While I was taking a break from blogging over the holidays, something fairly amazing happened in New York. The phenomenal Constantiner Collection went up for sale at Christie’s on December 16 and 17 and ended up bringing in $7.7 million.
That is a new record for a single-owner sale of photography at Christie’s.
And it happened as the economy in general is tanking. Beforehand, I was wondering why the owner, Leon Constantiner, decided to even go ahead with the sale. The 2008 fall auctions had been rather lackluster. And economic news was just getting worse and worse.
As my friend Stephen Perloff writes in the latest edition of “The Photograph Collector” newsletter, a year ago people might have wondered how many records the Constantiner collection would break; instead, people were wondering how big the buy-in rate would be.
“This market is broader and deeper than many traditional photography collectors and dealers imagined,” writes Perloff.
You can partly explain the success of the sale by looking at the work being offered. Constantiner assembled a collection focused on popular, exciting imagery—fashion, celebrity, and eroticism— created by photographers like Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Herb Ritts, and Peter Lindbergh.
(There was a time when I thought that if I had enough money I would buy fashion photography, because it wasn’t considered art and was totally undervalued. Alas, I didn’t have the money. The stuff is hot now.)
Perloff also attributes the success of the sale to “a large international, especially European, audience for the material.”
Here are some of the highlights:
Newton’s “Two Pairs of Legs in Black Stockings, Paris,” estimated at $20,000-$30,000, sold to a phone bidder for $52,000.
A phone bidder also bought Newton’s “Big Nude III: Henrietta,” for $82,500, which was the low estimate for the piece.
Newton’s “Big Nude XV: Raquel Hands on Forehead, Nice” was estimated at $150,000-$200,000 and sold for $206,500.
Richard Avedon’s “Marilyn Monroe, Actress, New York City,” estimated at ($25,000-$35,000, sold for $56,250.
Looking for a bargain? Consider this: Irving Penn’s “Girl Drinking (Mary Jane Russell),” estimated at $100,000-$15,000 went to a bidder for $92,000. According to Perloff, Constantiner paid twice that when he bought the print in 2007. The market for Penn has retrenched since then.—David Schonauer