Issue #34  10/17/2001
Christie's East Takes The Hit With Over 52% Buy Ins and Less Than a $½ Million Take

By Alex Novak

After a week that saw the auctions holding their own or better and had most in the photography trade breathing sighs of relief, it was bound to happen: the other shoe finally dropped. Christie's East had the unfortunate position to be the last auction up in a week that saw a gradual deterioration in results, but the real reason for the poor sales was a simple one: poor material. Most of the sale was made up of late-printed photographs and unexciting images. Even those prints that had a little interest were lost in the forest of mediocrity. Besides, everyone was tired from an exhausting week and many simply went home. I imagine that there were a number of real bargains here with the reduced reserves.

The results, however, were not pretty: $499,281 total sales, including the Christie's buyer's premium, and a meager sell-through of only 47.71%, down dramatically in both areas from the spring auction.

Only four images made it to five figures (just barely) if you include the premium (see above for Christie's premium details). Lot 14, a large format photogravure of Stieglitz's Steerage, sold for a total of $11,163, certainly a bargain. Lot 109, a late print of Alfred Eisenstaedt's Sailor Kissing Woman in Times Square, VJ Day, sold for $14,100. Lot 245, a late print of Bernice Abbott's New York at Night, needed some help from the premium to make it to $10,575. A group of 52 Muybridge plates from Animal Locomotion sold for $15,275, which made this one the high lot of the day!

Lot 216, unless it was a typo on the Christie's results sheet, must be a modern record of sorts for photography auctions. Its $24 net including premium had to be the lowest I have seen at a major photography auction over the last 20 years. Why bother?

Christie's East has become a dumping ground for its main photography auction. Now that Christie's is moving this department over to the Rockefeller offices, it is about time they took this branch more seriously. When it gets a major collection, as it did last auction, it can be a place where collectors might get a bargain. But the kind of auction just held does not do anyone any good and just gives Christie's a black eye.