Auction Preview: Contemporary Photography, October 13, 2008 @Christie’s

In previous posts about the Contemporary Art sales several weeks ago (here and here), we touched on the idea that the market would likely evolve to separate the contemporary and vintage photography into two distinct sales, given the overall growth of the market and the differences in the people buying the two types of work.

Christie’s has finally made the decisive step of building their auction season around this concept: they have a various owner vintage sale, a various owner contemporary sale, and a single owner sale. (Christie’s has also clearly taken the “volume” route, but that’s a separate point to be covered at some point in the future.) Phillipe Garner and Josh Holdeman started down this road when they were over at Phillips. When few were interested in contemporary photography, they took some risks and carved out a niche for themselves (which Phillips has since fumbled). While some might criticize that they were pumping up work that wasn’t ready for the secondary market, it is intriguing to see that these guys who were the innovators are continuing to push the market to its eventual place of equilibrium.

There are a total of 93 lots up for sale, with a total high estimate of $2352000 (plenty respectable). The sale breaks down as follows:

Total Low lots (high estimate of $10000 or lower): 23
Total Low estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): $162000

Total Mid lots (high estimate above $10000 and below $50000): 63
Total Mid estimate: $1650000

Total High lots (high estimate above $50000): 7
Total High estimate: $540000

So this is a solidly mid range sale, which makes sense. Another interesting statistic: just under 40% of the lots are 21st century images (defined as a negative with a date of 2000 or later). The more this percentage gets pushed up, the more this category will separate itself from the vintage work.

Here is a short list of the artists with the most work in the sale. The reason I put this here is to keep thinking about who we are putting in this new bucket of contemporary photography, and what that might say about where the medium is going. Here’s the list:

  • Peter Beard (7) (as an aside, who collects this work?)
  • Vik Muniz (4)
  • Nobuyoshi Araki (4)
  • Zoe Leonard (4)
  • Edward Burtynsky (3)
  • Louise Lawler (3)
  • Annie Leibovitz (3)
  • Sally Mann (3)
  • Ryan McGinley (3)
  • Hiroshi Sugimoto (3)

For our particular collection, here are a few lots of interest:

  • Lot 18 Naoya Hatekeyama, LW 23502, 1997-2002, for our industrial genre
  • Lot 27 Bernd and Hilla Becher, Water Tower, Trier-Ehrang, Germany, 1982, for our industrial genre
  • Lot 59 Chuck Close, Calla Lily, Sunflower and Hydrangea, 2007 for our floral genre

And here are a couple more that don’t fit in our collection, but are still terrific:

  • Lot 21 Alec Soth, Hotel, Dallas City, Illinois, 2006
  • Lot 74 Izima Kaoru, Tominaga Ai Wears Prada, 2003

If Christie’s has a successful outcome with this sale, and builds on it for the next round of auctions in the Spring, it may well build a durable and permanent advantage over its competitors in this category. It will be interesting to watch.

Contemporary Photography
October 13, 2008

20 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10020

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