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.)
Here’s the aggregate data in table form, for easier comparison:
|Top 10 Highest Priced Photography Lots at Auction in 2018 (Artist/Price)|
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.