The burgeoning world of cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens officially collided with the existing world of fine art photography last week at the various owner Photographs sale at Christie’s in New York. While in other times, the fact that the Met was deaccessioning a number of duplicates (including a string of Robert Frank prints) might have been the top story of the sale, but when Justin Aversano’s Twin Flames NFT and set of 100 prints jumped to $1.1M (against an estimate of $100000-150000) in the first lot of the sale, the rest of the action became altogether secondary.
Aversano’s Twin Flames series has been percolating around the Internet for a few years now, and individual NFTs of the images have become the standard bearers for the new world of NFT photography, fetching eye-popping prices in Ether (the average resale price for NFT works from the series has been roughly $400K in the past week or two, with a recent top price of roughly $790K for the very first image in the series). With that heady ETH price reality as a backdrop, and the combination of single NFT and unique portfolio of physical prints on offer, the outcome at this sale isn’t entirely unexpected (especially since Christie’s was taking Ether and Bitcoin as acceptable payment currencies, and there was vocal momentum in the NFT community around having this sale make a statement.)
That Aversano’s works outsold vintage rarities by Diane Arbus and Ansel Adams in the same sale was perhaps a more telling indication of how rapidly the traditional markets might be disrupted. The auction houses will inevitably follow the money, so we can expect the photography NFT offerings to blossom to chase those available cryptocurrencies, even if the dynamics and tastes of the old and new markets aren’t aligned at the moment. More importantly, the wider legitimization of both payment in digital currencies and digital photographs secured on the blockchain as valid and valuable to collectors has begun, and these changes will have trickle down destabilization effects across the operating of the fine art photography markets, both primary and secondary, as players at every level of the food chain, including most importantly the artists themselves, try to figure out how to successfully navigate the new opportunities.
If we look at the results of the sale with the Aversano outcome as a special case, the rest of the sale at Christie’s generally performed to expectations. The overall Buy-In rate settled at roughly 30% and there were only a handful of positive surprises, so the softness we have seen in other sales did continue here to some extent. In the end, the Total Sale Proceeds came in at roughly $4.8M, near the top end of the aggregate pre-sale estimate range. With the Aversano works pulling in $1.1M of that total, the other works tallied up at roughly $3.7M, which on their own would have been just above the low end of the range.
The summary statistics are below (all results include the buyer’s premium):
|Aggregate Pre Sale Low Estimate||$3338500|
|Aggregate Pre Sale High Estimate||$4886500|
|Total Lots Sold||107|
|Total Lots Bought In||47|
|Buy In %||30.52%|
|Total Sale Proceeds||$4766125|
Here is the breakdown (using our typical Low, Mid, and High definitions):
|Low Total Lots||66|
|Total Low Lots Sold||48|
|Total Low Lots Bought In||18|
|Low Buy In %||27.27%|
|Aggregate High Estimate of Low Lots||$436500|
|Total Proceeds from Low Lots||$283625|
|Mid Total Lots||74|
|Total Mid Lots Sold||48|
|Total Mid Lots Bought In||26|
|Mid Buy In %||35.14%|
|Aggregate High Estimate of Mid Lots||$1760000|
|Total Proceeds from Mid Lots||$1065000|
|Total High Lots||14|
|Total High Lots Sold||11|
|Total High Lots Bought In||3|
|High Buy In %||21.43%|
|Aggregate High Estimate of High Lots||$2690000|
|Total Proceeds from High Lots||$3417500|
The top lot by High estimate was tied between two lots, both estimated at $500000-700000: lot 2, Diane Arbus, Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C., 1962, and lot 8, Ansel Adams, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941/1960s. The Arbus print sold at $625000, while the Adams print sold at $93000, but neither was the top outcome of the sale. That honor went to lot 1, Justin Aversano, Twin Flames #83. Bahareh & Farzaneh, accompanied by Twin Flames Full Physical Collection (100 prints), 2017-2018, estimated at $10000-150000, sold at $1100000 (image above, via Christie’s.)
82.24% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above the estimate range and there were a total of 4 positive surprises in the sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate) (images above, via Christie’s):
Lot 1, Justin Aversano, Twin Flames #83. Bahareh & Farzaneh, accompanied by Twin Flames Full Physical Collection (100 prints), 2017-2018, estimated at $10000-150000, sold at $1100000
Lot 26, Eugène Atget, Au Soleil d’or, Place de l’École 5, 1902, estimated at $7000-9000, sold at $20000
Lot 44, Constantin Brancusi, Vue de l’atelier, c. 1924-1925, estimated at $20000-30000, sold at $62500
Lot 62, Ray Metzker, Frankfurt, 1961, estimated at $4000-6000, sold at $18750
The complete lot by lot results can be found here.
I heard MoMA is planning a show. I can see it now.