Historically, photography collectors have prefered their artists dead and their photos black and white. But the results of this week's photography auctions in New York clearly indicate that the important mid-career photographers are writing the next chapter of photographic history in color. And photography collectors are finally embracing to the idea. Collectors of contemporary art warmed up to color photos some time ago, but photo collectors have been slower to catch on. These auctions seem to mark a turning point.
Consider these results:
RICHARD MISRACH has been critically praised for many years but consistently had lackluster showings at auction. This week, all five of his pieces sold for over $10,000 at an average of 92% higher than their high estimates.
Likewise for CANDIDA HOFER, whose work I predicted was estimated too low. Three of four of her pieces sold for over $10,000 (I had predicted all four would) at an average of 54% over their high estimates.
I scoffed at the $20-$30K estimate for TINA BARNEY's "Jill and Polly" at Phillips but was proven wrong when the piece sold for a jaw dropping $42,000. She is a great photographer and I'm happy to see the market recognizing her talent. Incidentally, her previous high was only $10,750 with most of her sales coming in below $5,000.
I predicted that VIK MUNIZ would join the six figure club and was proven right when "Action Photo III" sold for $102,000.
GREGORY CREWDSON's "Natual Wonder" series has been of little interest to collectors in previous sales. This week, the three for sale hit the roof, two selling for two times their high estimates at over $10,000 and one for a kickass $28,800, nearly five times its high estimate! In comparison, at last fall's infamous Veronica's Revenge sale, some lucky stiff picked up a lot of three of these works for $12,000.
PHILIP-LORCA DICORCIA set a new high when "Mary & Babe" sold for $62,400, over double its high estimate. A Tokyo "Streetworks" piece sold for over $20K as well. Dicorcia's market is uneven though, but its clear that collectors are willing to pay top dollar for the right work.
WILLIAM EGGLESTON had three pieces that sold for over $100,000 with his most famous "tricycle" image selling for $240,000, a record for Eggleston.
There were some casualties at the sales though. Collectors shrugged at the numerous WILLIAM WEGMAN's up for sale and rightfully so. NAN GOLDIN was also of tepid interest but I presume that the collector base for drug addicts and transvestites is a limited one. Hence the reason that LARRY CLARK's b&w work never sells all that well either and this week was no exception. The color winners far outweighed the losers though. Also among the mid-career winners: ELGER ESSER, ROBERT POLIDORI and JOEL STERNFELD.
I have to admit though, that it was a black and white photographer who experienced the most consistently strong results. Collectors embraced LEE FRIEDLANDER at unprecedented levels with "Galax, Virginia" selling for $78,000 on an estimate of $10-$15K. He may be the last artist admitted to the b&w modernist hall of fame before membership is closed and the party moves to postmodernist color for good.