Issue #176  11/18/2010
Christie's Sells Over $5-1/2 Million and 75% By Lot At Mid-October Sale in NYC

By Alex Novak

Christie's held two sales in the fall in New York City. The first was its multi-consignor sale and the second its sale of Girault De Prangey daguerreotypes (more on the latter in the next newsletter).

The regular auction sold $5,571,538 worth of photography and 75% of the lots. While the total was actually 37-1/2% higher than its previous spring multi-owner sale, the percentage of lots that bought in (went unsold) was a bit higher: 25% vs. 13%.

Not surprisingly, the evening portion of the sale (lots 1-65) was much stronger than the daytime section. I will usually stick to items that went over $35,000, including the buyer's premium, just in the interests of space and time. Lots of Irving Penn's in this sale and bidder interest still appeared relatively high, although there were a few exceptions which bought in that might not have had there been a few less Penn's here. There were also a number of Arbus prints that failed to go that would normally have sold.

Irving Penn led off the sale with lot 1, a dye transfer print of Three Single Oriental Poppies selling online for the reserve of $52,500, which was under the low estimate. Oddly the next lot, a platinum-palladium print of his Three Asaro Mudmen was bought in at $42,000. It sold in the spring Penn sale at Christie's for a whopping $110,500--the latter sale perhaps a showing of over-exuberance.

There was stronger (and much higher) internet bidding than I had seen at these sales in the past. Lot 3, a Robert Frank of U.S. 91, Leaving Blackfoot, ID, sold for $22,500 online, and then lot 4, Eggleston's dye transfer of Summer, Mississippi sold well above the high estimate at $104,500 to the same European Internet buyer as lots 1 and 3. The Eggleston's price put it into a tied for 7th place in the auction.

Ansel Adams did well in the sale. Lot 11, Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada, from Lone Pine, sold to a commission bid by an American for $50,000. Then lot 12, Adams's Grand Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, WY, became a battle ground for several phones and James Alinder, Adams specialist and dealer. A phone bidder finally snagged the oversized print mounted on wood for over the high estimate at $338,500, which made the photograph the top priced lot in this sale.

Lot 16, a platinum-palladium print of Irving Penn's Lorry Washers, London, sold to one of a group of phone bidders at more than double the midpoint of the estimate range at $128,500. Christie's just called the bidder "private" even though the price tag put it into sixth place overall.

Penn's dealer, Peter MacGill on the phone, picked off lot 17, Penn's Child of Florence, which included seven contact sheets from the sitting and a hand-written letter from Penn to Nerina, the sitter's mother. Ute Hartjen of Camerawork (Berlin) made him pay double the high estimate though before he could scoop it up at $74,500.

MacGill--still on the phone--then also picked off the next lot, Frederick Sommer's Livia for a very reasonable $37,500.

A nice print of Robert Frank's Trolley sold just over the low estimate to an internet bidder over a commission bid, no less, as our auction world grows ever more virtual. I actually ever so slightly preferred the same image in a print at Phillips (more next time), but photo dealer Tom Gitterman preferred this one at Christie's. Both of us agreed over lunch that they were very close though. In any case, it sold online for $134,500, which was enough for fifth place. The bidder was a European dealer, according to Christie's.

A couple of Irving Penn nudes drew attention from the bidders, the first platinum-palladium and the next silver gelatin. Kate Moss sold to a phone bidder for the low estimate at $62,500; Amber Valletta (C) sold to Ute Hartjen of Camerawork for well over the high estimate at $47,500.

Lot 26, Dorothea Lange's Hopi Man, which initially had my attention, had some serious water damage on the mount board that was affecting the image on the left side. To make matters worse, the mount board was of rather poor material. It went to a phone bidder for the low estimate at $37,500.

Man Ray's Nude with Shadow (Solarized), lot 31, sold for well over its high estimate to an unknown bidder in the room at $146,500 over art consultant Kevin Moore's bid. Although coming in third in the sale, Christie's only notes that it was a sale to a "private buyer".

The Diane Arbus Identical Twins, Roselle, NJ, failed to sell at $240,000, plus the premium, which was a reserve just a hair under the low estimate of $250,000. There were considerable problems with the print, but in the past this one would have gone easily at this price.

Penn's Corset, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, NY (lot 33) sold to a man on the aisle for $50,000. Then Penn's dye transfer of Summer Sleep sold to art consultant Kevin Moore for $68,500, who then took lot 35, Man Ray's Madame Xupery over New York dealer Edwynn Houk and several other bidders in the room at double the midpoint of the estimate range at $62,500.

Robert Frank dealer Peter MacGill took Frank's Mary (lot 36) for well over the high estimate at $56,250. He had to bid over another man in the room and a phone bidder to get it.

Lot 44, Edward Steichen's gum print of a nude, was an interesting image, but I felt it problematic in several ways. There were some light, thin surface lines and spots that it was difficult to determine whether or not they were in the print or the negative. Even more troubling: the signature looked to me like it had been "enhanced" by someone going over it again in pencil. The area below it looked a bit rubbed. Still with two phones and others in action, it sold for $62,400, just at its low estimate.

Irving Penn's brilliant "The Palm of Miles Davis" was estimated at $30,000-50,000, but that estimate was blown away as many active bidders emerged to try to take home this prize. Even the internet played a major role when that bidder underbid Penn dealer Peter MacGill for the image. Also bidding aggressively were several phones and Berlin dealer Ute Hartjen. But MacGill's winning bid of $146,500 was just too much for all of them, but was good enough for fourth place overall in the auction.

A phone bidder took the next lot, another Penn--this time his dye transfer "Mouth" with smeared lipstick samples. It sold just under the high estimate at $176,500, which placed the lot into second place overall. Another phone bidder went over the high estimate to take Andres Serrano's Ecce Homo for $52,500.

Lot 48, William Eggleston's dye transfer of Untitled (Near Glendora, MS), sold well over the high estimate to a phone bidder at $98,500, which put it into a tie for tenth place overall.

Another image by Irving Penn, Les Patissiers, Paris, sold to the phone for $72,100, which was well over the high estimate. There were a number of bidders in the room on this one.

Andy Warhold stitched photographs seem to be holding up well. Lot 60, Warhol's portrait of Mick Jagger (with four panels), sold for just over its high estimate to a phone bidder for $40,000. Ute Hartjen of Camerawork was the underbidder.

Lot 65, William Eggleston's dye transfer of a young girl in a red sweater, ended the evening session on a high note, selling to a phone for nearly double its high estimate at $74,500. The evening had produced over $2,691,725 in sales on only 50 sold lots for Christie's--quite a haul. That was an average of $53,834.50 per lot sold. Nearly all the top ten lots were in this portion of the sale.

The next day's session didn't do quite as well per lot, but still managed to more than double the total take here after a bit of a slower start. A lot of the work in this section of the sale were lower priced color photographs from the Bruce and Nancy Berman collection, which generally sold well but still did not hit my cut-off of over $35,000. It wasn't until lots 141 and 142 that the big guns came out.

Lot 141, Robert Adams' Colorado Springs, CO, sold to collector Christopher Luce for $10,000 over the high estimate at $35,000. It was a late editioned print from 1995. A vintage version had just sold the previous day at Sotheby's (see the last newsletter, Issue 175 on 10/24/2010) for a record-breaking $86,500.

A Robert Adams' image that I personally liked even more was the next lot, Berthoud, CO--again in a later editioned print, which sold to a phone bidder for $68,500 over Adams dealer Jeffrey Fraenkel in the room and several phone bidders.

Again there were a number of lower price color lots, some doing very well, such as Robert Polidori's Palm Springs series in the smaller size, which sold for well over the high estimates.

A nice platinum-palladium print of Truman Capote by Irving Penn (lot 173) sold to a phone bidder for well over the high estimate at $68,500. Toronto dealer Jane Corkin was the underbidder on the lot.

Lot 174, Robert Frank's image of Billie Holiday, St. Nicholas Arena, was estimated at only $9,000-12,000, but the high estimate got doubled when Frank dealer Peter MacGill topped other bidders at $30,000, including the buyer's premium.

Likewise a 1960s print of Malcolm X by Henri Cartier-Bresson sold to a phone for more than double the high estimate at $22,500, with art consultant Kevin Moore underbidding.

Irving Penn's Italian Still Life (lot 182) sold to a phone bidder for the reserve at $43,750. Another Penn, lot 195, Two Thin New Guinea Women, sold to another phone bidder for over the high estimate at $50,000. A commission bid picked up the next lot, a Penn of Three New Guinea Men (Two with Pipes) for $32,500.

The same phone bidder (1747) took all three William Eggleston lots 201-203. They were an extremely active bidder in the sale, but mostly on relatively (and I use that term advisedly) inexpensive contemporary color material. But it wasn't until lot 203 that they had to shell out some "real money" to nick the lot. This was Eggleston's woman with red hair at a counter. It sold for above the high estimate at $98,500, which put it in a tie for 10th place overall in the sale.

We went back to more Irving Penn's. Lot 212 was a platinum-palladium of the Road Sweeper, London, which sold to a phone bidder just over the high estimate (and dealer Jane Corkin's underbid) for $74,500. The next lot was also a platinum-palladium print entitled Rags and Bones, London. The same phone bidder (1714) got this one as well, but they had to pay even more: $104,500. An online underbidder and Ute Hartjen pushed up the price. The lot tied for seventh place overall and was one of the few big lots of this day.

Just a quick aside on lot 223, an Atget arrowroot print of Houblon. Frankly it was a lovely print with a reasonable estimate ($7,000-9,000). It bought in at $5,500. Other more mediocre Atgets have been selling at auction for much, much more. Go figure.

Ansel Adams's Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada (lot 226) sold to a woman up front for just over the high estimate at $47,500.

Another Andy Warhol stitched print (with six panels) of small overlapping prayer rugs sold to a phone bidder for well over the high estimate at $52,500.

Ansel Adams' Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, WY, sold in the mid-section of its estimate range at $47,500. And Adams' Moonrise, Hernandez sold for $37,500 to the room.

Only the first of the Carleton Watkins' mammoth plates in this sale did really well. The group consigned was actually in fairly nice condition, but it was a bit confusing viewing what should have been Taber prints, given the dates of the prints. There was a rationale for this, but...

I was a bit surprised that more Watkins didn't sell well. The first, lot 264, Vernal Fall, 300 ft., Yosemite Valley, was perhaps the strongest print (but there were others that were quite nice) did sell to a phone bidder at almost its high estimate at $40,000. Others sold under the low estimate or were simply bought in.

William Eggleston's En Route to New Orleans, a print from legendary dealer Harry Lunn, sold for nearly double the high estimate to an order bidder for $50,000.

Art Consultant Kevin Moore picked off Robert Frank's Shoe-Shine (lot 281) for $47,500, which was well over the high estimate.

And the final big lot of the day was a Robert Mapplethorpe Calla Lilly that sold to James Crump for $86,500, which was well over the high estimate and put the lot into eleventh place overall in the sale.

(Next newsletter: Christie's Girault de Prangey sale and Phillips)