The Financial Times looks at the success of the Constantiner sale at Christie’s which brought in $7.7 million and wonders what the implications are for the photography market and the art market. Here is a stripped-down version of Anthony Thorncroft’s excellent story (but it is well worth reading the full version):
Prices have fallen in the past few months but fashion remains the collecting phenomenon of the photographic market in the last two decades. When Hamiltons, the London gallery, opened in 1984 to promote fashion photography it was regarded as a vulgar upstart, but its timing was spot on: today it is the UK’s leading dealer in the field. [ . . . ] Fashion photography was the mirror of the age. As Tim Jeffries of Hamiltons says, “when the people who grew up with this type of imagery became successful, they spent their money acquiring it” [ . . . ] Prices rose steadily as fresh collectors, usually newly enriched men in their 30s and 40s, saw photographs as the perfect, accessible, art form with which to decorate their loft apartments and minimalist homes. Entering the market was comparatively cheap. In the early 1980s, “Henrietta”, perhaps the most famous image from Helmut Newton’s life-size “Big Nudes” series, was being offered at Hamiltons for $5,000 [ . . . ] Contemporary art has suffered quickly in the recession, but contemporary photography has less far to fall. London dealer Michael Hoppen believes work by the top photographers will continue to rise in value, especially as there is so little available. [ . . . ] For some, fashion photography is a distraction. “It is a worry when prices rise so precipitously. It becomes a fad rather than a real recognition of the importance of the objects,” says Chris Mahoney of Sotheby’s, which prefers to take a more scholarly approach. He believes that the Constantiner auction has little relevance to the fate of the photographic market in 2009, which depends, like that of the entire art world, on the helter-skelter of the global economy.
Star Shoots (Financial Times)