Surrealist photography market



“Begierde im Blick” (the Gaze of Desire) is the main theme of the major exhibition on surrealist photography held at the Kunsthalle, Hamburg running until 29 May 2005. An element of the surrealism movement since its beginnings in 1924, photography allowed to capture images and sensations taken from “real” life. For MAN RAY, Jacques-André BOIFFARD, Hans BELLMER, Manuel ÁLVAREZ BRAVO, Raoul UBAC, André KERTÉSZ, Herbert BAYER and Claude CAHUN, photography provided a way to present a surrealist vision of the world: an impossible reality.

Prices for these surrealists’ photographs are running at an all-time high, due to a remarkable enthusiasm for photography in general since 1999 coupled with a renewed interest in surrealist art.Moreover, although late to develop, the market for Surrealist art has eventually taken off at a particularly swift pace. The highly publicised sales such as the André Breton auction in 2003 have attracted ever more collectors, and this has had a very positive impact on prices which rose 189% between January 1997 and January 2004.

Surrealist photography generated an average annual return of 7.8% over ten years. Between 1994 and 2003, the volume of transactions also rose from 236 to 620 lots per year. Demand for some surrealist photographers was boosted significantly as a result of the Breton sale. In 2003, prices rose by 155% and 164% for works by Hans BELLMER and Raoul UBAC respectively.

In addition to this price increase, the growing number of transactions of proof prints generated an explosion in turnover which quadrupled over ten years to reach EUR 5.3 million in 2003. However, 2004 was not such a prosperous year. Without any exceptional sales, the total turnover from surrealist photographs fell to EUR 2.8 million.
After the incredible speculative escalation, prices now tend to be falling, and high bidding has become a rare occurrence. According to Artprice, demand for surrealist photographs in 2004 fell by 33% to reach 1999-levels in the space of a few months. And prices for MAN RAY works, one of the most popular surrealist photographers, fell by 58% last year!