Issue #173  8/16/2010
Phillips De Pury Does Well With Nearly $3.5 Million Sold, But With 39.3% Buy-In

By Stephen Perloff
Editor of The Photograph Collector

(With some assistance by Alex Novak)

Phillips de Pury & Company's sale on April 16 in New York totaled $3,470,675 as compared to just over $1.8 million a year ago, selling 82% by value, with many of the sale's top lots surpassing their pre-sale estimates, but with a high 39.3% buy-in rate (although many others sold after the sale and after their official report). There was a higher concentration of fashion, nudes, and contemporary work here than at the other houses.

The highest selling lot in the sale was Edward Steichen's Wheelbarrow with Flower Pots, France ($150,000–$200,000), a rare palladium and ferroprussiate print that sold for $194,500. It came down to a battle between two New York dealers, Peter MacGill and Howard Greenberg, with MacGill in this instance coming up on top. Steichen's Triumph of the Egg ($40,000–$60,000) just finished out of the top ten at $47,500, and was bought by New York gallerist Edwynn Houk.

Iconic works by master photographers fared very well, as exemplified by Robert Mapplethorpe's Ken Moody and Robert Sherman ($60,000–$80,000) selling for $110,500 to a phone bidder; and Diane Arbus's Identical Twins, Roselle, NJ, ($70,000–$90,000), which claimed $98,500 from another phone bidder. Andy Warhol's Parking Lot Sign, c. 1976–86 ($25,000–$35,000) was ticketed by yet another phone bidder at $37,500, and Peter Beard's Hunting Cheetah's on the Taru Desert, Kenya, 1960 ($15,000–$20,000) was corralled at $50,000 by an Internet bidder, the highest priced lot to go to the Internet in this spring's auctions. Several other Beard's in the sale also went to the Internet, perhaps the same bidder.

Contemporary photography sold equally well as represented by David LaChapelle's Last Supper (Jesus is my Homeboy) ($60,000–$80,000), which sold for $134,500, the second strongest result for the artist at auction and his Addicted to Diamonds, 1997 ($40,000–$60,000), which shot up to $79,300, were both sold to the phone. The former had a larger audience watching as a large group of tourists peered a bit disconcertingly into the auction room from the ramp outside.

Other strong examples by contemporary photographs include Hiroshi Sugimoto's Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut ($50,000–$70,000), at $62,500, which sold to a man in the room; Joel Sternfeld's McLean, Virginia, December 4, 1978 ($40,000–$60,000) was bought by a phone bidder at $60,000; Vik Muniz's Venus and Cupid after Antonio Corregio from Pictures of Junk ($30,000–$50,000), sold for $40,000, the same price as his Orchestra, from Pictures of Chocolate ($20,000–$30,000); Andreas Gursky's brightly colored Zurich Bankproject No. 8 ($20,000-30,000) got a check for $37,500, despite the buffed-out scratch in the plexi of the Diasec-mounted photo; Bien-U-Bae's Sonamoo ($22,000-$28,000) was sold to a phone bidder for $37,500; and Ruud Van Empel's Venus #3 ($25,000–$35,000), swam to $31,250.

Fashion photography proved its consistent appeal with Helmut Newton's Saddle II, Paris ($40,000–$60,000), riding to the phones for $86,500; Irving Penn's Cocoa dress (Balenciaga), Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, Paris, which brought $74,500--same as his Cuzco Children, Peru, 1948 ($60,000–$80,000); Louis Faurer's Bowing for the Vogue Collection, Paris, selling for $25,000 to a phone bidder; Helmut Newton's Scene from Pina Bausch Ballet, Wupperfal, and Robert Mapplethorpe's Apollo both went to phone bidders for $31,250 each; and the cover lot, Herb Ritts's Versace Dress, Back View, El Mirage, at $20,000.

The interesting result of the above group is the Cuzco Children, 1948, gelatin silver print, printed here in 2002, which brought only $74,500 versus the $206,500 paid for a 1964 printing of the same image at the Christie's Penn auction just days previous. Considering that neither were vintage prints (and this hasn't made much difference to date on Penn's), the difference is startling.

A lot of catalogue space was devoted to Nobuyoshi Araki's series "celebrating" his 60th birthday. One phone buyer bought all ten lots, mostly below their estimates, for a total of $41,500--not exactly impressive considering the large six pages used to promote the work.

The relatively high buy-in rate guaranteed some disappointments. No one dug Robert Frank's Ben James, Welsh Miner, 1953 ($60,000–$80,000). Only 11 of the 25 Willy Ronis prints found homes, which is not surprising since the market has been flooded with them at auctions and through other sources. Edward Weston's Nude on Sand, Oceano ($40,000-60,000) went down, but it had been conserved and had major condition problems. And Cindy Sherman's ugly Untitled #187 failed at $32,000 ($50,000-70,000). But clearly Phillips too saw a substantial rebound in the market.

"We had a solid sale and are particularly pleased with the results of our higher value property. Our total value is higher than the previous season's, reflecting the growing confidence in the photographs market," commented Vanessa Kramer, Director of New York Photographs department.

(Copyright ©2010 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, 140 East Richardson Ave, Langhorne, PA 19047. Or to order The Photograph Collector Newsletter online, go to: http://www.photoreview.org/wordpressindex/shop/.