Paris at the heart of the photography market

[24 Nov 2015]


Photography week (often referred to as Photography Month) is always a high point in the French art calendar, attracting a large and ever-growing number of amateur buyers. Nowadays Paris represents 9% of the global art photography market and holds third position behind the United States (54%) and the United Kingdom (26%). Every November the world of photography focuses on Paris with the Paris Photo fair at the Grand Palais as the main event. Paris Photo is France’s leading art fair dedicated to photography with 172 galleries from 34 countries at the current 19th edition. Paris Photo prematurely closed its doors after the terrorist attacks of November 13, but the galleries have decided to open the weekend of November 28 to continue their work and promote the artists they had begun to exhibit at the fair.

Meanwhile, the programmed auction sales dedicated to photography went ahead at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Artcurial and Ader. Christie’s took €3 million, selling 78 of the 100 lots offered. The best result was generated by Robert MAPPLETHORPE’s Man in Polyester Suit (1980). This photograph, undoubtedly one of his most famous and controversial clichés, crossed the $300,000 threshold for the second time this autumn: the first in New York in October ($478,000 including fees) and then on November 12 in Paris (€361,500 or $388,000 including fees).
Sotheby’s faired less well than its competitor with a total turnover of €1.59 million, but it did manage to score a new world record for the Bernd & Hilla BECHER couple: Their nine water tanks composition – Wassertürme (Trichter) (1972) – estimated €60,000 to €80,000 – beat all expectations when it fetched €411,000 including fees.

Pierre Molinier – indecent exposure

Pierre MOLINIER, a Bordeaux painter, cartoonist, poet and photographer with a distinctly salty reputation, occupied a significant space at the major Parisian auctions in November with the sale of Emmanuelle Arsan’s collection at Artcurial: The Forbidden sale included nearly 200 works that the artist gave to his muse. Born Friday 13 April 1900 in Agen, Artcurial chose Friday 13 November for its sale of works whose unfettered eroticism, as history advances, looks increasingly like an act of socio-political resistance.

Obsessed with the notion of androgyny, Molinier set up pictures featuring all kinds of creatures wearing silk stockings, garter belts and black high-heeled shoes. His standard silver-gelation prints were cut up, recomposed and reworked with ink before being re-photographed. His “post-production” work is clearly visible in the bright eyes of his Chaman, a photomontage that attracted unexpected bidding momentum on November 13, rising from a low estimate of €4,000 to a final hammer €22,100 including fees (nearly $24,000), a new record for a Molinier photograph at auction!
The sale also provided an opportunity to acquire some period pieces for a few hundred euros, sometimes beneath the estimated price, including Mes Jambes (1967) and Mon cul (circa 1965-1967) which each went for €585.
Noticed by André Breton – who called him a magician of erotic art – Pierre Molinier was only briefly associated with the Surrealists and appears to have been excluded in 1959. Twenty years later, his work gained a certain posthumous recognition with a solo exhibition the Centre Pompidou (1979) and in the 2000s, with the help of the Kamel Mennour Gallery, a veritable market for his work began to emerge in France. Today, 93% of Pierre Molinier’s auction turnover is generated in France, and most of the rest comes from US auction rooms.

The figures from the Parisian photo sales are relatively modest compared with the figures we have come to expect on the more extravagant American. However, the good results for internationally recognised artists like as the Bechers and Robert Mapplethorpe prove that Paris has an important place in this market. At the global level, photography only represents 1% of global Fine art auction turnover and 4% of global Fine Art lots sold. The market would grow considerably faster if it aroused a little more interest in China which represents only 1.2% of global photography market (in value).