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​Get ready for a lot of photographs…

[22 Aug 2017]

The art market may still be in its summer break, but its big players are busy preparing next season’s sales. Of those already planned, some look set to attract strong interest this coming fall, particularly at Christie’s, which has announced it will be offering part of the world’s most prestigious collection of photographs…

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has entrusted Christie’s with the dispersion of some 400 photographs from its permanent collections. This windfall includes important works by Man Ray, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ansel Adams among many others and will be offered in seven separate sales between October 2017 and April 2018.

The MoMA was the first major museum to pay close attention to photography, making acquisitions from its inception in 1929. Eleven years later, it was the first museum to acquire a fully-fledged photography department. That was in 1940 and the opening of that department, founded by Beaumont Newhall, played a decisive role in accelerating the acceptance of photography as an art in its own right around the world.

After nearly 90 years of acquisitions, the MoMA’s photographic collection now contains more than 30,000 photographs and plenty of treasures. In late 2016, the prestigious museum actually published a three-volume mosaic of their photography collection. The book-mosaic, Photography at MoMA: 1960 to Now, contains a chronologic record of their collection, starting with the 1960s and the birth of colour photography… to the present day.

But the photographs to be sold via Christie’s go back further. They include historical pieces such as 1860s photographs by Carleton Eugene WATKINS and Louis-Auguste BISSON & BROTHERS and works by top Modern signatures including Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Edward Weston, Man Ray, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans and even Constantin Brancusi. The choice of works for sale resulted from a careful selection process involving a new inventory and a strategic analysis of the museum’s assets. The MoMA owns lots of photos under the same signatures, especially Man Ray, and has lots of duplicates.

The first of the series of sales is programmed for 10 October and will kick off with two photographs by MAN RAY. These two rayographs (or rayograms) were created between 1923 and 1928 by directly exposing light from selected objects to sensitive paper. The spectral forms resulting from this process are particularly popular on the market. An Untitled Rayograph has already crossed the million-dollar threshold (Untitled Rayograph fetched $1,203,750 at Christie’s in New York on 4 April 2013). The two works proposed on October 10 are estimated between $150,000 and $300,000 each, but the prestige of their provenance could push the bidding higher.

The two Man Ray photographs are among the most expensive of the 400 to be offered through April 2018. In fact, acquiring a work directly from one of the most prestigious museums in the world turns out to be cheaper than one might have expected, with prices starting at around $1,000 for certain works…

Ultimately, the MoMA hopes to raise around $3.6 million to strengthen its acquisition fund. In the United States – unlike France where museum collections are inalienable – the American Alliance of Museums allows museums to sell works from their permanent collections for the sole purpose of financing new acquisitions.

Upcoming auction sales. Photographs from the MoMA collection

 October 2017

MoMA: Pictorialism into Modernism

MoMA: Henri Cartier-Bresson

December 2017

MoMA: Women in Photography

January 2018

MoMA: Garry Winogrand

MoMA: Bill Brandt

April 2018

MoMA: Walker Evans

MoMA: Tracing Photography’s History


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