Issue #51  11/27/2002
Phillips Has Best Sell-Through of Regular Auctions

Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg closed out the week with an evening and day sale. Their first sale back in the game last April was predictably uneven, helped by a huge price for a Strand. Would the presence of Philippe Garner, who came on board after this sale was mostly formed, play a role? Could Phillips hold the fort? Or would the week end as it began?

Edwynn Houk was active here, too, paying $29,875 for a Watkins. Lange's White Angel Bread Line could have fed a lot of people at $41,825. But Paul Outerbridge's Cheese and Crackers ($60,000-$80,000) passed as did Weston's Dunes, Oceano ($70,000-$90,000).

After a Kertész ($60,000-$80,000) and a Moholy ($40,000-$60,000)--both probably a little aggressively priced for the images--passed, the top lot of the evening came under the hammer. Man Ray's Noire et Blanche ($375,000-$450,000), the only known version on Japanese rice paper (and sufficiently documented to calm any fears), drew a sigh of relief from Phillips when it met its reserve at $300,000-$339,500 with premium--and became the top lot of the evening and indeed of the week.

But that was followed by passes on a Kertész distortion of hands ($60,000-$80,000), Steichen's nude, Dixie Ray ($50,000-$70,000), and Weston's formidable, but overpriced Pyramide del Sol ($250,000-$350,000). Jill Quasha turned the momentum around by buying Strand's Church Doors, New England ($70,000-$90,000) for $81,260. And Thea Westreich went well over high estimate ($14,000-$18,000) in buying Avedon's Noto, Sicily, for $38,240. Jeffrey Fraenkel snatched up Avedon's Andy Warhol and Members of the Factory (on view at the Met as part of the show of Avedon's portraits at the time in a rather larger version) below low estimate at $23,900.

Unlike at Christie's, William Eggleston proved to be a solid draw here. His Jackson, Mississippi ($20,000-$30,000) brought $26,290 and his portfolio 14 pictures ($120,000-$150,000) went to a new bidder unknown to us for $152,500, the third highest price of the sale. That was followed moments later by Avedon's maquette for The Family, an important piece of political history as well as of photography---and also partly on view uptown at the Met. An order bidder took it over the phone for $161,300.

A few lots later Helmut Newton's Big Nude III, Paris sold for just under the low estimate at $130,500 to Rudy Kicken.

At the end of the evening contemporary work did quite well with pictures by Adam Fuss, Robert Mapplethorpe, Pierre et Gilles, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Gregory Crewdson selling nicely. One Fuss went to a phone bidder for $41,825 and Edwynn Houk bested a phone bidder for another at $31,070.

The evening ended with scattered applause. Despite some passes on big items, most people, and the Phillips staff certainly, were relieved at the success of this portion of the sale, which enjoyed some high prices and a buy-in rate just over 29%.

The second part of the sale had lower prices, naturally, and also more winning phone and order bidders proportionally to the evening before. A wonderfully graphic image by Margaret Bourke-White, Contour Plowing, Walsh, Colorado, estimated at $4,000-$6,000, drew intense interest from an order bidder and four phone bidders and was hammered down for a stunning $35,580, the only lot from the second session to make it into the top ten.

Contemporary work was again quite strong. One of Sugimoto's theaters, Beacon, New York ($9,000-$12,000) was a hot ticket at $19,120. Andy Warhol's image of four prints of a brocade couch stitched together ($10,000-$15,000) stood out at $20,315. Nan Goldin's Jimmy Paulette and Misty in the Taxi ($6,000-$8,000) was sold for $16,133. DiCorcia's London ($15,000-$20,000) earned $20,315. And one of Crewdson's mysterious cinematic pieces from the Twilight series ($10,000-$15,000) was sold for $17,925.

With $2,181,114 in sales and a 32% buy-in rate (the best of this group of regular auction and not too bad even in good times), Phillips announced its coming of age as a player and indicated that the photography market has reached a stage of maturity that allows it to weather the storms of the current economy.

(Copyright © 2002 by The Photo Review. My thanks to Steve Perloff and The Photograph Collector Newsletter for giving me permission to use some of this information. The Photograph Collector is published monthly and is available by subscription for $149.95 (overseas airmail is $169.95). You can phone 215-891-0214 and charge your subscription or send a check or money order to: The Photograph Collector, 140 East Richardson Ave, Langhorne, PA 19047)