Pop star Graham Nash sold his collection of photographs for $2.4 million on Wednesday at Sotheby’s, setting an auction record for a single collection of photos.
“Recycling is fun,” Nash said after watching more than 400 of his prized photographs and albums find new owners and set record prices.
The 48-year-old singer, who rocked to fame in the ‘60s with Crosby, Stills & Nash, has announced his intention to give a portion of the auction profit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for the acquisition of contemporary photographs, but the amount of the gift has not been disclosed. Nash said his accountant had to calculate how much he had spent on purchasing and maintaining the collection before he could determine the profit.
Los Angeles dealer G. Ray Hawkins paid the sale’s top price of $99,000, including the standard buyer’s commission, for Paul Outerbridge’s 1927 “Self-Portrait,” depicting the artist in a top hat and mask. Hawkins sold the same photograph to Nash for $2,000 14 years ago. Hawkins said Wednesday that he got a bargain for his client, an unidentified Los Angeles collector.
Sotheby’s had predicted that the Outerbridge would be the top lot in the daylong auction and had pegged its value at about $60,000. Bidding started at $25,000 and escalated rapidly, temporarily stopping at $85,000. Then Hawkins raised his paddle, making his first and final bid of $90,000. After the sale he said he had been prepared to pay whatever it took to buy the photograph, which he believes is worth $250,000.
The sale nearly quadrupled Outerbridge’s record of $26,400, set in 1983 for “Abstraction.” The auction also raised the profile of an innovative artist who died in 1958 and is little known outside art circles.
Chicago dealer Edwynn Houk bought the next two most expensive lots, paying $88,000 for Outerbridge’s abstract composition, “H-O Box,” and $82,500 for “Epilogue,” Edward Weston’s 1919 portrait of his business partner, Margrethe Mather.
Works by Diane Arbus also brought extraordinary prices. “Viva at Home,” Arbus’ glassy-eyed portrait of an Andy Warhol protege, sold for $49,500, a record for the artist. Nash bought the photograph for $400 from the Simon Lowinsky Gallery in San Francisco in the early ‘70s.
Hawkins paid $46,750 for Arbus’ “Child With a Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C.” The strange image of a boy who seems to fear that the toy will blow up in his face was the first photograph in Nash’s collection. Lowinsky, who moved his gallery to New York several years ago, said he sold that photograph to Nash for $1,700.
Nash said he was particularly pleased that the auction brought unprecedented prices for Arbus’ unconventional work because “the sale places her where she belongs in the history of photography.”
Among other big ticket works was a vintage print of one of Ansel Adams’ most celebrated images, “Moonrise, Hernandez New Mexico,” which sold for $49,500 to Los Angeles dealer Jan Kesner.
Heinrich Kuehn’s portrait of photographer Edward Steichen brought $29,700, a record for the artist, from a New York collector. Three works by French artist Pierre Dubreuil sold for more than $20,000 apiece to Houk, who bought several pieces in the sale.
Some observers said that “the celebrity factor” of Nash’s ownership may have added a bit to the prices but a more important consideration was that the material hadn’t been on the market for a long time. Unlike photography auctions that are composed of works that dealers have been unable to sell, the Nash collection seemed to be full of pieces that dealers were eager to buy.
“Graham Nash was the photography collector on the West Coast in the ‘70s. Whenever an important work came into my gallery I showed it to him first,” said Hawkins.
PRICEY IMAGES--The four-day total for the New York photo auction series is expected to top $7 million. F1