Modern photography in the spotlight at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips



From 26 to 28 April, nearly a thousand photographs will be offered at the photography auctions held successively at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips de Pury. The highlight of these auctions will – as always – be the sale of a large number of quality modern prints.

Modern prints are the most abundant on the photography market. In 2004 this segment accounted for 60% of photography sales (by volume) representing a total turnover of USD 26.9 million (vs. USD 36.6 million for contemporary works). In effect, the modern segment fetches lower prices than the contemporary segment. According to Artprice data for 2004, nine of the top ten sales in the photography medium were for contemporary works. Only “Identical Twins (Cathleen and Collen), Roselle”(1967) by Diane ARBUS (1923-1971) made it into the top 10 when it was knocked down for USD 420,000 at Sotheby’s on 27 April 2004.

Photography Market 2004: TOP 10 hammer prices
Trends : Artist
lot sold
Price growth
Richard PRINCE
$ 650 000 : Women looking in the Same Direction (1980)
09/11/2004 (Sotheby’s, NY)

Charles RAY$ 470 000 : Untitled (1992)
08/11/2004 (Phillips, NY)

GILBERT & GEORGE$ 420 000 : «Seed» (1984)
09/11/2004 (Sotheby’s, NY)
Diane ARBUS$ 420 000 : «Identical Twins (Cathleen and Collen), Roselle» (1967)
27/04/2004 (Sotheby’s, NY)
Cindy SHERMAN$ 420 000 : «Untitled No.92» (1981)
08/11/2004 (Phillips, NY)

Andreas GURSKY$ 400 000 : «Rurner Collection» (1995)
12/05/2004 (Sotheby’s, NY)

GILBERT & GEORGE$ 360 000 : «Bloody Life No.8» (1975)
10/11/2004 (Christie’s, NY)

Andreas GURSKY$ 360 000 : «Engadin» (1995)
13/05/2004 (Phillips, NY)

Mike KELLEY$ 360 000 : «Ahh…Youth» (1991)
08/11/2004 (Phillips, NY)

Richard PRINCE$ 350 000 : Fashion (1980)
11/11/2004 (Christie’s, NY)

Other than Diane Arbus, the most expensive modern photographers in 2004 were Alvin Langdon COBURN (1882-1966), Carleton Eugene WATKINS (1829-1916) and Edward Henry WESTON (1886-1958), with works selling for USD 320,000, USD 270,000 and USD 260,000 respectively. Given that the top end of the photography market is concentrated in New York, the four most expensive modern photographers are logically Americans. In the 2004 ranking of photographs by price, the most expensive modern print by a European photographer came in at only 58th position: USD 170,000 paid for “Hoboken” by the Swiss national Robert FRANK (in 1924) who now lives in the United States.

Although today, the younger generations of photographers fetch higher prices than their elders, the situation could rapidly change. Indeed, in 2004, prices for modern prints rose by an incredible 56.4% while the Artprice Index for contemporary photographers showed a less rapid, but nevertheless, very sharp progression (+35%).

This year, the highlights at the April photography auctions once again include a significant lot of prints by Diane Arbus at Sotheby’s (estimated at USD 250,000-350,000) and a still life by André Kertesz at Phillips (estimated at USD 100,000-150,000).