Top 10 Highest Priced Photography Lots at Auction in 2017

In 2017, we reported on 63 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 2017 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.)

Lot 8, Man Ray, Noire et Blanche, 1926, estimated at €1000000-1500000, sold at €2688750 ($3226500), Stripped Bare: Photographs from the Collection of Thomas Koerfer (Paris), November 9, 2017.

Lot 24, Andreas Gursky, Los Angeles, 1998-1999, estimated at £1400000-1800000, sold at £1689000 ($2297040), Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale (London), October 6, 2017.

Lot 7B, Man Ray, Portrait of a Tearful Woman, 1936, estimated at $400000-600000, sold at $2167500, Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale (New York), May 17, 2017.

Lot 32, Richard Prince, Untitled (Cowboy), 2001, estimated at $1400000-1800000, sold at $1812500, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction (New York), May 18, 2017.

Lot 15, Gilbert & George, Shag Stiff, 1977, estimated at £1000000-1500000, sold at £1148750 ($1562300), Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction (London), March 8, 2017.

Lot 133, Gerhard Richter, Cage Grid (Complete Set), 2011, estimated at £600000-800000, sold at £908750 ($1235900), Sothby’s Contemporary Art Day Auction (London), June 29, 2017.

Lot 21, Gilbert & George, Red Morning (Hell), 1977, estimated at £800000-1200000, sold at £848750 ($1154300), Christie’s Masterpieces of Design & Photography (London), October 3, 2017.

Lot 69, Andreas Gursky, Madonna I, 2001, estimated at $800000-1200000, sold at $1035000, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction (New York), November 16, 2017.

Lot 7, Andreas Gursky, May Day IV, 2000, estimated at £500000-700000, sold at £758750 ($1031900), Christie’s Masterpieces of Design & Photography (London), October 3, 2017.

Lot 32B, Cindy Sherman, Untitled (#209), 1989, estimated at $450000-550000, sold at $943500, Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale (New York), May 17, 2017.

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

Top 10 Highest Priced Photography Lots at Auction in 2017 (Artist/Price)
Man Ray $3226500
Andreas Gursky $2297040
Man Ray $2167500
Richard Prince $1812500
Gilbert & George $1562300
Gerhard Richter $1235900
Gilbert & George $1154300
Andreas Gursky $1035000
Andreas Gursky $1031900
Cindy Sherman $943500

Lists like this one are largely driven by two main factors – the arrival rate of superlative quality consignments and the aggressiveness of the bidding. The two vintage Man Ray works that made the list this year were unusually rare, leading to the unexpected chart topping prices for “classic” photography.

The rest of this year’s list is filled with the usual suspects: Andreas Gursky, Richard Prince, Gilbert & George, and Cindy Sherman, albeit not by their most coveted or previous record-setting examples, with a Gerhard Richter multi-image set sneaking into the mix as the cross-over demand for his photographic images rises. The Sherman history picture set the bottom edge of list with roughly $950K in proceeds (the bubble was just under $800K in 2016 here, about $900K in 2015 here, $1.6 million in 2014 here, and $1.3 million in 2013 here as reference).

In general, with the exception of the Man Ray lots, these data points aren’t radically different from the results in previous years, implying that the market for anchor position contemporary photography continues to be relatively stable.

Read more about: Andreas Gursky, Cindy Sherman, Gerhard Richter, Gilbert and George, Man Ray, Richard Prince, Christie's, Christie's, Christie's, Phillips, Sotheby's, Sotheby's

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