Monday, October 19, 2009

Auction Results: Photographs, October 8, 2009 @Christie's

From my perch as a collector, the results of the Christie's various owner photographs sale sent me an altogether different message than those of the Miller-Plummer sale the same day. My takeaway from the Miller-Plummer auction was that there is indeed some hidden demand for unusual pictures of high quality.

My takeaway from the various owner sale is somewhat contradictory: many of the big ticket lots failed to sell, and the ones that did sell brought in quite a bit less than I might have expected. The platinum De Meyer is the most puzzling to me; given its rarity, I would have expected it to be solidly bid-up; instead, someone got a bit of a bargain (from my perspective). Beyond this, the Curtis set, the Alvarez-Bravo, the Strand, the Arbus, and the Kertesz all failed to find buyers; either the reserves were too high or the demand was too soft (or both) - this would indicate that prices still need to come down further to reach equilibrium.

The overall and somewhat disappointing result was that the Total Sale Proceeds missed the Total Low Estimate by about $600K, even though the rest of the sale was about normal. The summary statistics are below (all results include the buyer’s premium):

Total Lots: 139
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: $3260000
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: $4740000
Total Lots Sold: 101
Total Lots Bought In: 38
Buy In %: 27.34%
Total Sale Proceeds: $2664225

Here is the breakdown (using the Low, Mid, and High definitions from the preview post, here):

Low Total Lots: 46
Low Sold: 30
Low Bought In: 16
Buy In %: 34.78%
Total Low Estimate: $350000
Total Low Sold: $240125

Mid Total Lots: 76
Mid Sold: 61
Mid Bought In: 15
Buy In %: 19.74%
Total Mid Estimate: $1640000
Total Mid Sold: $1465600

High Total Lots: 17
High Sold: 10
High Bought In: 7
Buy In %: 41.18%
Total High Estimate: $2750000
Total High Sold: $958500

85.15% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above their estimate. There were a total of five surprises in this sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate):

Lot 725 Henri Cartier-Bresson, Behind the Gare St. Lazare, 1932/Later, at $21250
Lot 732 Irving Penn, Cuzco Newsboy, 1948, at $72100
Lot 767 Edward Curtis, Before the Storm, Apache, 1906, at $43750
Lot 768 Edward Curtis, The Vanishing Race, 1904, at $47500
Lot 794 David Hockney, Christopher Isherwood talking to Bob Holman, Los Angeles, March 14th, 1983, at $37500

The top lot by High estimate was lot 719, Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian, complete set of Portfolios 1-20 and Text Volumes 1-20, 1907-1930, at $700000-900000; it did not sell (UPDATE: actually it did sell, only after the auction finished; see the comments below). The top outcome of the sale was a tie between Lot 781, Robert Frank, Fish Kill, New York, 1955/1969, and Lot 819, Baron Adolph De Meyer, Water Lilies, 1906, both at $170500.

Complete lot by lot results can be found here.

So back to the conundrum I began above: if you had a superlative piece to consign for April, how would you read the results of these two sales? Evidence of optimism for top tier material, against the backdrop of possibly improving macro conditions? Or evidence of continued cautiousness on the part of most buyers, and the need for further price compression? Sure seems like a mixed message to me; if you think you know the answer, by all means, put it in the comments.

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dlkcollection said...

The folks at Christie's have informed me that the Curtis set sold immediately after the auction for $775000; the result does not show up in the Auction Results page on the Christie's website, but can be found in the post-auction press release.

dlkcollection said...

Another reader has updated me that the Alvarez Bravo cover lot did actually sell in a private transaction prior to the sale and was therefore withdrawn, not bought in. While I was given a sale price higher than the estimate, I have no way of confirming this price, so have decided not to report it here.

If you add back the Alvarez Bravo and the Curtis set, the sale proceeds look quite a bit better overall, so perhaps my uncertain conclusions need to be modified a bit.