On Wednesday, Phillips photographs sale in New York brought in a total of $3.5 million across 186 lots, achieving a 70 percent sell-through rate. Among the top prices achieved for editions by Robert Mapplethorpe and László Moholy-Nagy during the auction, American photographer Dawoud Bey’s Polariod triptych Eugene (1998) made $35,000, doubling the estimate of $15,000 and setting a new record for the artist.
Bey’s previous record was $20,000 for the sale of his 1993 photograph, Amishi, another Polaroid also sold at Phillips two years ago in 2018. Following that sale, Swann Galleries sold Bey’s 2007 portrait of President Barrack Obama in the houses’s African-American Fine Art sale for $10,625 with buyer’s fee against an estimate of $3,000 to $5,000. Another edition of the present work went up for auction at Sotheby’s in 2012, with an estimate of just $3,000 to $5,000, from the photographs collection of Henry Buhl, a New York collector known for acquiring works that depict hands. In that sale, the work failed to find a buyer.
Now, the new benchmark for Bey comes with renewed institutional attention on the MacArthur prize recipient and Guggenheim fellow; he is the subject of a paused retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Art and Whitney Museum of Art titled “An American Project,” which includes Bey’s early portraits of Harlem residents and large-scale color Polaroids. Bey is also known for shooting David Hammon’s Blizz-ard Ball Sale (1983) project in New York.
“Yesterday’s new auction record for Dawoud Bey’s work is a testament to the growing recognition of Bey’s importance in contemporary art,” said Carol Ehlers, Phillips regional director and photographs specialist in Chicago. “Known for his portraits of people and communities that are underrepresented, Bey began his career with the series Harlem, U.S.A., which was exhibited in 1979 at the Studio Museum in Harlem,” added Ehlers.
“In recent seasons, collectors across the board have responded enthusiastically to his work and this new record is quite timely, with his current traveling retrospective Dawoud Bey / An American Project receiving so much praise.”
Among the other leading results of the sale were László Moholy-Nagy’s Fotogramm, dated 1925-1928, which sold for $375,000, more than five times the estimate of $80,000. Irving Penn’s portrait of Miles Davis from 1986 sold for $150,000, against an estimate of $80,000-100,000. Robert Mapplethorpe’s Polaroid triptych of New York dealer and pop art fixture Holly Solomon from 1976 made $125,000, meeting its estimate of $100,000.