Contemporary photographers rise in the east



A wave of enthusiasm among younger generation collectors has driven contemporary photography prices up by 92% in less than six years, an annual growth rate of more than 12.7%. This kind of speculative rally used to be the preserve of big name German and US photographers, but in the last few months the market seems to have been led by less renowned artists of other nationalities.

Since a stunning index performance in 2002, German photographers have taken pride of place in the sales catalogues. Andreas GURSKY holds the record for contemporary prints with Untitled V which went under the hammer at USD560,000 at Christie’s London in February 2002. Thomas STRUTH and Thomas RUFF have enjoyed some of the sharpest price increases, both seeing the value of their works rise by 60% in less than three years. Thomas STRUTH became the seventh highest-priced contemporary photographer when his Fassade sold for USD280,000 in May 2002. The same year, Thomas DEMAND finally topped USD100,000 with the sale of Wand (Mural) which went under the hammer at USD120,000 at Christie’s New York on 14 May 2002. But as with GURSKY and Bernd & Hilla BECHER, these German photographers have seen their prices tumble in the last six months.

Contemporary Photography Price Growth
(December 1997 – June 2003)Base December 1997 = 100, currency = EUR

Some US photographers, less appreciated by US investors from the Net economy, have also suffered a fall in prices and, for many, price levels seem to be set into a downtrend. Cindy SHERMAN whose Untitled Film Still No. 48 was sold for USD300,000 in May 2001 at Christie’s New York, is now faced with a collapse in prices. In June 2003 SHERMAN’s works were going for less than half what they fetched in her hey-day, in 1999, and as a result less than half as many of her works are being put up for auction. A similar fate has befallen Bruce NAUMAN whose Light Trap for Henry Moore, No.1, sold for USD480,000 in May 2000, remains the priciest print ever by a US photographer. Nan GOLDIN’s works have shed 30% of their value since the beginning of the year. A similar story for Andres SERRANO, almost half of whose prints are now bought in for lack of interest. Prices are also plummeting for Robert MAPPLETHORPE, Richard MISRACH and Vanessa BEECROFT whose works have fallen over 60% in less than three years. That said, some photographers like Matthew BARNEY are holding up well. His current record from November 2002 is for Cremaster 4: the Isle of Man which found a buyer at USD200,000, USD 40,000 more than in 2000.

As the shine comes off the old star photographers, a new generation of Japanese stars are on the rise.The index of Hiroshi SUGIMOTO’s works has doubled in value since 1999. For instance, print 15/25 of Ionian Sea, Santa Cesera III bought for USD3,000 in New York in 1998 was sold for GBP 6,500 (USD10,7000) in London in February 2003. The price for a Mariko MORI is climbing, one of the five prints of Head in the Clouds by Mariko MORI was sold for USD20,000 on 14 May 2003 at Sotheby’s New York. The same print had gone under the hammer at only USD11,000 in 2001 but USD30,000 in 2000! MORI became the most expensive Japanese photographer in the market when Red light fetched USD140,000 at Phillips in May 2002. Nobuyoshi ARAKI saw his prices rocket by 33% in the first half of 2003. Fans of ARAKI’s erotic prints can choose from a host of Polaroids for less than EUR500 a piece. Nu à la Baignoire was bought for EUR300 at Cornette de Saint-Cyr in July 2003. Meanwhile, Yasumasa MORIMURA’s portraits, apart from the 2-metre high formats, are going for around EUR10,000. Other recent sales seem to herald a new fall in prices. Self-Portrait, Actress, after Brigitte Bardot 2 was knocked down at USD7,500 in April 2003, USD1,000 cheaper than a year earlier.