Top 10 Highest Priced Photography Lots at Auction in 2018

In 2018, we reported the results from 51 auctions from around the world, providing 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 2018 are shown in descending price order, with image details, pre-sale estimates, realized prices, and venues/dates as background (images courtesy of Sotheby’s, Christie’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 47, Richard Prince, Untitled (Cowboy), 2013, estimated at $1200000-1800000, sold at $1695000, Sotheby’s New York Contemporary Art Evening Auction, November 14, 2018.

Lot 34, Richard Prince, Untitled (Cowboy), 1997, estimated at £600000-800000, sold at £1090000 ($1373400), Sotheby’s London Contemporary Art Evening Auction, October 5, 2018.

Lot 46, Richard Prince, Untitled (Cowboy), 1999, estimated at £700000-900000, sold at £1029000 ($1296540), Sotheby’s London Contemporary Art Evening Auction, March 7, 2018.

Lot 8, Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #21A, 1978, estimated at £450000-650000, sold at £946000 ($1191960), Sotheby’s London Contemporary Art Evening Auction, June 26, 2018.

Lot 148, Gerhard Richter, Cage Grid (Complete Set), 2011, estimated at £600000-800000, sold at £730000 ($919800), Sotheby’s London Contemporary Art Day Auction, October 6, 2018.

Lot 16, Helmut Newton, Panoramic Nude with Gun, Villa d’Este, Como, 1989, estimated at £250000-350000, sold at £729000 ($918540), Phillips London ULTIMATE Photographs Evening Sale, May 18, 2018.

Lot 37, Andreas Gursky, James Bond Island I, II, & III, 2007, estimated at £600000-800000, sold at £670000 ($844200), Sotheby’s London Contemporary Art Evening Auction, June 26, 2018.

Lot 469, Andreas Gursky, Kuwait Stock Exchange, 2007, estimated at $650000-850000, sold at $795000, Sotheby’s New York Contemporary Art Day Auction, November 15, 2018.

Lot 23, Diane Arbus, A box of ten photographs, 1970, estimated at $500000-700000, sold at $792500, Christie’s New York Yamakawa Collection of Twentieth Century Photographs, April 6, 2018.

Lot 448, Andreas Gursky, Avenue of the Americas, 2001, estimated at $450000-650000, sold at $759000, Sotheby’s New York Contemporary Art Day Auction, May 17, 2018.

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

Top 10 Highest Priced Photography Lots at Auction in 2018 (Artist/Price)
Richard Prince $1695000
Richard Prince $1373400
Richard Prince $1296540
Cindy Sherman $1191960
Gerhard Richter $919800
Helmut Newton $918540
Andreas Gursky $844200
Andreas Gursky $795000
Diane Arbus $792500
Andreas Gursky $759000

Lists like this one are largely driven by two main factors – the arrival rate of superlative quality consignments and the aggressiveness of the bidding. This year’s list is bookended by multiple works by Richard Prince and Andreas Gursky, with prints by Cindy Sherman, Gerhard Richter, Helmut Newton, and Diane Arbus sandwiched in between. There were no “classic” or “vintage” works in this year’s top 10; all of the works were contemporary. Sotheby’s was the obvious winner in terms of high priced photography consignments, garnering 8 of the top 10 lots, with more of these actually sold in London than New York.

The Gursky Avenue of the Americas print set the bottom edge of list with roughly $760K in proceeds, the lowest figure in many years (the bubble was roughly $950K in 2017 here, 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). At the other end of the scale, the fact that none of the auction houses was able to come up with any photography outcomes in the $2-3M range says the consignment pool wasn’t particularly strong this past year and/or the bidding interest was soft.

Andreas Gursky, Cindy Sherman, Diane Arbus, Gerhard Richter, Helmut Newton, Richard Prince, Christie's, Phillips, Sotheby's, Sotheby's

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