Issue #178  1/5/2011
Swann's December Auction Brings in $842,937; But Sells Only 61% of The Lots

Swann Galleries December 9th auction of photographs and photo books reportedly brought in $842,937 (well below its own low estimate of about $1.2 million), but sold only 61% of the lots. The auction house may actually have done a bit better than those numbers which they had reported, because several lots sold after the auction, which did not have the best timing. The sale was held just after Art Week in Miami while many were still there or in transit, and in NYC just before Christmas, when most intelligent people try to avoid the crowds there like the plague. Prices below include Swann's buyer's premium.

The sale's top lot was the Brett Weston portfolio Twenty Photographs 1970-1977, which sold for $33,600 to a collector. Another Brett Weston picked up by a collector was his Mendenhall Glacier, for $10,200. A lot of three project prints by Edward and Brett Weston, which were featured in a 1960s television show called "The Art of Seeing," sold to a collector for $7,800.

Other celebrated portfolios included Berenice Abbott's New York II, with 12 silver prints, which sold to a collector for $21,600; and The Southwest, a portfolio containing 29 late-printed photogravures of Apache, Hopi, Navaho and other tribes by Edward S. Curtis, circa 1975, sold to a collector for $9,000.

Another Curtis sold was a dashing self portrait, in a photogravure on an oversize Van Gelder sheet, 1899, for $9,000 to another collector. Another photogravure highlight was The Hand of Man, Alfred Stieglitz's image of a train barreling toward the viewer, circa 1902, which sold to a collector for $26,400. That tied for the second highest price in the sale.

Portraits of well-known subjects included Edward Steichen and Rolf Petersen's striking Gloria Swanson, New York (for "Vanity Fair"), silver print, 1924, printed 1960s-1971, which sold to a dealer for $26,400, tying for second place overall in the sale; Henri Cartier-Bresson's Henri Matisse, Vence, France, printed early 1970s, sold to a collector for $8,400; and Richard Avedon's triptych of aged Igor Stravinsky, Composer, silver print, 1962; printed 1975, sold to a collector for $9,000.

More experimental were Man Ray's off-kilter view of Serge Lifar in "Romeo and Juliet," silver print, 1926, which sold to a collector for $16,800; and Claude Cahun's self-portrait with Roger Roussot in "Barbe-Bleue," silver print, 1929, $15,600, which apparently sold to a collector after the auction.

Classic silver prints from the mid-20th century included several Ansel Adams landscapes, including Mount Williamson, Sierra Nevada, From Manzanar, CA, printed late 1960s, which sold to a collector for $19,200.

Cartier-Bresson's On the Banks of the Marne, 1938, printed 1970s, sold apparently afterwards for $19,200, and Rue Mouffetard, 1954, printed 1980s, sold to a collector for $15,600; and Robert Frank's image of an African-American baby nurse holding her white charge in Charleston, SC, 1955, printed 1970s, sold to a collector for $14,400.

Bidders competed for images by Duane Michals, such as his A Letter from My Father, silver print, 1975, which went to a collector for $7,800, and I Dream the Perfect Day in New York City, photo-sequence consisting of 12 silver prints, 1977, which went to a dealer for $8,400.

Other works by contemporary artists included The First Apeiron Portfolio, with 18 original silver prints, including works by Emmet Gowin, Aaron Siskind, Minor White, and more, 1951-1973, printed 1975, which sold to an institution for $10,800; and Shirin Neshat's I Am Its Secret, chromogenic print, 1993, which sold to a collector for $12,000. The latter is another one of those posters. No edition, just print as many as the market will bear. I hope the market wises up. It's a nice image, but the artist is taking advantage of the market's naiveté, in my opinion. But, of course, they aren't the only one.

From the Photobooks section of the sale were early periodicals dedicated to photography, such as Camera Work, Number 11, with 11 photogravures by artists including Hill & Adamson, Steichen, Demachy and Hinton, New York, 1905, $4,080; and Art in Photography, consecutive run of six issues, Boston, 1905, $4,080.

Japanese books that performed well were Eikoh Hosoe, Ba-Ra-Kei (Killed by Roses), one of 1500 copies signed by Hosoe and model Yokio Mishima, Tokyo, 1963, $3,120; Nobuyoshi Araki, Senchimentaru na Tabi [Sentimental Journey], first edition, Tokyo, 1971, $5,040; and Yutaka Takanashi, Toshi-e [Towards the City], two volumes, first edition, Tokyo, 1974, $4,080.

Also featured were Ansel Adams, Sierra Nevada, The John Muir Trail, first edition, one of 500 copies signed by Adams, Berkeley, 1938, $4,080; Robert Capa, Death in the Making, first edition, signed and inscribed by Capa, New York, 1938, $3,360; Robert Frank, The Lines of My Hand, first edition, Tokyo, 1972, $4,800; Andy Warhol, America, first edition, signed by Warhol on the dust jacket and on the contents page, New York, 1985, $4,080; and Mario Testino and Martin Amis, Coincidence of the Arts, limited edition of 60 copies, 1998, $4,080.