Top 10 Highest Priced Photography Lots at Auction in 2015

In 2015, we reported on 55 auctions from around the world, providing preview and results data on a wide range of specialist photography and photobook sales as well as contemporary art auctions that included a significant percentage of photographic lots.

In the slideshow below, the top ten highest priced photography lots sold at auction in 2015 are shown in descending price order, with image details, pre-sale estimates, realized prices, and venues/dates as background (images courtesy of Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips, in varying sizes). While it is altogether possible that there were photographs (or sets of photographs) in other secondary auctions that we didn’t report on that also fetched significant prices last year, we’d like to think that this list represents the vast majority of the mainstream photography transactions that took place in the past 12 months.

Lot 64B, Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #48, 1979, estimated at $2500000-3500000, sold at $2965000, Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale (New York), May 13, 2015.

Lot 52, Thomas Struth, Pantheon, Rome, 1990, estimated at $800000-1200000, sold at $1810000, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale (New York), May 12, 2015.

Lot 49, Andreas Gursky, Shanghai, 2000, estimated at £400000-600000, sold at £1109000 (or $1630230), Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction (London), July 1, 2015.

Lot 123, Gerhard Richter, Cage Grid (Complete Set), 2011, estimated at $600000-800000, sold at $1450000, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Auction (New York), November 12, 2015.

Lot 55, Andreas Gursky, Pyongyang IV, 2007, estimated at $1200000-1800000, sold at $1390000, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction (New York), November 11, 2015.

Lot 17B, Gilbert & George, Cherry Blossom No.5, 1974, estimated at $1000000-1500000, sold at $1265000, Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale (New York), May 13, 2015.

Lot 50, Richard Prince, Untitled (Cowboy), 2001, estimated at £700000-1000000, sold at £842500 (or $1238475), Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale (London), June 30, 2015.

Lot 8, Richard Prince, Untitled (Cowboy), 1996, estimated at $1000000-1500000, sold at $1145000, Phillips Contemporary Art & Design Evening (New York), March 3, 2015.

Lot 62B, Gilbert & George, Dead Boards No. 5, 1976, estimated at $800000-1200000, sold at $965000, Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale (New York), November 10, 2015.

Lot 18, Helmut Newton, Walking Women, Paris, 1981, estimated at $700000-900000, sold at $905000, Phillips Photographs Evening Sale (New York), April 1, 2015.

Here’s the aggregate data in table form, for easier comparison:

Top 10 Highest Priced Photography Lots at Auction in 2015 (Artist/Price)
Cindy Sherman $2965000
Thomas Struth $1810000
Andreas Gursky $1630230
Gerhard Richter $1450000
Andreas Gursky $1390000
Gilbert & George $1265000
Richard Prince $1238475
Richard Prince $1145000
Gilbert & George $965000
Helmut Newton $905000

Lists like this one are significantly subject to the arrival rate of superlative quality consignments, and 2015 seems to have been a relatively soft year in terms of attracting both excellent photographic material and aggressive bidders. While the names on the list above are altogether familiar, the results aren’t nearly as frothy as in past years, especially for artists like Sherman and Prince.

In 2014 (here), it took a price of roughly $1.6 million to make this list, while in 2013 (here) the bottom cut off came at roughly $1.3 million. That $900K was good enough for 10th place on the list this year doesn’t necessarily signal price deflation at the top end, but it certainly indicates that some great material stayed on the sidelines and photography bidders were more cautious given what was on offer.

While scarcity of these most coveted lots remains high (even as tastes subtly evolve), if we take these results as indicators of overall mood, it appears that consignors and buyers have stepped back just a bit, perhaps looking for some settling point where the relentless upward push of the previous few years finds a more stable state of equilibrium. As we look ahead to 2016, this steadying price consolidation (at least in the photography market) seems likely to continue.

Read more about: Andreas Gursky, Cindy Sherman, Gerhard Richter, Gilbert and George, Helmut Newton, Richard Prince, Thomas Struth, Christie's, Christie's, Phillips, Sotheby's, Sotheby's

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