Auction Results: Photographs, Evening and Day Sales, October 5 and 6, 2015 @Christie’s

Even the most ruthlessly opportunistic and bargain hunting collectors have to suck in their breath in amazement when major auctions go as badly as the Christie’s Evening and Day sales of photography did earlier this week. In an outcome reminiscent of the ugliest of the auctions during the recent economic turmoil, the combined sales failed by virtually every measurement we track. The overall Buy-In rate topped a whopping 43%, highlighted by 9 out of the top 10 lots failing to sell and a particularly punishing run of 6 buyers in 20 lots during the early part of the Day sale. On the upside, there were only 3 positive surprises in the entire 217 lots available. And of course, the Total Sale Proceeds were astonishingly small given what was on offer, coming in at just over $2.7M against an aggregate low estimate of $5.2M.

This kind of public beating forces some hard questions: were the estimates or reserves too high? or was the material too obvious, recycled, or mispositioned? has the market shifted in some meaningful way? or were there just not enough interested bidders paying attention? With a miss of this magnitude (especially at the top end), some soul searching and recalibration are likely on the way.

The summary statistics are below (all results include the buyer’s premium):

Summary Statistics
Total Lots 217
Aggregate Pre Sale Low Estimate $5284500
Aggregate Pre Sale High Estimate $7833500
Total Lots Sold 122
Total Lots Bought In 95
Buy In % 43.78%
Total Sale Proceeds $2722375

Here is the breakdown (using the Low, Mid, and High definitions from the preview post):

Detailed Breakdown
Low Total Lots 64
Total Low Lots Sold 43
Total Low Lots Bought In 21
Low Buy In % 32.81%
Aggregate High Estimate of Low Lots $431500
Total Proceeds from Low Lots $303875
Mid Total Lots 116
Total Mid Lots Sold 64
Total Mid Lots Bought In 52
Mid Buy In % 44.83%
Aggregate High Estimate of Mid Lots $3037000
Total Proceeds from Mid Lots $1400000
Total High Lots 37
Total High Lots Sold 15
Total High Lots Bought In 22
High Buy In % 59.46%
Aggregate High Estimate of High Lots $4365000
Total Proceeds from High Lots $1018500

The top lot by High estimate was tied between two lots: lot 33, Ansel Adams, Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, c1940/c1962-1963, and lot 34, Irving Penn, Ginko Leaves, New York, 1990/1992, both estimated at $300000-500000; neither lot sold. The top outcome of the two sales was lot 29, Karl Struss, Man’s Construction, 1912, estimated at $90000-120000, sold at $161000 (image in preview post).

90.16% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above the estimate range and there were a total of 3 positive surprises in the two sales (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate) (images above via Christie’s):

Lot 21, John Chiara, Seven Chimneys-Carter-Highway 1, 2013, estimated at $5000-7000, sold at $16250

Lot 31, Peter Hujar, Candy Darling on her Deathbed, 1973/1974-early 1980s, estimated at $20000-25000, sold at $50000

Lot 105, Lynn Davis, Iceberg #23, Disko Bay, Greenland, 2000, estimated at $6000-8000, sold at $25000

The complete lot by lot results can be found here (Evening) and here (Day).

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Read more about: John Chiara, Lynn Davis, Peter Hujar, Christie's

One comment

  1. Anonymous /

    Thanks for the review; it fully confirmed my initial “take” on the results of the “Photographs” auction held by Christie’s NY on 6 October 2015.

    I had one piece in the October 6 auction which did sell above Christie’s low estimate but for far less than it has sold for in the recent past. Christie’s contacted me October 2nd to ask me to set a lower reserve for my piece but believing that it would sell for well over their low estimate I kept it at their low estimate. Luckily it sold above that, but I don’t feel I did the estate or family of this artist any favors by selling it for what it went for, which was near the lowest price of this past decade.

    The bad economy is obviously a major part of the problem but it appears to me that Christie’s is overextending itself with over 60 auctions scheduled for October alone. The 1% can’t keep up; membership numbers of that exclusive class aren’t growing fast enough!

    Perhaps the best indicator that the Christie’s staff is overextended is that several photographs in the Oct. 6 sale had their descriptions severely altered in such a way as to lessen their value; one photograph described in the catalog as being “1/3” was revised as the sale was in progress to “1/10”! Who will bid on anything if this kind of thing happens so often – as it did in this sale? This was done to several lots we saw as we watched Christie’s October 6 “Photographs” auction online. That’s just poor planning and speaks to a staff – struggling to prepare too many auctions in too little time – being overworked to the point where the quality of their pre-auction evaluations of the artwork is suffering.

    Anonymous

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