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Photograph auctions approach $30m.

NEW YORK -- Happy days are here again--at least in the photo world.

The photograph sales held at Sotheby's and Christie's in New York, Oct. 10-12, realized $25 million. And if you add the $4.4 million fetched at Phillips just days earlier, the season total approached $30 million.

The Sotheby's gross was boosted by the single-owner sale of photos from the collection of Joseph and LaVerne Schieszler. Actually, boosted is quite the understatement. The 34 works consigned from their collection fetched $4,743,200, nearly half of Sotheby's total for the season. Ninety-seven percent of the pieces were sold, and four records were set.

The most important benchmark realized in that sale was the "Record for a 20th Century Photograph Sold at Auction." Edward Weston's "The Breast," which had "only" been expected to fetch $300,000-$400,000, was ultimately hammered down to the Pace-MacGill Gallery for $822,400, setting the abovementioned record, as well as that for any Weston ever to have appeared at auction. Top prices were also realized for Andre Kertesz's Chez Mondrian ($464,000) and Harry Callahan's suite Eleanor ($168,000).

The following day, at the main Sotheby's sale, a second work fetched $822,400 and claimed co-record status with the Weston. This time, it was Dorothea Lange's poignant image "White Angel Breadline." In fairness, this price was even more surprising, since the Lange had been expected to fetch fully $100,000 less than the Weston. Certainly, Pace MacGill will forever be guaranteed a front-row seat at Sotheby's sales, as they purchased both record-setting works.

One last artist record, (that for Pierre Dubreuil), was set in the Sotheby's mixed-owners sale, which included a mere 167 lots that fetched a total of $5,570,000. This yielded a rather high average-price-per-piece of approximately $33,000. In the words of Denise Bethel, director of Sotheby's photographs department, "Sotheby's continues to offer photographs auctions with the fewest number of lots, for higher and higher prices." It would seem that the market has matured to the point where impecunious collectors need not apply.

Certainly, no bargains were to be found this season at Christie's, which offered three separately catalogued sales that set even more records.

On Oct. 10, Christie's presented a 40-lot sale entitled "Robert Mapplethorpe's Flowers," one of which set the record for a work by this controversial photographer. His dye-transfer print, "Poppy," fetched more than five times its high estimate when it sold to an anonymous American collector for $251,200. This, as well as the magnitude of the sale itself, may well have ignited interest in Mapplethorpe's works; just 48 hours later, the artist's record was pushed even higher. At the Christie's mixed owners sale, Mapplethorpe's "American Flag" sold to a European collector for a whopping $352,000. This particular purchase was doubly surprising. First, it was ironic that such a conventional image set the record for a photographer renowned for his explicit erotic photography. Second, who could have predicted that such a patriotic American image would have driven a foreign collector to spend nearly double the work's high estimate?

An even more profound record was broken in the Christie's auction of when, for the first time, a photograph lot sold for more than $1 million in the United States. The champion was Edward S. Curtis' set, "The North American Indian." Although it had only been expected to fetch $400,000-$600,000, it ultimately sold to an American private collector for $1,416,000.

To top off the photo season, Christie's set five more records in its sale entitled, "The Elfering Collection." Of note, four of the five were for works by commercial fashion photographers: Richard Avedon ($464,000); Irving Penn ($307,200); Horst R Horst ($216,000); and Peter Beard ($192,000). For Avedon and Penn, in particular, this represented a coming of age; it sealed their reputations as the "Grand Old Men" of the genre.

Finally, not to leave well enough alone, Christie's set two additional photo records later in the season. On Nov. 1, the record for a Helmut Newton photograph was set when an English collector paid $311,000 for "Big Nude III, Paris?' Then, on Nov. 8, Richard Prince's 50- x 70-inch "Untitled" (Cowboy)," sold for $1,248,000, becoming the first single photograph ever to break the $1 million barrier. Judging from the top two records this season, it would seem that "Cowboys and Indians" are as popular as ever.
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL REPORT
Author:Prisant, Barden
Publication:Art Business News
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Jan 1, 2006
Words:740
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