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Contemporary Works | News/Articles | August 28, 2007
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August 28, 2007
PRINCE AND SHERMAN ARE TOP PHOTOGRAPHY PERFORMERS AT SPRING NYC CONTEMPORARY ART AUCTIONS

By Brian Appel

If power is the ability to direct or influence the behavior of others, Richard
Prince and Cindy Sherman have become the 'new' hyper-real prototypes in the
world of contemporary photography.

Both artists utilize a 'spectacular' mode of address that engages the viewer in
a way that exploits the myth of photography as a reference point to a 'literal'
description of how a camera sees a piece of time and space that actually exists
in the natural world.

As early as the late 1970s, both artists came to realize that by isolating and
removing mass-culture imagery by re-contextualizing them through performance or
by re-photography and severe cropping, a new dialogue became possible where the
various codes of representation including gender and class could be re-examined.
These photographs do more than document--they are also imposing norms of
behavior by portraying men and women in revealing poses.

We see in the Sherman image the disempowered female on the floor looking up at
the unseen 'all-powerful other' (camera is elevated looking 'down' onto her)
awaiting his next move. Her body language and facial gestures suggest she is
desired by the unseen other and is also possessed by him. She is at his mercy
and you can see in her eyes she is filled with the anticipation of what the
encounter will bring.

With Prince you are looking up (low camera-angle shooting up) to the
all-powerful master of the universe (the ultimate individualist as displayed in
the cowboy who is the image of endurance itself) about ready to rope an unseen
horse (already captured in a fenced in area) ready to be 'tamed'. The cowboy
is one of the most sacred and mask-like of all cultural figures--it is used in
the Marlboro campaign as an aspirational figure. All Marlboro advertisements
suggested the self-sufficient male or males taking control of any environment
that had to be tamed. Both images establish the power position of the
protagonists and the viewer by default.

Richard Prince's 2001 adaptation and re-contextualization of the ubiquitous
Madison Avenue Marlboro man (Untitled [Cowboy]) is both a critique and
celebration of one of America's most insidious consumer cultural mythologies.
The super-sized, eight-foot Ektachrome cowboy, in stunning silhouette complete
with rope, hat and spurs etched against a fiery orange-red sunset, broke the
artist's previous world auction record for a photograph by over $1.5 million.
Landing in at an unprecedented $2.84 million, the deconstructed homage of one of
society's most sacred icons (and by extension most popular brand of cigarette)
reached triple its pre-sale high estimate easily topping every other photo-based
artwork of the season. Only Edward Steichen's "Pond-Moonlight" at $2,928,000
and Andreas Gursky's 99-cent diptych at $3,346,456 have achieved a higher price
for a photograph at auction.

The Prince "Cowboy" is printed in a scale and with such an intense saturation of
color that this image triggers meaning in one's mind before the spectator can
interpret the photograph fully and create a conscious meaning. The photograph
seems to overtake reality with something more 'real' than real.

One of the trademarks of 'postmodern' work is its hyper-reality--a simulated
experience where the authentic moment is overdone. Some would say overdone in a
way that would be impossible in 'real' life--like the white teeth in a Crest ad,
the enhanced breasts of a centerfold model or the over-the-top orange red in a
sunset. Advertisements and Hollywood movies are like that--they immediately tap
into the 'myth' of the sexy woman, the fabulous vacation, the impossibly rich
payoff at the gambling casino. As soon as your eyes hit the very surface of the
image you are 'there' even before you are consciously ready for it. TV ads that
run for ten seconds explode in your head over time. You might not even be
consciously analyzing what you are watching but you are already experiencing the
pleasure that comes with the supersaturated colors of the beach and what that
cold beer in an ice bucket pictured is doing to your thirst.

Cindy Sherman's 1981 self-portrait ("Untitled No. 92 [Centerfold]") of an
adolescent girl in an emotionally suggestive pose is, like Prince's cowboy,
slyly suggestive of the codified style of American advertising in a vernacular
that ironically plays off of the image itself. Sherman's subject, however,
unlike Prince's powerful individualist in a cowboy hat and boots, is the artist
herself, crouched down on the floor in an emotionally suggestive pose wearing a
pleated plaid skirt and open white shirt with the matted hair and slightly
parted lips that are often associated with a "Playboy" type venture or the style
of pulp illustration. It easily outperformed her previous world record price by
the almost identical amount as in the Prince photograph ($1.5 million) striking
home at a robust $2.11 million.

Although both photographs convey the opposite in terms of the power relations of
their protagonists to the unseen viewer, each image provides the spectator the
scopic drive to explore the irony-clad manipulations that clearly critique the
hidden psychological tone of the images and the cliché gender roles they
perpetuate. Scopic drive is a term pulled from psychoanalysis that describes
the viewer's desires through looking. Watch a man gaze at an attractive woman
and you cannot help but see where the eyes immediately go for (clue: not the
eyes). The theory goes that in order to function in our lives we suppress
certain desires, fears and fantasies. One cannot act on fantasies like making
love to your best friend's attractive wife or focus too morbidly on the
inevitability of one's own mortality. Pictures (movies/TV) give us an
opportunity to rehearse our fascination for another man's woman or ponder the
enormity of our own uncertain death. Often this happens so quickly that it
takes place below the conscious level and we find ourselves strangely moved but
not knowing why. It is just these kinds of images that are so effective: the
less conscious these images impact us the more powerful they are.

Prince and Sherman create photographic images in high verisimilitude that carry
the weight of a society where the stage-managed modern conditions of production
prevail. Representation here--specifically the attention to the power of
presentation and display--has trumped everything that was ever directly 'lived'.
This is really about meta-communication--meta-communication as a postmodern
strategy that speaks not about the thing displayed as much as about the effects
of the process of looking and its after-effects.

What makes these images so central to the contemporary art process and to the
ever-growing nouveau-rich collector is their total infatuation with the present
model of socially dominant life--today's consumer culture. The questioning of
the myth of photography as a vehicle for finding a 'true image' and the focus on
ideas that critique contemporary culture are guides to the 'new' use of the
medium of photography.

Today's spectator is now more fascinated by the heady images imposed on us by
print ads, 'reality' TV, the hyper-real celebrity magazines and narratives
created by the Hollywood movie machine. All these examples are 'mediated'
experiences where the prize is the optical malleability of the representation
rather than the thing in its 'natural' state. Social relationships now revolve
around the totality of constantly fed images imposed by the "machinery of
America". Politics, money and social/sexual relationships all revolve around
the spectacle of images that constitute the techniques of coercion.

A million artists can utilize an attractive woman or a cowboy in a photograph.
Sherman and Prince do so, however, in a way that emphasizes the politics and
processes of modern advertising and commodity cultures. They allow us to 'see'
the mechanisms of brain-washing techniques utilized by the corporate American
machinery that sets the behavior for millions of Americans and many more
overseas. Our ruling corporate cultures have much more of an impact over the
populations of the world than an army or navy. We are much more successful as
an exporter of desire for goods and services than any form of political mindset.
This is not a conspiracy theory. Just look at the dollars involved in this
process and you will understand what I mean. Prince and Sherman are borrowing
the same techniques and standing them on their heads.

Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman, today's king and queen of the camera, are at
the forefront of the discovery that truth may in fact be only an illusion.


TOP 25 PHOTOGRAPHY LOTS AT THE SPRING 2007 CONTEMPORARY ART SALES
[Christie's, Sotheby's & Phillips de Pury & Co.]:

1) Richard Prince, Untitled (Cowboy), 2001, Ektachrome print, 100 x 66 inches,
ed.: (1/2), lot #71, pre-sale est.: $700,000-$900,000; realized: 5/16/07
[CHRISTIE'S, N.Y., Evening, #1834] $2,840,000. WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE
ARTIST. Previous record $1,248,000 for a photograph, Untitled (Cowboy), 1989,
Christie's N.Y., 8/10/05.

2) Cindy Sherman, Untitled (#92), 1981, color coupler print, 23-1/8 x 47-¼
inches, ed.: (8/10), lot #73, pre-sale est.; $700,000-$1,000,000; realized
5/16/07 [CHRISTIE'S, N.Y., Evening, #1834] $2,112,000. WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR
THE ARTIST, Previous record $665,600, Untitled #209, 1989, Christie's N.Y.,
10/16/06.

3) Hiroshi Sugimoto, Red Sea, Ozulucel; Yellow Sea, Cheju; Red Sea, Safaga,
1991-1992, 3 panels--each 46-5/8 x 58-¼ inches, ed.: (3/5), lot #72, pre-sale
est.: $900,000-$1,200,000; realized 5/16/07 [CHRISTIE'S, N.Y., Evening, #1834]
$1,888,000. WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST. Previous record $1,031,496,
English Channel, Weston Cliff, 1994, Christie's, London, 2/8/07.

4) John Baldessari, Kiss/Panic, 1984, back and white photographs with oil tint,
mounted on board in 11 parts, 80 x 72 inches, unique, lot #7, pre-sale est.:
$350,000-$450,000; realized 5/15/07 [SOTHEBY'S, N.Y., Evening, N08317] $992,000.
WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST IN THE MEDIUM OF PHOTOGRAPHY.

5) Richard Prince, Untitled (Self-Portrait), 1980, Ektacolor print, 24 x 20
inches, ed.: (10/10) + 2 APs, lot #370, pre-sale est.: $150,000-$180,000;
realized: 5/17/07 [CHRISTIE'S, N.Y., Afternoon, #1836] $936,000.

6) John Baldessari, Hands / Horses (To Agree), 1987, three black and white
photographs with acrylic in two parts, overall: 48-¼ x 122-½ inches, unique, lot
#32, pre-sale est.: $400,000-$600,000; realized: 5/17/07 [PHILLIPS de PURY &
CO., N.Y., Part 1, NY010207] $880,000.

7) John Baldessari, Mountain Peak, 1990, diptych--vinyl paint on color coupler
print, 91-¾ x 73 inches, unique, lot #1, pre-sale est.: $300,000-$400,000;
realized 5/16/07 [CHRISTIE'S, N.Y., Evening, #1834] $576,000.

8) John Baldessari, Two Cars (One Red) in Different Environments, 1990, color
photographs with acrylic and vinyl paint, overall: 69 x 87 inches, unique, lot
#358, pre-sale est.: $350,000-$450,000; realized 5/17/07 [CHRISTIE'S, N.Y.,
Afternoon, #1836] $504,000.

3-Way Tie
9) John Baldessari, The Overlap Series: Street Scene and Reclining Person (With
Shoes), 2000, color photograph and digital print, and digital print mounted on
Sintra board with acrylic and felt-tip pen in three parts, overall: 61 x 84
inches, unique, lot #59, pre-sale est.: $150,000-$200,000; realized: 5/17/07
[PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., N.Y., Part 1, NY010207] $384,000.

Gilbert & George, Dusty Corners #7, 1975, four gelatin silver prints in artist's
frames, overall: 48 x 40 inches, unique, lot #352, pre-sale est.:
$200,000-$300,000; realized: 5/17/07 [CHRISTIE'S, N.Y., Afternoon, #1836]
$384,000.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled (#224), 1990, color coupler print in artist's frame, 54
x 44 inches, ed.: (4/6), lot #377, pre-sale est.: $120,000-$180,000; realized:
5/17/07 [CHRISTIE'S, N.Y., Afternoon] #1836] $384,000.

2-WAY TIE
10) John Baldessari, Path (With Ducks [One Red] and Knight), 1990, vinyl paint
on color photographs, in two parts, 59-½ x 80-½ inches, unique, lot #525,
pre-sale est.: $200,000-$300,000; realized: 5/6/07 [SOTHEBY'S, N.Y., Afternoon,
N08318] $348,000.

Matthew Barney, Cremaster 5: her Giant, 1997, color coupler print in acrylic
frame, 52-¾ x 42-5/8 inches, ed.: (1/6) + 2 APs, lot #374, pre-sale est.:
$180,000-$220,000; realized 5/7/07 [CHRISTIE'S, N.Y., Afternoon #1836]
$348,000.

11) Richard Prince, Untitled (Girlfriend), 1993, Ektacolor print, 64-¼ x 44-½
inches, from an edition of two, lot #63, pre-sale est.: $200,000-$300,000;
realized: 5/17/07 [PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., N.Y., Part 1, NY010207] $318,000.

12) Francesco Vezzoli, Crying Divas from the Screenplays of an Embroiderer I,
1999,
black and white laser print on canvas with metallic embroidery (in thirty
parts), overall: 39 x 171-¼", each: 13 x 17-1/8", unique, lot #64, pre-sale
est.: $120,000-$180,000; realized: 5/17/07 [PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., N.Y., Part
1, NY010207] $300,000.

13) Andreas Gursky, Untitled VII, 1998, chromogenic print, 72 x 87 inches, ed.:
(6/6), lot #622, pre-sale est.: $60,000-$80,000; realized: 5/16/07 [SOTHEBY'S,
N.Y., Afternoon, N08318] $276,000.

14) Cindy Sherman, Untitled #76, 1980, Color photograph, 19-7/8 x 24 inches,
ed.: (1/5), lot #605, pre-sale est.: $100,000-$150,000; realized: 5/16/07
[SOTHEBY'S, N.Y., Afternoon, N08318] $252,000.

15) Piotr Uklanski, Untitled (Monsieur Francois Pinault, President du groupe
Artemis), 2003, chromogenic print mounted on foam core, 44 x 57-½ inches, ed.:
(2/5), lot #415, pre-sale est.: $80,000-$120,000; realized 5/16/07 [SOTHEBY'S,
N.Y., Afternoon, N08318] $240,000.

2-WAY TIE
16) Gilbert & George, Shadow Blind, 1997, 12 hand-dyed photographs in artist's
metal frames, each: 25 x 29-¾ inches; overall 75 x 119 inches, unique, lot #35,
pre-sale est.: $200,000-$300,000; realized: 5/17/07 [PHILLIPS de PURY & CO.,
Part 1, NY010207] $228,000.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled (#183A), 1987-1988, color coupler print in artist's
frame, 38 x 23 inches, ed.: (1/6), lot #373, pre-sale est.: $150,000-$200,000;
realized 05.17.07 [CHRISTIE'S, N.Y., Afternoon, #1836] $228,000.

2-WAY TIE
17) Cindy Sherman, Untitled (Film Still #32), 1979, gelatin silver print, 8 x 10
inches, ed.: (7/10), lot #381, pre-sale est.: $80,000-$120,000; realized:
5/17/07 [CHRISTIE'S, N.Y., Afternoon, #1836] $216,000.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled (Film Still #50), 1979, gelatin silver print, 8 x 10
inches, from an edition of 10, lot #270, pre-sale est.: $60,000-$80,000;
realized: 5/18/07 [PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., N.Y., Part 11, NY010307] $216,000.

2-WAY TIE
18) Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Sand), 1994, portfolio of eight
photogravures on Somerset Satin paper, in silk-covered archival box, each
photogravure: 12-½ x 15-½ inches, ed.: (11/12) + 6 APs, lot #492, pre-sale est.:
$60,000-$80,000; realized: 5/16/07 [SOTHEBY'S, N.Y., Afternoon, N08318]
$204,000.

Andreas Gursky, Singapore I, 1997, chromogenic print, 70-7/8 x 88-¾ inches, ed.:
(1/6), lot #623, pre-sale est.: $90,000-$120,000; realized: 5/16/07 [SOTHEBY'S,
N.Y., Afternoon, N08318] $204,000.

19) Hiroshi Sugimoto, Satellite City Towers, 2002, gelatin silver print in
artist's frame, 58-¾ x 47inches, ed.: (3/5), lot #422, pre-sale est.;
$150,000-$200,000; realized 5/16/07 [SOTHEBY'S, N.Y., Afternoon, N08318]
$192,000.

20) Gilbert & George, Thirteen, 2001. 12 hand-dyed gelatin silver prints in
artist frames, each: 33-¼ x 28 inches; overall: 133 x 83-7/8 inches, ed.:
unique, lot #359, pre-sale est.: $150,000-$200,000; realized 5/17/07
[CHRISTIE'S, N.Y., Afternoon, #1836] $180,000.

3-WAY TIE
21) Thomas Demand, Terrasse, 1998, chromogenic color print face-mounted on
Plexiglas, 71-¼ x 105-½ inches, from an edition of 5, lot #500, pre-sale est.:
$100,000-$150,000; realized: 5/17/07 [CHRISTIE'S, N.Y., Afternoon, #1836]
$168,000.

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (You Are Giving Us the Evil Eye), 1984, gelatin silver
print in artist's frame, 48-7/8 x 73-5/8", ed.: unique, lot #606, pre-sale est.:
$60,000-$80,000; realized: 5/16/07 [SOTHEBY'S, N.Y., Afternoon, N08318]
$168,000.

Vik Muniz, The Sugar Children: Valentina, the Fastest; Jacynthe, Loves Orange
Juice; Lil' Calist Can't Swim; Valicia Bathes in Sunday Clothes; Big James
Sweats Buckets; Ten-Ten's Weed Necklace, 1996, gelatin silver prints, in six
parts, each: 14 x 11 inches, ed.: (6/10) + 5 APs, lot #432, pre-sale est.:
$100,000-$150,000; realized: 5/16/07 [SOTHEBY'S, N.Y., Afternoon, N08318]
$168,000.

22) Barbara Kruger, Untitled, 1985, color photograph mounted on board in artist
frame, 46-½ x 48 inches, unique, lot #278, pre-sale est.: $40,000-$60,000;
realized: 5/18/07 [PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., Part 11, NY010307] $162,000.

6-WAY TIE
23) Matthew Barney, Cremaster 5: Bocass el, 1997, four color coupler prints in
acrylic artist frames, each: 38-1/8 x 27-¼ inches, lot #378, pre-sale est.:
$120,000-$180,000; realized: 5/17/07 [CHRISTIE'S, N.Y., Afternoon, #1836]
$156,000.

Thomas Demand, Abgang (Exit), 2000, chromogenic print with Diasec mount, 61-½ x
98-½", from an edition of five, lot #260, pre-sale est.: $80,000-$120,000;
realized: 5/18/07 [PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., Part 11, NY010307], $156,000.

Gilbert & George, Carry, 1992, nine hand-dyed gelatin silver prints in artist's
frames, each: 33-3/8 x 28 inches, overall: 100 x 84 inches, unique, lot #308,
pre-sale est.; $150,000-$200,000; realized 5/17/07 [CHRISTIE'S, N.Y., Afternoon,
#1836] $156,000.

Vik Muniz, Marilyn Monroe (Pictures of Diamond), 2004, chromogenic print mounted
on Sintra, 57-5/8 x 48 inches, ed.: (9/10), lot #508, pre-sale est.:
$50,000-$70,000; realized: 5/17/07 [CHRISTIE'S, N.Y., Afternoon, #1836]
$156,000.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled (Film Still #50), 1979, gelatin silver print, 33 x 41
inches, ed.: (2/3), lot #380, pre-sale est.: $120,000-$180,000; realized 5/17/07
[CHRISTIE'S, N.Y., Afternoon, #1836] $156,000.

Thomas Struth, Uffizi I Florence, 1989, color coupler print face mounted on
Plexiglas, wooden frame, 71-½ x 85 inches, ed.: (7/10), lot #502, pre-sale est.:
$80,000-$120,000; realized: 5/17/07 [CHRISTIE'S, N.Y., Afternoon, 1836]
$156,000.

4-WAY TIE
24) Gilbert & George, Four Haunts, 2003, nine hand-dyed photographs in artist
metal frames, 27-7/8 x 33-¼ inches each; 83-¾ x 99-7/8 inches overall, unique,
lot #287, pre-sale est.: $100,000-$150,000; realized: 5/18/07 [PHILLIPS de PURY
& CO., N.Y., Part 11, NY010307] $144,000.

Thomas Ruff, 15h 52m/-45 degrees, 1990, chromogenic color print face mounted on
Plexiglas, artist wood frame, 102-3/8 x 74 inches, ed.: (1/2) + 1 AP, lot #516,
pre-sale est.: $60,000-$80,000; realized: 5/17/07 [CHRISTIE'S, N.Y., Afternoon,
#1836] $144,000.

Thomas Ruff, Substrat 15 11, 2003, chromogenic-print with Diasec mount in artist
wooden frame, 51-¼ x 71-¾ inches, from an edition of 5, lot #285, pre-sale est.:
$60,000-$80,000; realized: 5/18/07 [PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., N.Y., Part 11,
NY010307] $144,000.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled (#187), 1989, color coupler print, 71 x 46-½ inches,
from an edition of 6, lot #385, pre-sale est.: $120,000-$180,000; realized:
5/17/07 [CHRISTIE'S, N.Y., Afternoon, #1836] $144,000.

2-WAY TIE
25) Bae Bien-U, Pine Tree, 1986, Cibachrome print with a Diasec mount, 63 x 78
inches, ed.: (2/5), lot #617, pre-sale est.: $35,000-$45,000, realized: 5/16/07,
[SOTHEBY'S, N.Y., Afternoon, N08318] $132,000.

Gilbert & George, Spink on Us, 1996, four hand-dyed gelatin silver prints in
artist frames, each: 25 x 29-¾ inches, overall: 50 x 59-½ inches, unique, lot
#366, pre-sale est.; $80,000-$120,000; realized 5/17/07 [CHRISTIE'S, N.Y.,
Afternoon, #1836] $132,000.

TOP PERFORMERS AT CHRISTIE'S
Lots sold: 54
Total: $13,639,200
Average per lot: $252,578
1) Richard Prince $3,776,000
2) Cindy Sherman $3,240,000
3) Hiroshi Sugimoto $2,383,600
4) John Baldessari $1,080,000
5) Gilbert + George $ 852,000

TOP PERFORMERS AT SOTHEBY'S
Lots sold: 35
Total: $4,215,200
Average per lot: $120,434
1) John Baldessari $1,340,000
2) Andreas Gorky $ 480,000
3) Cindy Sherman $ 459,600
4) Hiroshi Sugimoto $ 372,000
5) Richard Prince $ 60,000

TOP PERFORMERS AT PHILLIP'S
Lots sold: 97
Total: $5,750,440
Average per lot: $59,283
1) John Baldessari $1,264,000
2) Richard Prince $ 504,000
3) Gilbert + George $ 372,000
4) Hiroshi Sugimoto $ 330,000
5) Cindy Sherman $ 291,000

TOP OVERALL ARTISTS
1) Richard Prince $4,340,000
2) Cindy Sherman $3,990,600
3) John Baldessari $3,684,000
4) Hiroshi Sugimoto $3,085,600
5) Gilbert + George $1,224,000

GROSS OVERALL SALES FOR PHOTOGRAPHY AT THE SPRING
NYC CONTEMPORARY ART SALES
$23,604,840 (186 lots)

PER PHOTOGRAPHY LOT OVERALL AVERAGE

$126,908


(Brian Appel is a contributing writer for both iphotocentral.com and
artcritical.com, focusing on photography and contemporary art. He has a
Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from the University of Manitoba's School of
Art and a Masters of Arts (Photography and Film Studies) from the University of
Iowa. He has been intrigued by the concept of photographer as witness since
walking into the first posthumous New York Museum of Modern Art exhibition of
Diane Arbus in 1972. He has written several articles for the E-Photo Newsletter
and the I Photo Central website on contemporary art photography. His extensive
interview with Richard Prince will be published this fall on rovetv.com, which
will be a new website.)