On Not Getting Hammered: Phillips de Pury March Photography Auction

Raise you to $2M for the Cindy Sherman ... (in one's dreams)

A few more photos on ChelseaGallerista Facebook page

Today, I discovered yet another "best thing in Manhattan life you can do for free" - go to a contemporary art auction. Truly, it's like going to "the game."

"Amazing photos, we gotta go!" texted my fellow School of Visual Arts cohort Lisa, who'd downloaded the iPhone app of über-chic auction house Phillips de Pury.  The app allows you to browse the "lots" - auction-speak for artwork - and seemingly, do everything short of bid on your phone. 'Cos you wouldn't want to wave it around and accidentally swipe an extra 5 grand onto your cellphone bill, now would you?

Lisa's favorite: RICHARD AVEDON, Sunny Harnett, model. Dress by Grès. Casino, Le Touquet, Paris, August, 1954. Estimate $15,000-20,000, Sold at $27,500
Our small SVA class has become so enthused about art we have continued to meet up and case out the artsy offerings in NYC, even starting a Facebook page for the teacher, Brian Appel. Go "like" http://facebook.com/trendsinart

We'd already been to the Phillips de Pury mid-season contemporary art auction at the company's Chelsea location overlooking the Highline. This Park Ave show was all about photography. Flitting between the two floors displaying the work of famous shutterbugs like Strand, Weston, Mapplethorpe, Ritts, Sherman, Frank, Lebowitz and Cartier-Bresson one noticed an overarching theme of  glamor, fashion and sex: Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss, supermodels, Princess Di,  plenty of breasts and shots of long skinny cellulite-free legs disappearing into velveteen boots or suspenders or nowhere at all...

What does an art auction sound like? Check out a piece of the action in the video clip below ...

We took our places on the plexiglass chairs, toying with the idea of getting a paddle - the ping-pong bat that commits you to serious retail therapy - but decided that everything would probably be way out of our reach. Actually, quite a few pieces went for below their estimate. Nothing sub-$1000, mind you, but a few not far above.

"Would you like to join in the action?" Principal auctioneer Simon de Pury knows his onions ... his sale racked up in excess of $5M, with 95% sold, "An excellent result."
Of course, the most desirable works started in the tens of thousands, and when the charming and debonair Simon de Pury - chairman of the entire shebang - fielded offers from the two banks of specialists flanking the podium, their ears and eyes glued to phones and the internet -  it was like watching Previn conduct the Royal Philharmonic.

I liked this clever portrait of Keith Haring by Annie Lebowitz - sold for $27K. Of the famous and established photographer, De Pury thinks "she's going to be big" in auction resale terms
Although lots whizz by under the hammer, it's a rather protracted process. 200+ pieces took the better part of 3 hours to get through. You can also watching it thrillingly on sites like Artsy, Live Auctioneers, Invaluable and the auction site itself, where dollars roll up like slot machine windows and actually bid - from anywhere in the world.

"It's hugely exciting, like going to a game," said the young back-of-room barista Mark, charged with caffeinating the masses with excellent and free-flowing "Joe". Apparently, caffeine stimulates the buying reflex, he added.
Barista Mark is an artist/photographer too

The most expensive item - by Cindy Sherman - sold for $200K. Add the 25% "buyer's premium" and sales tax and the final purchase price is substantially more than that friendly hammer tap suggests. Of course, if you're like the Russian oligarch who owns the entire operation, those additional costs are all small rubles.

EDWARD BURTYNSKYManufacturing # 10 a and b, Cankun Factory, Xiamen City, China, 2005
Digital color coupler diptych. Each 39 1/2 x 49 1/2 in. (100.3 x 125.7 cm); overall 42 x 104 in. (106.7 x 264.2 cm). Each signed in ink, printed title, date and number on labels affixed to the reverse of the mounts. One from an edition of 9. ESTIMATE $25,000-35,000, SOLD AT $47,500

Simon de Pury isn't too high and mighty to give some words of wisdom to the non-paddle waver

De Pury himself was busy scribbling down lots of 0's and commas on a sheet of paper when Lisa and I plucked up courage to introduce ourselves and tell him how we'd studied the satirical Stephen Colbert portrait he'd auctioned a month earlier for charity. Read my essay on that here. What was his personal favorite today?

"I liked the Hockney," he said, of the photo collage actually NOT featuring flowers or a pool, which sold for a staggering $108K from an estimate of $35-55K. Wall Street is clearly back up and running.

What about the somewhat low-key Warhol flea market photo that went for a modest $5500, while the pop king's Liz Taylor silkscreen is slated to sell for an oligarchist price of $30-40m anytime soon?

"Warhol's stitched paintings are more popular, given the repetition," he offered and added that people who play this "sport" clearly know what they're doing. Or rather, they have so much money it doesn't matter.

STEVE MCCURRY Afghan Girl, Pakistan, 1985
Dye destruction print, printed 2006. 37 x 24 1/2 in. (94 x 62.2 cm).
Signed and numbered 12/30 in ink in the margin;
dated '02.06.06', numbered 12/30 in ink and studio credit stamp on the verso.
ESTIMATE $10,000-15,000
SOLD AT $60,000

One example of people going beserk was for the very well known and famous photo of an Afghan girl pictured above. From an edition of 30 printed more than a decade after it was taken, it nonetheless went for $60K. A social conscience lightbulb suddenly popped in my head and I put to Mr de Pury:
What if de Pury had a benevolence clause that stated the seller was required to donate a portion of the sale to the subject in the photo - the Afghan woman? 

Clearly, this gal with the piercing green eyes will not make red Afghani rupee from this, or any future sale of her image. This, while on the opposite wall, the likes of Christy Turlington, Kate Moss and other superdames are utterly raking it by "not getting out of bed for less than $10,000/day" as the supermodel Linda Evangelista infamously put it. Imagine what a difference even a paltry few bucks every time picture was sold would make to her life ... a bit like royalties for an author. Now how about that Simon?

De Pury graciously acknowledged this groundbreaking idea for a few seconds, then, naturally,  it was back to business.

Where's Warhol? Gone but absolutely not forgotten. 

Upon the fall of the hammer on the final lots - a blue bedroom swimming with goldfish and a brilliant ad for astroturf studded with purple canines, it was time to check out the Shop.

The friendly Katherine Walters showed us this set of clocks by design team "Humans Since 1982." It performs an impressive ballet of hands each minute, and can be yours for $72,000:

A roundup of what sold...

From Brian Appel at SVA: Yesterday's Phillips de Pury & Co. "Photographs" sale totaled $5.8 million, $1.3 million more than Sotheby's.

There were 11 lots at 6 figures:

1) Cindy Sherman $242,000 (171)

2) Desiree Dolron $194,500 (cover lot 211)

3) Robert Frank $182,500 (145)

4) Irving Penn $122,500 (94)

5) Peter Beard $120,100 (50)

6) Irving Penn $112,900 (48)

7) Robert Mapplethorpe $110,500 (97)

8) David Hockney $108,100 (195)

9) Robert Frank $104.500 (33)

10) Florian Maier-Aichen $104,500 (206)

11) Robert Mapplethorpe $100,900 (95)


  1. You should read about the ImaginAsia Foundation that Steve McCurry set up in honor of the Afghan Girl- and she's not nameless, her name is Sharbat Gula.

  2. I love that Keith Haring portrait. So cool. I wish I owned it!

    This looks so fun, I wish I had grand scale funds to buy ART :)

    I've seen that De Pury guy on the reality show, WORK OF ART. He's a trip.

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