Photographs

Specialists Picks from Sotheby's Photographs Auction – Now Online

New York

NOW ONLINE: Due to concerns for COVID-19, Sotheby's spring Photographs auction will now be held online, open through 3 April.

A s the world rapidly recalibrates in response to the spread of COVID-19, many of us (Sotheby’s specialists included) are working from home. Art can offer space for contemplation, communication and inspiration, which we all need in large doses during this historic moment. Gathered here are highlights of Sotheby’s upcoming Photographs sale in New York, which has moved from a live auction to an online sale ending on 3 April. Sotheby’s specialists have chosen their favorite images, which include László Moholy-Nagy’s unique 1922 photogram, iconic images by Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams, and lesser known gems by Tseng Kwong Chi and Sonya Noskowiak. A stellar selection of contemporary works by Cindy Sherman, Thomas Struth and Shirin Neshat, among many others, rounds out this sale. In the comfort of your own home, scroll ahead to discover all of their choices.

Dorothea Lange

Six Tenant Farmers Without Farms, Goodlet, Hardeman County, Texas, 1937
Estimate $40,000 – 60,000

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"Six Tenant Farmers Without Farms exemplifies the best of Lange’s Depression-era photographs taken in the deep South over the course of five years while she was working for the Resettlement Administration and the subsequent Farm Security Administration. The dignity of her subjects – young farmers who had lost their livelihood when tractors replaced horse-and-plow tilling of the land – is immortalized in this compassionate yet unsentimental portrait. When this image was published in Lange’s landmark volume, entitled An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion (1939), the caption explained: ‘ALL DISPLACED TENANT FARMERS. THE OLDEST 33. All native Americans, none able to vote because of the Texas poll tax. All on WPA. They support an average of four persons each on $22.80 a month.’"
Emily Bierman, Head of Department

Tseng Kwong Chi

Disneyland, California, 1979
Estimate $15,000 – 25,000

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"Tseng Kwong Chi was born in Hong Kong to exiled Chinese Nationalists, who settled in Canada when he was 16. He became a pivotal figure in the 1980s art scene of New York's East Village. Disneyland, California comes from his renowned series East Meets West, in which he made self-portraits dressed in his ‘Mao’ suit and wearing sunglasses as he posed in front of instantly recognizable tourist attractions. Lifetime prints are exceedingly rare. This photograph, acquired directly from the photographer, has remained in the same private collection since the early 1980s."
Emily Bierman, Head of Department

László Moholy-Nagy

‘Uschlag fur die Zeitschrift “Broom”’ (photogram ‘Cover for the Magazine “Broom”’), 1922
Estimate $400,000 – 600,000

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"The renowned multidisciplinary artist László Moholy-Nagy was a true master of the photogram – the cameraless photography process by which an object is placed directly on photographic paper and exposed to light. This early photogram is nothing short of exceptional. It was conceived of by Moholy-Nagy nearly a century ago as a possible cover design for the March 1923 issue of Broom: An International Magazine of the Arts, which was an integral part of the little-magazine movement in the early 20th century. By virtue of how they are created, photograms are unique. It is extremely rare to find such an important early Moholy-Nagy photogram still in private hands and this work is all the more special, having remained with the artist’s descendants these many years."
Emily Bierman, Head of Department

Ansel Adams

‘Boards and Thistles’, 1932
Estimate $30,000 – 50,000

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"Ansel Adams considered Boards and Thistles to be one of his most significant photographs: this detailed image of a weathered fence in San Francisco summarized his modernist vision, and was a key work included in his early exhibitions. In 1976, he reminisced: ‘When I look now at the negative of Boards and Thistles, made over forty years ago, the wonder and excitement of the creative event are sharply revived. The image represents the threshold of my experience in the clear, straight vision of photography; the essence of the f64 approach’ (The Portfolios of Ansel Adams, p. 108). This rare, early print is being sold from a private New York collection to benefit The Asia Foundation, a non-governmental organization devoted to promoting a peaceful, just, and thriving Asia."
–Kelly Sidley, Associate Specialist & Senior Researcher

Aaron Siskind

Selected Images from Chicago, 1948-60
Estimate $15,000 - 25,000

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and

Aaron Siskind

Selected Images from Harlem Document, 1937-40, each printed 1981
Estimate $6,000 – 9,000

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"Aaron Siskind is best known for his photographs of architectural features or natural forms composed so that these once-familiar objects appear totally abstract and unrecognizable. In the 1950s, Siskind knew many Abstract Expressionist artists, and his photographs resemble the lyrical, abstract brushwork found in their canvases. The photographs offered in lots 128 and 129 come from the collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and are sold to support the Siskind Prize, an annual grant for artists working in photography and photo-based art."
–Aimee Pflieger, Head of Sale

Cindy Sherman

Untitled Film Still #81, 1980
Estimate $200,000 – 300,000

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"This large-format photograph comes from Cindy Sherman’s ground-breaking series Untitled Film Stills (1977-80), her most celebrated body of work that solidified her artistic practice of using her own body as the central figure in each image. Sherman has noted, ‘Some of the photographs are meant to be a solitary woman and some are meant to allude to another person outside the frame.’ #81 provocatively seesaws between these two scenarios. Is the raven-haired woman in a lacy slip observing herself in the vanity mirror, or is someone watching this coquettish performance from the room beyond? Unlike the 8-by-10-inch Untitled Film Stills, printed in editions of 10, the large-format version only exists in an edition of 3."
–Kelly Sidley, Associate Specialist & Senior Researcher

Anton Giulio and Arturo Bragaglia

Un Gesto del Capo (A Gesture of the Head), 1911
Estimate $50,000 – 70,000

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"Brothers Anton Guilio and Arturo Bragaglia were innovators of Futurist photography who utilized a special technique they developed for capturing movement in a single photographic frame. The duo lit their subjects with numerous bright lamps in order to record the trajectory of a movement as a ghostly, luminous trail. The Bragaglias’ early photodynamic experiments from the 1910s are exceptionally rare and seldom appear at auction. The other known print of Un Gesto del Capo is in the Gilman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York."
–Aimee Pflieger, Head of Sale

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Sonya Noskowiak

‘White Radish’, 1933
Estimate $10,000 – 15,000

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"Along with Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham, Sonya Noskowiak was a member of Group f/64. Her sharp, clear depictions of both natural and manmade objects – here, a soulful little radish with sturdy, gnarled roots – reveals the influence of Weston, with whom she lived and worked from 1929 to 1935."
–Kelly Sidley, Associate Specialist & Senior Researcher

Shirin Neshat

‘Munis and Revolutionary Man’ (from Women without Men), 2008
Estimate $40,000 – 60,000

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"Shirin Neshat, whose work is the focus of a current travelling retrospective exhibition, released her first feature-length film, Women Without Men, in 2009. This majestic, mural-sized photograph presents a climactic moment from the narrative, which is based on a magical realist novel by Iranian author Shahrnush Parsipur. Munis, an Iranian woman intent on working for social justice in 1950s Tehran, leaps to her death, where she is joined with a revolutionary who was killed shortly before her own demise. Neshat’s distinctive hand-applied calligraphy covers the photograph, seamlessly weaving word and image together."
–Kelly Sidley, Associate Specialist & Senior Researcher

August Sander

Coellen aus Rand und Bank em Jahr 1929 (Cologne Goes Wild in the Year 1929), 1929
Estimate $5,000 – 7,000

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"With its outrageous masquerades, parades, and feasting, Cologne’s Mardi Gras celebrations of the 1920s were among the most famous carnivals in Germany. The three-day celebration was a period of intense creativity and commercial opportunity for August Sander. In this photomontage, Sander collaged a veritable who’s-who of illustrious partygoers, even incorporating his own silhouette with camera in the upper right portion of the image."
–Emily Bierman, Head of Department

Gustave Le Gray

‘La Vague brisée, Mer Méditeranée’ (The Breaking Wave), 1957
Estimate $150,000 – 250,000

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"One of Le Gray’s most celebrated works, The Breaking Wave is unique in that it is his only vertical seascape composition. When these works were first exhibited in 1856-57, their large format and high level of detail garnered widespread attention and critical acclaim. Made near the port of Sète, France, this stunning seascape captures the craggy rocks and frothy water in the foreground, as well as the pier and sailboat at the center of the image."
–Kelly Sidley, Associate Specialist & Senior Researcher

Thomas Struth

‘Via Alessandro Specci [sic], Rome’, 1984
Estimate $8,000 – 12,000

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"Thomas Struth’s photograph of Via Alessandro Specchi has taken on new meaning over the past few weeks as Italy struggles to contain the spread of the coronavirus and people around the globe rapidly retreat from civic life. Taken in 1984, this view of a narrow street in the heart of Rome is entirely without human presence. Struth typically took these urban landscapes early in the morning in order to capture the architecture without people. More than 35 years after this photograph was made, this image feels eerily accurate."
–Kelly Sidley, Associate Specialist & Senior Researcher

Vik Muniz

Rosie the Riveter (from Pictures of Diamonds), 2004
Estimate $20,000 – 30,000

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"In 1942 the song ‘Rosie the Riveter’ became a national hit, and two years later a film with the same title was released in the United States. During World War II Rosie represented the millions of women who went to work to support wartime production needs while many American men were fighting overseas. Appearing on posters and promotional materials, Rosie ultimately became a symbol of female empowerment and feminist can-do attitude. Her message to work together for the greater good feels apt at this historic moment."
–Kelly Sidley, Associate Specialist & Senior Researcher

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