In 2016, we reported on 52 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 2016 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. (If we’ve missed any outcomes of importance, please add them in the comments area for the benefit of all.)
Here’s the aggregate data in table form, for easier comparison:
|Top 10 Highest Priced Photography Lots at Auction in 2016 (Artist/Price)|
|Gustave Le Gray||$965000|
Lists like this one are largely driven by two main factors – the arrival rate of superlative quality consignments and the aggressiveness of the bidding. 2016 seems to have been an uneven year without much depth, led by a handful of Richard Prince prints of cowboys and fashion models that drew intense interest (and prices), and followed by a more muted set of additional images and outcomes that filled in the rest of list. A Thomas Struth museum image set the bottom edge of list with just under $800K in proceeds, the lowest cut off figure in several years (the bubble was at $900K in 2015 here, $1.6 million in 2014 here, and $1.3 million in 2013 here as reference).
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 largely opted for caution this past year, holding back the breadth of their photographic offerings and letting loose just those works with an undeniable (and bankable Contemporary Art) draw. As we look ahead to 2017, given the potential for volatility in the financial markets, this steadying price consolidation (at least in the photography market) seems likely to continue.