Coming soon: a major week of photography in New York



Today, paintings are by far the most profitable segment of the Western art market (unlike in China, where calligraphy and drawing dominate). In fact, sales of paintings represent 70% of Western art auction turnover compared with 2% for photography which generated $150.9 million (excluding buyers’ premium) in 2012. Although the overall figures suggests that photography is the least profitable medium for auction houses, a change has nevertheless occurred over recent years with the prices of some photographic works competing respectably with those of paintings.

In 2012, the global top 10 auction results for photography was worth a total of approximately $15.494 million (excluding buyers’ premium). Sign of the times: that top 10 contained only two Modern artists: László MOHOLY-NAGY (1895-1946; Fotogramm, $1.25m, Sotheby’s, New York, 12 December 2012) and Herbert BAYER (1900-1985; Lonely Metropolitan, $1.25m, Sotheby’s, New York, 12 December 2012) versus five contemporary artists, including the inevitable Andreas GURSKY (three times), Richard PRINCE (twice) and Cindy SHERMAN, as well as GILBERT & GEORGE and Jeff WALL. A priori, there won’t be any Contemporary works at such high prices in the upcoming New York sales in April since Phillip’s, Sotheby’s and Christie’s are relying above all on the classics.

Indeed, in organising their sales schedule of six specialist sales, three of which are dispersions of private collections, the three auctioneers have planned to take full advantage of a major contiguous event in New York, the AIPAD (Association of International Photography Art Dealers from 4 to 7 April), one of the most popular events in the world for photography enthusiasts.

Phillips will start the ball rolling on April 2 with The Curious Collector: Important Photographs from the Collection of Dr. Anthony Terrana, offering 165 lots, and will resume the next day with a further 141 lots. Christie’s will continue on April 4 and 5 with nearly 300 lots over two days (The DeLIGHTed Eye: Modernist Masterworks from a Private Collection on April 4, followed by Photographs the next day). Sotheby’s has chosen the same formula with a first sale dedicated to a Modern American collection of photographs on April 5 and a general photography sale on April 6 on the eve of the AIPAD Photography show’s closing day.

Thanks to the combined forces of the three companies, the proposed panorama of photographic works on offer looks as broad as that offered by the AIPAD, with works covering the entire 20th century and encroaching on the 21st. A brief chronological summary starts with photographs by Clarence H. White and Jacques- Henri Lartigue, continues through the 1920-1940 period with Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz and Berenice Abbott, then onto the years 1950-1970 through the lens of Peter Beard, Irvin Penn and Robert Frank, then scans 1980-1990 period with Robert Mapplethorpe, Newton Helmutt, Sebastiao Salgado, Andy Warhol, and even Sally Mann Sophie Calle, and ends with the big Contemporary names, Thomas Struth, Nan Goldin, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Nobuyoshi Araki and David La Chapelle.

During this week dedicated to photography, Phillips, Sotheby’s and Christie’s will be offering a total of nearly 900 lots from 2 April to 6 April 2013. The volume of works may seem high but the demand is there: in 2012, twice as many art photography lots sold at auctions around the world as at the beginning of the decade.