A spectacular carbon print by Frank Hurley, The Low Sun after the Winter Night of the ship Endurance caught in the ice during Ernest Shackleton's famed and near-disastrous Antarctic expedition melted the heart--and wallet--of a phone bidder at $90,000, more than double the high estimate. The same bidder later came back for Edward Weston's Dunes, Oceano ($40,000–$60,000) at $114,000 (tied for tenth and the only lot from the day sale to break into the top ten).

Avedon's nude portrait of the young Rudolf Nureyev, Paris, 1961/1999, 1/20 more than doubled its high estimate to $72,000. Art consultant Turid Meeker paid $50,400, just over low estimate for a similarly well endowed picture, Robert Mapplethorpe's collage Black XXX…, 1970.

Robert Frank's Andrea, Pablo, and Mary ($25,000–$35,000) brought $60,000. Mapplethorpe's flowers continue to blossom. A Tulip brought $48,000 and a Calla Lily $66,000 from the phones.

More and more of the action was on the phones--and on the internet. A phone bidder went to $57,600 for Ansel Adams's Portfolio Three, out-climbing Michael Mattis and James Alinder. But New York gallerist Bruce Silverstein took Adams's The Tetons and the Snake River at $54,000. And Peter MacGill went to $72,000 for Robert Frank's Political Rally--Chicago, 1956/1970s ($25,000–$35,000).

After lunch a phone bidder more than doubled the high estimate for Hiroshi Sugimoto's Hall of Three Bays at $42,000. A different phone bidder paid the same price, but almost triple the high estimate, for Naoya Hatakeyama's River Series. Peter MacGill speared Penn's Three Asaro Mudmen ($30,000–$50,000) for a premium $108,000. And an internet bidder paid $45,600 for Peter Beard's Fayel Tall on Lake Rudolf ($15,000–$25,000).

Bidding became more and more lethargic as the afternoon wore on past lot 450. Peter MacGill was back for another Robert Frank, City Hall--Reno, Nevada, 1956/c.1962 ($25,000–$35,000) at $66,000. And finally art consultant Kevin Moore ran down Alexander Rodchenko's The Sports Girl for $42,000.

By the time the auction finished at lot 554, the various owners sale amassed $7,386,000 with a 22% buy-in rate, for an April total of $11,176,200. As Christie's press office wrote, "Coupled with the two Photographs sales held this February at the Rockefeller salerooms, which included the much-celebrated $4.3 million Photographs From The Estate Of Thomas T. Solley auction, the total for Christie's Spring 2007 Photograph sales stands at $16,736,460." (Christie's must be ahead of the global warming curve to put February in spring, but no matter.)

(Copyright ©2007 by The Photograph Collector.)

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, 340 East Maple Ave., Suite 200, Langhorne, PA 19047. Or to order The Photograph Collector Newsletter online, go to: http://www.photoreview.org.