Above: Darren Almond, Fullmoon Arondine--detail, original in colour. Credit: Sotheby's/Matthew Marks.
Darren Almond's prices in an upcoming Sotheby's New York sale are indicative of what is happening to photography as a component of the fine-arts. This October at Sotheby's NY his Fullmoon Arondine is coming up for sale with a low estimate price of $6000. This is number 2 of an edition of 5. Another one of the 5 is in the MoMA, New York permanent collection. The photo is dry-mounted on aluminium and is 120cm square. In the same sale a very good James Casebere--again edition of 5, also flush-mounted to aluminium, size 120cm x 150cm--is low estimate $15000. A large Nate Lowman photo (what's in a name?) has a low est. of just $5000. And there are several others ... overall, there are many low prices in the sale. In the above examples the guide price would just about cover production (printing) and framing.
So what's happened? In my view, the current boom in fine art, with astonishing prices becoming the norm, depends upon the purchase object being unique. If it's not unique then you are essentially buying an editioned work--an editions-and-multiples piece--and the prices here reflect that.
Collectors are happy to pay big, but for unique, one-off artworks. With editions of photos there is always the spectre of re-editions, new-editions-at-a-different-size, and all the rest (the artist still has in their possession the negative). It's too much of a headache. Collectors want something that is incomparable, unprecedented, singular, sui generis. The phrase "edition of 5+2APs" isn't looking as cool as it might once have.
(12 September 2018)