Auction Preview: Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening, Morning, and Afternoon Sales, November 12 and 13, 2014 @Christie’s

There’s an intriguing experiment in auction strategy going on at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening sale on November 12th. In this auction, there is a group of 21 prints from Cindy Sherman’s iconic Untitled Film Stills series (all in the smallest 8×10 size) being sold as a single lot, with a whopping estimate (at least for photography) of $6-8M. These prints come from the esteemed collection of Ydessa Hendeles, a well-respected photography collector/curator from Toronto.

So the question this single lot raises is why not break the prints up and sell them individually? As a single lot at such a lofty price point, the group will likely only attract deep pocketed collectors (looking to create an instant Sherman collection for themselves or their favorite institution) and/or wealthy dealers/dealer groups (who will share/break up the lot). Sold as single lots, each print would attract a variety of buyers, at varying price points based on the strength of the individual images.

As I see it, there can be only two logical reasons for adopting this single lot strategy. The first is that there is the belief that the set will perform better as a single lot than it would as 21 individual lots, i.e. that there will be a premium paid for the entire group over the aggregate proceeds from individual sales. Of this I am skeptical, even taking into account the rarity of the prints, their provenance, and the frenzy of the Evening sale atmosphere; serious Sherman collectors who have interest in some prints but not others will be hamstrung by this approach, and I think this will ultimately reduce the pool of active bidders for the aggregate group. The second possible justification is that the seller is motivated to ensure the entire set is sold, and by grouping the prints, she ensures that the cream is not skimmed off the top with the lesser known images left behind unsold (and thereby returned to her collection to be dealt with another day). This seems more plausible, although the Untitled Film Stills are so popular that it seems better than likely that every print would sell if the reserves/estimates were set reasonably.

Regardless of the underlying rationale, it will certainly be exiting to see what happens. The rest of the sale travels more usual pathways, with more Sherman, Prince, and Baldessari prints on offer. Overall, there are a total of 38 lots of photography available, with a Total High Estimate of $14355000.

Here’s the statistical breakdown:

Preview Statistics
Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including $10000) 0
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of low lots) $0
Total Mid Lots (high estimate between $10000 and $50000) 10
Total Mid Estimate $335000
Total High Lots (high estimate above $50000) 28
Total High Estimate $14020000

The top lot by High estimate is lot 13, Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Stills (21 prints), 1977-1980, estimated at $6000000-8000000 (image above, left, via Christie’s).

Here’s the complete list of photographers with three or more lots in the three sales, along with the number of lots on offer:

Multiple Lots For Sale
Richard Prince 7
Cindy Sherman 7
John Baldessari 4

Other lots of interest include lot 470, Charles Ray, All of My Clothes, 1973, estimated at $150000-200000 (image above, middle, via Christie’s), and lot 494, John Baldessari, Two Relationships Early (Warm)/Late (Cool) With One Risky, 1984, estimated at $120000-180000 (image above, right, via Christie’s).

The complete lot by lot catalogs can be found here (Evening), here (Morning), and here (Afternoon).

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Read more about: Charles Ray, Cindy Sherman, John Baldessari, Christie's

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