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Focus on the photography market

[10/08/2009]

 The list of this summer’s photography exhibitions has three big names: Diane ARBUS at the National Museum in Cardiff until 31 August, Richard AVEDON with a retrospective at the International Center of Photography in New York until 6 September and Henri CARTIER-BRESSON, (who was born 100 years ago) at the European House of Photography in Paris (Henri Cartier-Bresson à vue d’œil) until 30 August.France is celebrating another important anniversary this year in Arles : that of the 40th edition of “Rencontres photographiques” (7 July – 13 September) which this year pays tribute to Nan GOLDIN and endorses the choice of Martin PARR.

Martin Parr
This year in fact, Martin PARR’s protégé, Rimaldas VIKSRAITIS, won the Arlès Découvertes des Rencontres photographiques prize. This Lithuanian photographer, born in 1954, has not yet hit the public auction circuit, unlike his mentor already famous. Martin Parr, exhibited at the Jeu de Paume in Paris from 30 June to 27 September 2009 (Planète Parr), has a eye for the grotesque in our daily lives… how we manage our self image, our relationships to others… what we see as valuable … and what we consume. Series such as The last Resort or Boring have been offered at auctions since the 1980s. After 20 years of secondary market exchanges, there are plenty of silver prints available at between $300 and $1,000 on average. Passing from the world of documentaries to the world of art, Martin Parr has indeed multiplied the formats of his work; but the large formats are not necessarily excessively expensive: in November 2008 for example, Piasa sold a painting-sized photograph (102 x 151cm, no. 3 of 25 copies) entitled Common Sense (mains) for €800. His auction record was generated by a splendid mise-en-abîme in which we see Martin Parr photographing a man photographing a group of Japanese tourists in front of the Athens Acropolis. This large print (121 x 148.9 cm), edited in 6 examples, fetched £4,000 (roughly $8,200 or €5,600) on 20 November 2007 at Phillips de Pury & Company.

Nan Goldin
Martin Parr’s market remains very affordable compared with that of Nan Goldin, the guest of honor at the same Rencontres photographiques in Arles: Whereas Parr’s record stands at £4,000, Nan Goldin’s auction peak is five times higher. In effect, Goldin’s price index shot up between 1999 and 2001 (by roughly 300%) before losing 32.4% over the following 3 years. After 4 years of relative stability, her index is again showing signs of weakness (since 2008). The price evolution of her At the Bar: Toon, C, and So. Bangkok is typical: having generated her auction record of $36,000 in May 2000 (at Christie’s), its price fell to €8,100 ($7,460) in May 2002, then moved back above the $15,000 line in 2005 and reached $22,000 in May 2009 at Phillips de Pury & Company.

A little sobriety…
Since the end of the 1990s, festivals, exhibitions, fairs and sales dedicated to photography have become increasingly commonplace. Between October 2001 and April 2008, this trend added 106% to photography prices before a contraction of –25% over the rest of 2008. Indeed, in recent years, some photos have triggered genuine buying frenzies: Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood for example, photographed by Herb RITTS, went from $45,000 to $90,000 between 2006 and 2007. In March 2009, this shot of five of the world’s most beautiful models came some way back to earth when it fetched $35,000 (printed using silver bromide-gelatine) at Christie’s, NY.
Andreas GURSKY’s market is also loosing steam: After six sales above the $1m line between May 2006 and February 2008 – notably for his famous 99 cent II (£1.5m, nearly $3m, on 7 February 2007 at Sotheby’s) – his works offered at above $100,000 have sold rather timorously, at best in their estimated price ranges (Dubai World II, fetched £370,000, below its estimate, on 25 June 2009 at Sotheby’s). The results are also somewhat mixed for Andres SERRANO. One of his Piss Christ photos sold for $120,000 on 13 May 2009 at Sotheby’s. A year earlier, the same picture more than doubled its estimate fetching $230,000 (at Christie’s on 14 May 2008). More than half of Serrano’s photos sent to auction between January and July 2009 were bought in.

Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips de Pury & Company have recorded some excellent results: a new record of £38,000 ($75,000) for the famous Nastassja Kinski and the Serpent by Richard Avedon on 1 July 2009 at Christie’s; $100,000 for New Orleans (Trolley) by Robert FRANK on 30 March 2009 at Sotheby’s and for Calla Lily by Robert MAPPLETHORPE on 31 March at Christie’s (a platinum print of Calla Lily also fetched $220,000 on April 11, 2008). The more contemporary photographers have also been doing well. A work by Philip- Philip-Lorca DICORCIA fetched twice its estimate at £10,500 (roughly $17,300) at Phillips de Pury & Company in New York, and David LACHAPELLE’s Deluge: Museum sold for £70,000 (roughly $115,000) at Sotheby’s on 26 June 2009. Florian MAIER-AICHEN and Nick KNIGHT both generated auction records in May: Maier-Aichen’s Saddle Peak fetched $125,000 on 13 May 2009 at Sotheby’s, and Nick Knight’s Devon fetched £48,000, nearly five times its estimate, on 16 May at Phillips.

The next photography auctions are scheduled for October 2009: the Christie’s sale on 7 October at the Rockfeller Center will be followed by the Sotheby’s sale two days later, and then the Phillips De Pury & Company sale in London on 15 October.

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