Sotheby’s will auction a selection of Photographs showcasing the versatility and artistic range of the medium, on 3 April 2012 in New York. From some of the earliest photographs made, in 1839, by William Henry Fox Talbot and his circle, to dazzling mural-sized collages by Peter Beard, Sotheby’s brings to market this spring images that explore the full extent of photography’s power as a creative tool. The auction is expected to bring $3.7/5.5 million.
Diane Arbus’s A Box of Ten Photographs (est. $400,000-600,000)* is the photographer’s only portfolio, begun before her death in 1971, and completed by her estate shortly thereafter. The portfolio contains her most iconic images, including Identical Twins, Roselle, N. J.; A Family on their Lawn One Sunday in Westchester; A Jewish Giant at Home with his Parents, and others that blend, in Arbus’s signature style, the bizarre and the quotidian. A complete portfolio has not come to auction since 2005.
In the 1950s, long before the vogue for ever-larger prints took hold of the photography market, Ansel Adams began enlarging his majestic landscapes beyond standard formats. He called these extra-large prints murals, and Sotheby’s has four prime examples in the April auction. Foremost among them is Mount McKinley and Wonder Lake, Denali National Park, Alaska (est. $200,000-300,000), which captures the grandeur and vastness of the Alaskan wilderness, as well as White House Ruin, Canyon de Chelley (est. $100,000-150,000); Storm, Sea, Clouds, Rodeo Lagoon (est. $60,000-90,000), and Trees, Illiloutte Ridge, Yosemite (est. $30,000-50,000).
Brett Weston’s highly Modernist Hand and Ear (Ramiel McGehee) (est. $70,000-100,000), made before the photographer turned twenty, shows his early emergence as a photographer of importance. Executed with Weston’s characteristic technical brilliance, Hand and Ear combines a sophisticated, almost geometric, composition with an impressive level of photographic detail. Other California photographers are represented in a selection of property from the collection of Dody Weston Thompson, a photographer, curator, and writer who worked for Edward Weston in the 1940s and 1950s, and married his son, Brett Weston, in 1952. Ms. Thompson is selling works by both Edward and Brett Weston, as well as Wynn Bullock.
William Henry Fox Talbot, the inventor of positive/negative photography, began experimenting with photo-sensitive materials as early as 1834. By 1839, he had perfected his technique of photogenic drawing, and two of these images, from the very dawn of photography, are presented in Sotheby’s auction. The first is a View Through Latticed Window (est. $20,000-30,000), taken with one of Talbot’s custom-made wooden camera obscuras, fitted with a microscope lens. It captures within its diminutive frame not only the excitement of discovery, but Talbot’s instinctive talent for photographic composition. Also from 1839 is a photogram of Leaves (est. $20,000-30,000) attributed to Talbot’s right-hand man, Nicolaas Henneman. The image was made by placing a leaf upon sensitized paper and exposing it to sunlight. A comparison of Henneman’s image with Alpenveilchen (est. $30,000-50,000), a photogram by the pioneering Modernist László Moholy-Nagy made over 8 decades later, provides an illuminating link between photography’s earliest days and the movement that would guide the medium through the 20th century.
Other 19th-century works include a selection of daguerreotypes, with a charismatic portrait of The Gaucho (est. $15,000-25,000), and a superb collection of scenic views and portraits. Carleton Watkins’s Tum Water, Columbia River (est. $25,000-35,000) and works by Julia Margaret Cameron, Maxime du Camp, and Timothy O’Sullivan will also be featured. Edward Steichen’s own run of Camera Notes (est. $20,000-30,000), the influential journal of photography published by Alfred Stieglitz from 1897 to 1902, is rife with notations and marginalia by Steichen. Alvin Langdon Coburn’s 1911 large-format Near Hollywood, California presents a bucolic view of the famous locale (est. $20,000-30,000). Photographs by Frederick Evans, Edward Steichen, and Paul Strand will be featured as well.
The image on the cover of Sotheby’s catalogue is a rare large print of Larry Clark’s gritty and iconic Dead 1970 (est. $20,000-30,000, right). The photograph shows Billy Mann, a friend of Clark’s, whom the photographer documented in his classic 1971 book Tulsa. The photograph offered here, used on the cover of Tulsa, and printed in a rare large format, was purchased in the early 1970s. The auction also includes Robert Frank’s famous image from The Americans, ‘Hoboken’ (City Fathers) (est. $25,000-35,000) as well as other images. One of Margaret Bourke-White’s most powerful images, The Living Dead at Buchenwald (est. $30,000-50,000, left), has lost none of its impact since it was taken in 1945. It is believed this large, early exhibition print represents this image’s only appearance at auction.
Photography, collage, and sculpture merge in a number of Sotheby’s April offerings. Peter Beard’s aptly titled Heart Attack City (est. $80,000-120,000) is a frenetic array of original and found images, objects, and illustrations. This massive work pushes boldly into the third dimension. Chuck Close’s 5C. (Self Portrait) (est. $100,000-150,000) is a large-scale composition of 5 unique large-format Polaroids. Made in 1979, it demonstrates the artistic polymath’s early embrace of the 20-by- 24-inch Polaroid camera. Ray Metzker’s Tall Grove of Nudes (est. $30,000-50,000) is a unique composition of 140 photographs meticulously pieced together. Made in 1966, it is one of the earliest examples from his Composites series, and is the first from the series to appear at auction since 1990. Robert Mapplethorpe’s Heart and Dagger (est. $30,000-50,000) is a unique sculptural diptych consisting of two heart shaped boxes, each housing an actual dagger. Created in 1982, this work hung alongside his photographs in the controversial The Perfect Moment exhibition from 1988 to 1990.
Richard Prince’s Untitled (Pens) (est. $80,000-120,000), from 1979, shows the conceptual artist’s brilliance at recontextualizing advertising imagery. The 26 images in the late Mike Kelley’s Photo Show Portrays the Familiar (est. $30,000-40,000) capture both the mundanity and the humor in modernday Michigan. Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Eiffel Tower – Gustave Eiffel (est. $25,000-35,000), Andre Serrano’s Black Mary (est. $30,000-50,000), and works by Robert Rauschenberg, Ruud van Empel, Elger Esser, and Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison are included in our Contemporary section.
*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium