Published: July 2, 2019
Review and Onsite Photos by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries
NEW YORK CITY – Swann Auction Galleries’ inaugural Pride Sale of books, manuscripts, photographs, ephemera and artwork related to the history of the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement took place on Thursday, June 20. Originating with a core private collection of approximately 75 lots of books, manuscripts and art, the sale evolved, over the course of about 12 months and a call to consign in the fall that generated enough material Swann could be selective, into approximately 275 lots. The sale realized a total of $942,943, squarely within the aggregate low and high estimates of $864,810 / 1,286,290 and with 73 percent of lots selling.
A crowd of approximately 50 people were in the saleroom when Nicholas Lowry, Swann Galleries president and the presiding auctioneer, began the sale, and many stayed for the duration after a brief break halfway through. After the sale, Lowry, said, “Swann’s inaugural Pride Sale was an unqualified success. It is validating as a specialist to discover that you can still be pleasantly surprised at an auction. The catalog was extremely well-received, the exhibition was well-attended and the auction itself was busy and the bidding was active. Works from every single one of our areas of specialty hit record prices: photographs, posters, books, works on paper, illustrations and Americana all achieved prices that helped us to decide to turn this auction into a yearly event. The sale was a historic, artistic and cultural exploration for the whole company. We were proud to be able to do it and delighted it turned out so well.”
When asked how the sale differed from the other auctions scheduled to coincide, like Swann Galleries had, with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a representative for Swann said the depth of the ephemera and literature across the offerings was not seen in other sales. Early books, manuscripts and artwork kicked off the sale, beginning chronologically with a 1764 letter signed by Frederick II, King of Prussia. An early highlight was a presentation copy of Walt Whitman’s Memoranda During the War, notable for the inscription from Whitman to Peter Doyle, one of Whitman’s most significant lovers. Estimated at $50/75,000, Lowry had considerable absentee bid interest and opened the lot at $54,000, with a phone bidder winning it for $70,000 and setting a record for the work. It was one of four works by Whitman in the sale, all but one selling. Five works by Oscar Wilde were in the sale, but three works went unsold, including two of the higher valued lots.
The sale featured four works by Paul Cadmus (1904-1999), the highlight of which was a preliminary pen and ink on cream wove paper sketch he did for “Horseplay,” the etching of which was also in the sale. Interest in the sketch, estimated at $10/15,000, warranted bidding to open at $10,000, and bids came in from the phones and online, with applause erupting in the saleroom when Lowry brought the gavel down and sold it to a trade bidder on the phone for $47,500.
The catalog notes for a silver print photograph by Peter Hujar (1934-1987) titled “Come Out!,” cite a reference in The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide in which it was called “the most iconic photograph of Gay Liberation.” Estimated at $4/6,000, it opened at $2,000 but quickly escalated between two bidders in the room, one finally prevailing at $10,000. The following lot was an offset lithograph poster printed in 1970 that co-opted Hujar’s photograph. The catalog entry for the lot also mentioned that the auction house could find no other copies of the poster at auction and it had been estimated at $400-600. The sellers of the lot were present in the back of the saleroom and were ecstatic when it received attention in the room and on the phone, finally selling to a phone bidder for $6,750.
Hujar proved to be the man of the hour, when his 1985 photograph “David Wojnarowicz: Manhattan-Night (III)” brought the auction’s top price: $106,250 against an estimate of $15/25,000. The work set a new record for the artist and warranted the applause that followed the fall of Lowry’s gavel.
Robert Mapplethorpe is an artist whose graphic and often provocative photographs have long been perennial market favorites, so it was not surprising that three of the top ten prices realized in the sale were for his works, with the rest of the works selling within estimate. Topping the Mapplethorpe offerings was a rare complete 13-image edition of his “Z Portfolio,” which realized $47,500 from a trade buyer. It was followed by “Jim and Tom in Sausalito” for $25,000 from a trade buyer ($10/15,000) and a group of four silver prints from his “X Portfolio” that a private collector bought for $21,250 ($6/9,000).
Andy Warhol and Keith Haring were also well-represented in the sale, though both had uneven results. Warhol’s pencil drawing “Querelle” achieved $39,000 from a private collector bidding online, while a silver print, also titled “Querelle,” and estimated at $2,5/3,500, went unsold. Of the four Keith Haring lots, the two higher valued lots failed to sell while the two lesser valued works sold.
Swann Galleries has long had a strong reputation with posters, and it came as no surprise that most of the posters in the sale did very well. Among the leaders of the offerings were two posters from the Silence=Death Collective, both estimated $800-1,200, one depicting a pink triangle on a black ground that finished at $6,750, the other with Ronald Reagan’s face titled “Aidsgate” that closed at $7,250.
When asked what lots had received some of the most interest, a representative for Swann Galleries pointed out a double-sided flyer that had what may have had the lowest estimate in the sale: $80-120. The flyer outlined the Bandana or Hanky Code, the means by which gay men advertised their various fetish preferences. Bidding on the lot opened at $175 and closed to an online bidder for $780.
There were some disappointing moments in the sale, though for the most part these were relatively few and far between. The cover lot – Allen Ginsberg and Hank O’Neal’s “Gay Day Archive,” which featured 120 photographs of gay pride parades in New York City from 1974-83 – had carried the highest estimate in the sale ($70/100,000) and failed to find a buyer. This was not the only archive in the sale – another lot featured more than 100 items of personal papers, photographs and various effects of Candy Darling, a transgender icon and star of Andy Warhol’s 1968 film, Flesh, which Swann had estimated at $20/30,000. A private collector bidding online bought it for $19,500.
All prices cited include buyer’s premium. Swann Auction Galleries is at 104 East 25th Street. For information, 212-254-4710 or www.swanngalleries.com.
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