Issue #205  8/16/2014
Paris Auctions Bad and…Well…Worse: Artcurial Ekes out 738,000 Euros with New Expert

By Alex Novak

In May and June, I come largely to buy in Europe, and, while I buy a great deal privately, occasionally the auctions here supply interesting and reasonably priced work. There were numerous auctions while I was here and just after I left for home (and those I could preview before I left). Many were just plain boring and all needed to be previewed (unless you wanted to waste your money on junk). I didn’t get to all of them, nor did I really want to. This time the auctions were largely ho-hum affairs here in Paris.

I was invited to the vernissage for Artcurial Paris and its reintroduction of photography into its auctions. The vernissage also served as a way to preview the house's newest photo auction, which went under the hammer on May 20th. It was a pleasant affair, and I chatted amiably with a number of people in the photo world, including long-time Paris gallerist Thierry Marlat.

Artcurial has had some bumps along the road. The worst one for photography--admittedly out of its Deauville branch--was the notorious sale in March 2011 of what was called "calotypes" by Crespy Le Prince. The information supplied by the auction house and its "expert" Gregory Leroy about these photographs has since been challenged by many in the field, including myself, but still nothing has been done by the auction house to rectify the situation for bidders who paid the house. Most in the field feel that the auction house should have taken responsibility for the situation promptly and repaid bidders, instead of using the incredibly slow French legal system as its buffer. It certainly has hurt the house's reputation with a number of potential bidders in the photo market.

Christophe Lunn, new photographs expert at Artcurial Paris
Christophe Lunn, new photographs expert at Artcurial Paris

That being said, the new expert is Christophe Lunn, who is both someone that I like and trust. Christophe is the son of the near mythological photo dealer and French photo auction expert Harry Lunn and runs a gallery in the Galerie Vivienne, called Photo Vivienne, with Joseph Delarue. But given that Artcurial's management wants to emulate the "success" of Christie's and Phillips' decorative-contemporary-as luxury-goods approach, he will have his work cut out for him.

This first auction wasn't exactly awe-inspiring. Mostly made up of secondary level (if that) contemporary fashion work, the auction brought in just a bit less than ¾ million euros, including the buyer's premium. Not awful for a Paris auction, but not stunning either.

At first I thought I might buy the Nicole Kidman drinking out of a wine bottle for my little collection of wine-related images, but when I previewed it, I found it was quite damaged. Disappointed, I turned to the little bit of vintage material here, which included a few decent Doisneau's. I did manage to snag one by phone.

Lunn assures me that the November 14th auction will provide more interesting material to bid on. But that will also be right in the middle of Paris Photo week when so many other things will vie for collectors' attention. Still I wish him the best.

The most interesting, as well as most appalling auction here this time in Paris was still to come: Enghien. Full coverage of this auction and more in the next E-Photo Newsletter coming shortly.