Issue #203  5/13/2014
Phillips Tops Last Year’s NYC Spring Auction at nearly $6.4 million

By Stephen Perloff
Editor of The Photograph Collector and Photo Review

(Editor's note: to see Alex Novak's quick overall market analysis of these auctions and gallery business, go to that article from the last E-Photo Newsletter from May 1, 2014, which you can see here: http://www.iphotocentral.com/news/article_view.php/213/202/1316.)

Phillips led off the spring auction season with a sale on April 1.

Someday I’ll get tired of repeating the changes in auctions over the past few years, but the sale began with 25 people in the room and “swelled” to about 35 eventually. I don’t think any of the auction houses ever had 40 people not counting staff in a room at the same time, though Phillips’s light-filled space somehow seemed a bit livelier than either Sotheby’s or Christie’s various- owner sales. At Phillips, about 34 of the 209 lots sold during the auction sold in the room, with most of the action on the phones plus some order and internet bidding.

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s The Music Lesson, 1999, sold for a record $629,000, the second highest priced lot of the Spring sales.
Hiroshi Sugimoto’s The Music Lesson, 1999, sold for a record $629,000, the second highest priced lot of the Spring sales.

Irving Penn’s Street Photographer, New York, 1951, snapped up a bid of $56,250, just under estimate. The same phone bidder later bought Penn’s Vogue Fashion Photograph (Café in Lima), Peru (Jean Patchett), 1948, for $137,000, which tied for fourth place on the top ten. Louis Faurer’s The LIGHT Suite, 1937–73/1980–81, brought $60,000. A bidder paid $62,500 to look out at Helmut Newton’s View from My Window, Rue de L’Abbé-de-l’Éppé, Paris V, 1979.

Then a phone bidder more than doubled the high estimate for Hiroshi Sugimoto’s The Music Lesson, 1999, paying $629,000. It was the top lot in the sale and tied for second for the New York auction season. The work is from Sugimoto’s Portrait series and is based on Vermeer’s Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman. It’s the only image from the series in which the figures are not isolated from their diorama and the only one in color. At 53.125” x 41.75”, it’s impressively large. It’s also a pigment print from 1999, so possibly not quite as stable as a more recent pigment print.

New York dealer Bruce Silverstein stacked up $100,000 for Constantin Brancusi’s Endless Column in Steichen’s Garden at Voulangis, circa 1923. Another Brancusi, View of the Studio, The Sorceress, The Kiss and The Chief, 1925, went to he phones for $68,750. André Kertész’s vintage matte-surface print Untitled (Notre Dame at Night), 1925 ($50,000–$70,000), passed but was bought immediately after the auction by Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg.

Richard Avedon’s classic Nastassja Kinski and the Serpent, Los Angeles, California, June 14, 1981 ($60,000–$80,000), snaked its way to $155,000 (third place). Penn’s Three Rissani Women with Bread, 1971, sold for $25,000 a head, or $75,000 all together, to Pace/MacGill Gallery, I believe. Sebastião Salgado’s The Eastern Part of the Brooks Range, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, 2009, set a world auction record at $68,750.

Peter Beard’s Giraffes in Mirage on the Taru Desert, June, 1960, galloped to $100,000. But his Tsavo north on the Athi Tiva, circa 150 lbs.–160 lbs. Side bull elephant, February, 1965, passed at $75,000 on a low estimate of $80,000.

William Eggleston’s Greenwood, MS, 1973 (the red ceiling and one of the star lots of the sale), passed at $210,000, meaning the reserve was at the low estimate of $220,000, so it was a bit odd that Phillips didn’t just sell it at $210,000 — they would have still made some money on it. I’m not sure if that was a decision by auctioneer, August Uribe, who was taking the first photo sale where I’ve seen him. Also, instead of saying “Pass” when a lot did not sell, he would say, “Unsold,” although sometimes he would turn a bit away from the microphone for the first syllable, so that most of us just heard “sold,” a source of some small confusion among others as well as myself.

Richard Avedon’s Bob Dylan, singer, 132nd Street and FDR Drive, November 4, 1963, collected $62,500 in its hat. Eggleston’s Sumner, MS, circa 1970, hit its high estimate at $100,000. And his Morton, MS, 1969–70, went for $62,500 to the same bidder who bought Sumner.

In the afternoon session Sarah Krueger took the sale and picked up the pace and energy level. Robert Frank’s Chicago--Political Rally, 1956, but printed later, garnered $87,500. Art consultant Kevin Moore brought home Diane Arbus’s Stripper, Miss Sata Lyte, in her dressing room with glasses Atlantic City, N.J., 1962, printed 1963–65, for the same price, but over estimate.

Irving Penn’s Summer Sleep, New York, 1949, tied for eighth place at $112,500. Nick Knight’s Kate, 2006, seduced $75,000 from the phones. Helmut Newton’s Two pairs of legs in silk stockings, Paris, 1979/later, strolled to $60,000, as did Nobuyoshi Araki’s Untitled from Colourscapes, 1991, this one over estimate.

Another Araki, From Close to Range, 1991, a black-and-white diptych of flowers, took second place at $191,000, an auction record. Another flower image, Robert Mapplethorpe’s Roses, 1988, was claimed by an order bidder at $87,500.

Alex Prager’s Crowd #1 from Week-End, 2010, set an auction record for a single work by the young artist at $43,750. Candida Höfer’s Palazzo Pisani Moretta, Venezia I, 2003, sold over estimate at $112,500.

Thomas Demand’s Abgang/ Exit, 2000 ($120,000–$180,000) passed at $100,000. So did Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #303, 1994 ($60,000– $80,000) at $55,000. They were two of the featured works in the sale. Though another Demand, Büro/Office, 1995, sold in the room for $137,000, tied for fourth place.

Two more auction records were set: Alec Soth’s Peter’s Houseboat, Winona, MN, 2002, at $40,000 and Richard Misrach’s Untitled #69- 527, 2008, at $100,000. Ahmet Ertug’s striking The Library of Trinity College, ‘The Long Room’, Dublin, 2008, sold over estimate to a British collector in the room for $137,000, tied for fourth place, and set an auction record for the artist.

Christian Boltanski’s Untitled mixed media installation, 1989, lit up a bid of $77,500. And Adam Fuss’s Untitled, 2007, set an auction record at $93,750, as did Mitch Epstein’s BP Carson Refinery, California, from American Power, 2007, at $32,500.

Elger Esser’s Cap d’Antifer, Frankreich, 2000, sold over estimate at $118,750 and claimed seventh place. Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Ionian Sea, Santa Cesarea, 1990, swelled to $62,500, a bit over estimate.

Carrie Mae Weems’s Untitled (Woman and daughter with children), 1990, sold for $32,500, more than three times its high estimate and a record for a single work by Weems, though perhaps not a surprise in light of Weems’s excellent retrospective at the Guggenheim. There was another record for Ormond Gigli’s Girls in Windows, New York City, 1960, at $55,000.

In all, the sale totaled $6,389,375, with a buy- in rate of 22.3%. Phillips included five lower-valued lots that sold immediately after the auction in its total (which if we count them, means the buy-in rate was 21.1%).

Vanessa Kramer Hallett, Phillips’s Senior Director and Worldwide Head of Photographs, exclaimed, “Today’s auction reinforced the growing demand for top-tier works by leading contemporary photographers. The strong activity in the room and on the phone banks established superb results across the board and one of the highest number of world auction records in a single Phillips Photographs sale.”

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.