The Contemporary Photography Market: Trends & Opportunities seminar at The Photographers’ Gallery provided an overview of photography in the art market giving collectors, gallery owners, and anyone interested in art and photography some pointers. Hosted by Jeffrey Boloten (Managing director, ArtInsight), the panel looked at how photography has integrated itself into the market, especially considering that most contemporary galleries now also sell photographic works. There were a few facts, not all surprising, but worth noting:
The first photography auction was held at Sotherby’s 1971.
A total of nine photographers have broken the $1 million mark at auction, according to Boloten. The list includes Gursky (No.1), Steichen (No 2), then there’s Richard Prince, Sugimoto, Steiglitz, Weston. Basically, it’s the usual suspects. Hardly surprising is the fact that, there is only one woman in this list at No. 4. and that’s Cindy Sherman.
Zelda Cheatle, who used to run the Zelda Cheatle Gallery and is now the director of the Tosca Photography Fund, noted that in one Top 500 artists worldwide, (not sure which list), there is only one photographer William Eggleston (see earlier post) at No 369.
Top Ten Photographic works sold at auction (compiled by Matt Carey-Williams, Christie’s European Private Sales Director, Post-War and Contemporary Art)
No. 1. Gilbert & George, To her majesty, 1973 sold for $3.7 million (June 2008). Carey-Williams noted during the presentation some of the factors to consider which could influence the sale/price: the work being an early example in the artists’ oeuvre, the size of the work (over 3.5m), it has hand touched gold spots, and is connected to other works by the artists.
No. 2. Richard Prince, Untitled Cowboy, 2001- 2002, 1 Artist’s Proof (edition of 2), $3.4 million (Nov 2007). Factors to consider: Iconic single image of cowboy, of commercial value.
This is followed by Andreas Gursky, Edward Steichen, another Gursky, Prince (again), Gursky (again), Gursky (again). Then, the only female artist in the Top Ten:
No. 9. Cindy Sherman, Untitled No 92. Known as the ‘Centrefold’ series. Art Forum. $2.1 million. (May 2007). Factors to consider: Why Sherman? Arguably, she is considered to be one of most the most important female artists of the post-war period alongside Louise Bourgeois, not just as a photographer. Other factors noted by Carey-Williams are that “There are not many women photographers working today, therefore Sherman is seen as groundbreaking.”
No. 10. Hiroshi Sugimoto, Seascape – Black Sea, Ozuluce; Yellow Sea, Cheju; Red Sea, Safaga, $1.8 million (May 2007). Three seascapes as triptych. Factors to consider include: the “minimalist qualities of the work”, creating “abstraction out of nature”, and that the “market for his work has grown over a long time, not an overnight success”.
The absence of women in this list (Sherman appears at No.9) is, I presume, due to a number of factors, including the marginalised position women have been afforded in the western art canon as well as traditional views which set photography as a male occupation – even though there were many amateur women photographers in the early days of photography, until its professionalization. Now, with so many women enrolling on photography/media/art courses and entering the world of photography, in theory we should start to see women visual artists hitting top sales in art market auctions in decades to come. But we’ll have to wait and see…
BLUE CHIP PHOTOGRAPHERS
There was also a term I had never come across before in relation to photographers, that is blue-chip photographers (yes, like blue-chip companies). These are photographers who have entered the art market and who are viewed in the same light as painters and sculptors.
WHAT TO COLLECT
There were some interesting suggestions from the panel at the seminar regarding what to collect. These were the suggestions from the panel:
Photo books – “photography suited to book form” mention of rising prices for first editions of Stephen Gill’s Hackney Wick and Taryn Simon’s An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, (Brett Rogers, Director of Photographers’ Gallery)
Anything that you love (collector Zelda Cheatle, director of the Tosca Photography Fund and previously of the Zelda Cheatle Gallery which closed in 2005)
Photographs from the 1930-1960s (Brassai etc). The work of South African photographer David Goldblatt is undervalued. (Christie’s European Private Sales Director, Post-War and Contemporary Art, Matt Carey- Williams)