Skip to main content

At Sotheby's for the Auction of the Polaroid Collection

At Sotheby's. Photo by WOTBA.
Over the past several days, visitors have been filing into Sotheby's New York on York Avenue and 72nd Street to look over the collection of stunning photographs of the former Polaroid Company, over a thousand images from the likes of Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, William Wegman, Chuck Close, Andy Warhol, Robert Frank, David Hockney, and others, artworks forced into auction by a bankruptcy judge in Minnesota so the company could pay its creditors. Visiting the works on display provided a rare chance to see some of the finest photographic work of the twentieth century and often at a rare scale, with the knowledge that as soon as the final auction gavel comes down later today, these works will likely be dispersed to far-flung locales. Many will disappear into private hands, and we may never see them again.

The sale at Sotheby's, an unusual bankruptcy proceeding for the auction house, has not been without controversy. Several artists and photo historians have expressed alarm over the breaking up of such a formidable collection, and efforts by several museums to acquire the collection broke down in negotiations. Second, and related, several artists who had participated in the company's Artist Support Program, one in which they received film, equipment, and technical support from the company over the years, have stated that they understood that the collection would remain together and stay accessible. (See A. D. Coleman's blog, Photocritic International, for details and updates on these matters. Coleman has been a leading critic.) In this video from The Deal Magazine, Sotheby's Denise Bethel, Head of Photographs, and Christopher Mahoney, Senior Specialist in the Photographs department, explain the circumstances of the auction and share their thoughts about the sale.

Lot 51
Andy Warhol
Farrah Fawcett    
Unique Polacolor Type 108 print
Est. $5/7,000
Sotheby’s New York
Photographs from The Polaroid Collection
June 21-22, 2010
Courtesy: Sotheby's New York.
Now underway at Sotheby's, with one session yesterday and three today, the Polaroid auction nearly achieved its estimated value on the first day. A rare work by Ansel Adams, "Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park," one of several monumental mural-sized prints by the photographer at the auction, sold for $722,000, much higher than the expected $500,000. Adams, a friend of Polaroid founder Edwin Land, helped develop the non-Polaroids for the company's Library Collection, buying works by Edward Weston, Dorothea Lange, Harry Callahan, and others. Also at auction are several works by Andy Warhol, a famous user of Polaroid cameras. According to Art Daily's story on the first session, the auction record for an Warhol photograph was broken twice, with the sale of the funny large close-up, "Self-portrait (Grimace)" and then "Self-Portrait (Eyes Closed)." According to same report, the latter Warhol served as the object of a fierce bidding war, with several bidders pushing up the final price to $254,500, considerably higher than Sotheby's high-end estimate of $15,000. So, in terms of money, these works are highly valued and will surely boost the market for the represented photographers.

While walking around six floors of Sotheby's in advance of the auction, I certainly placed my own value on many of the photographs, though not in monetary terms. The large murals by Ansel Adams, images I could acquire in much cheaper poster editions but with the loss of considerable quality and aura, knocked me over with their insight into the preternatural beauty of the American West. It’s all about the sensitivity of light, tones, the Zone, fused with visions of sky, water, trees, rocks, and mountains. For a time, I was no longer on the Upper East Side of Manhattan but in a valley looking at the moonrise in New Mexico or dipping my toes in a clear stream in Yosemite. At another moment, as a dog person and a William Wegman fan, I had the treat of seeing more fetching (sorry) Wegman Weimeraners than I had ever seen assembled in my life. In 1978 Polaroid invited Wegman to try out their 20-by-24 inch camera, an instant camera but at a new unprecedented scale. His subsequent work made him and his canine companion Man Ray photo rock stars.

Lot 411
Ansel Adams
Half Dome, Merced River
Mural sized
Est. $30/50,000
Sotheby’s New York
Photographs from The Polaroid Collection
June 21-22, 2010
Courtesy: Sotheby's New York.
Lot 47
William Wegman
‘Game Preserve’
Unique large-format Polaroid Polacolor print
Est. $4/6,000
Sotheby’s New York
Photographs from The Polaroid Collection
June 21-22, 2010
Courtesy: Sotheby's New York.
Polaroid's ability to rock and roll appealed to me personally as a young shutterbug. Half way through viewing the collection, I had one of those Proustian flashback moments when my eyes set upon a display of cameras, including the fabulously groovy object known as the Polaroid Swinger, the company's popular camera marketed in the late 1960s. In an instant, so to speak, I remembered the abrupt and startling sound of the machine as it dispensed its print and the smell of the film as the image appeared.

After the first Swinger, I would go through several more Polaroid cameras. A quick survey of my own personal archive turned up dozens of Polaroid prints, still in fairly good condition, with images of my family, friends and pets. As I write this, I'm looking at four instant snapshots of one of my dogs, the one that passed away last year. He was a puppy then, and he looked so cute. MY Polaroid collection is precious and irreplaceable. It’s no joke that it’s recommended in the case of an emergency to stash your book of photographs where you can find it as you flee the door.

Walking Notes: I recommend a visit to Sotheby's New York (1334 York Avenue), especially to see exhibitions of works in the days preceding a particular auction. Catalogues are for sale in a section of the lobby. Sotheby’s Terrace Café, offering light fare and lovely views, is on the 10th floor. The next large events at Sotheby’s New York will come in late September 2010 with high profile sales of Contemporary artworks and American Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture. The sale of the Polaroid Collection was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Images: Many thanks to Sotheby's New York for auction images.

Let's get the jingle for the Polaroid Swinger stuck in our heads all day, shall we? Yes, that's Ali McGraw. This is a camera that says "YES."



"It's more than a camera. It's almost alive."

UPDATE with auction results  06/23/2010: Lot 51 (Farrah Fawcett by Andy Warhol) sold for $43,750; Lot 47 (Wegman) sold for $15,000.





Popular posts from this blog

The Company of Nature: Walking With Butterflies in Fort Tryon Park

If wandering the empty urban canyons feels a little lonely and depressing, a better idea would be to head to the nearest park. This past Saturday, a day that was sunny but not too hot, Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan turned out to be the perfect place to not only satisfy wanderlust but to rediscover the company of nature. Butterflies were there. Hundreds of butterflies - Tiger Swallowtails, Monarch Butterflies, Black Swallowtails, Cabbage White Butterflies, and Silver Spotted Skippers, among them. Moths, too, although I have not yet learned their names.  The Heather Garden is situated just beyond the entrance to Fort Tryon Park. With seasonal plantings, the garden is always a serene spot.  Observing butterflies involves watching their interaction with blooming flowers and shrubs. The Tiger Swallowtails are easy to find and found here in significant numbers. Just look for the Butterfly Bushes. The Cabbage White Butterflies are here in abundance, too, though not as showy as the swallow…

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers.

Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.  

Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been frequently occupied, as in Occupied, with crowds protesting police violence. This week, NYPD officers in riot gear remove…

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Update: As of March 12, 2020, many New York arts institutions have temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 public health crisis. Please see this post for announcements of reopenings.

Several museums in New York City are open on Mondays, including MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney.

This list has been expanded to include free or pay-what-you-wish hours.


American Museum of Natural History Central Park West and 79th Street
See the post, Big Things to See at the American Museum of Natural History.
Cooper Hewitt
2 East 91st St.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1071 Fifth Ave

Jewish Museum 1109 Fifth Ave

Metropolitan Museum of Art 100 Fifth Avenue
See the post 25 Things To Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Met Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park is also open 7 days a week from March - October.

Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Avenue

MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art), 11 West 53 Street: * Also, consult the post 25 Things To Do Near the Museum of Modern…

The City Turned Inside Out: A Walk from Battery Park to Fulton Street

While the cast of HAMILTON sings “The World Turned Upside Down,” New Yorkers could easily hum along to “The City Turned Inside Out” this summer. (not a real song) Where once a city’s important work took place indoors - within the soaring office buildings, famous restaurants, legendary museums, and storied performance halls, the COVID-19 epidemic has literally turned the residents outdoors. 

At least it’s summer in the city, when spending time outdoors is common and pleasant enough. Still, the city remains strange this summer of 2020. 

With the absence of tourists, and with office workers connecting virtually from home, many of the city’s main attractions aren’t attracting many visitors. A walk from the Battery to Fulton Street on a pleasant Thursday afternoon bore this out. 

It’s uplifting to at least find plants that are alive and happy. Thanks to the city’s gardeners and landscapers, the city parks are looking particularly lush and splendid this summer. The grounds of Battery Park feel…

A Weekend Walk on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Imagine strolling from town to town near the eastern shores of the Hudson River, walking a well-trodden path lined with trees and stately architecture and with easy access to cafes, local shops, and train stations for an easy ride home. Imagine a weekend when the sun is bright and the sun is warm, and many other people - but not too many - are out enjoying the same weather and the same stroll. Such were the pleasures on a recent Sunday, in the latter part of this unseasonal winter, along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail not too far north from New York City.


The Old Croton Aqueduct, the system that once delivered fresh water from the Croton River to New York City, was a huge and complex marvel of engineering. The trail sits on top of the aqueduct system. This post describes a walk along just a section of the trail, the one that begins at the Keeper’s House in Dobbs Ferry and ends in Irvington.


First, catch a Metro-North Hudson line train to Dobbs Ferry, a village in southern Westchester C…

NYC Re-openings and Travel Advice

As the pandemic crisis improves in New York State, several NYC attractions are scheduling their re-openings. What will open, and how will you get there? This list will be updated following official announcements.
UPDATED August 7, 2020. With the state of New York currently ahead of the class in the pandemic outbreak across the US, many favorite local destinations have started to reopen. The rollout is designed to be gradual, with geographic regions advancing according to a fixed set of metrics. 
New York City, the hardest hit area in the first months of the crisis, entered Phase 4 on Monday, July 20. The local exception: indoors of malls, restaurants, and cultural institutions.

Openings     
Phase 4 began in NYC on July 20. Stay outside! (Forward.ny.gov) NO indoor dining!
• Restaurants: Consult this NYC Department of Transportation map (updated link) for restaurants currently open in NYC. 
• Outdoor dining has been extended through October 31. 
• On July 1, city beaches opened for swimming.
•…

Starstruck at MoMA

(Update July 31, 2020. Please note: After reopening in 2019, MoMA is currently closed as a result of the pandemic. MoMA has not announced its reopening.) 
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Midtown Manhattan is undergoing a significant renovation and expansion that will increase gallery space by thirty percent upon completion in 2019. In the midst of renovation and following a long hot summer, the museum may currently look a little rough around the edges and even disorienting for longtime patrons. For starters, you’ll need to enter the museum on W. 54th Street instead of W. 53rd Street while the work is taking place, and the museum store is now currently on the second floor next to the coffee bar which has also moved.


This state of affairs didn’t stop visitors on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend from making a pilgrimage to the museum to gaze at treasures of modern art. In an age of quickly disposable digital imagery, the original and cherished works still exude their aura. Ironically,…

Delacroix’s Cats

Following its record-breaking debut at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the blockbuster Delacroix exhibit has opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. While not all of the works could travel, as some are intrinsic to the Louvre, the big cats made the trip to the city. For the Delacroix exhibit poster, the Met has selected Young Tiger Playing with Its Mother, the artist’s great and surprising painting from 1830, as the signature and defining work of the exhibition.


Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798–1863), known as the leading Romantic painter of his era, loved cats. His many notebooks show preparatory sketches of lions, tigers, and several charming domestic cats. The big cats, for the most part, made it into big paintings. At 52 x 76.6 in. (130 x 195 cm), Young Tiger Playing with Its Mother, 1830, is astonishingly large for an animal painting of his time, a size normally devoted to a history painting. His most famous work, La Liberté guidant le peuple, dates from the same year.�…

From Manhattan to the Bronx: A Walk Over the Henry Hudson Bridge to Henry Hudson Park

At the tiptop of Manhattan Island, Inwood Hill Park offers picturesque views of the Hudson River. For one of the best views, follow the marker at Shorakkopoch Rock (see map at the end of the post), the legendary place where Peter Minuit was said to have bought the island for 60 guilders, and follow the ridge up the slope. The path leads gently higher and higher, with views of the Salt Marsh down below and then the underside of the Henry Hudson Bridge above. This spot along the ridge is well known among birders, as the height and the proximity to the Hudson River allow access to treetops and places where birds like to go. 

Keep going around the bend and past the bridge. A few spots of open pavement at the edge of the hill provide good views of the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge, a swing bridge that carries train traffic to and from Penn Station. The bridge was recently upgraded. On the opposite shore of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, you’ll likely see Metro-North trains coming round the bend, either he…

The Most Beautiful Bridge in the World

Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier (1887 - 1965), the leading proponent of the International Style of modern architecture, visited NYC on several occasions in the 1930s and 1940s, and he made much to say about the skyscraper city. He didn’t think much of the faux tops of the tall buildings nor did he care about the haphazard city planning, but he did fall madly in love with one particular bridge: 
"The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. Made of cables and steel beams, it gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seat of grace in the disordered city. It is painted an aluminum color and, between water and sky, you see nothing but the bent cord supported by two steel towers. When your car moves up the ramp the two towers rise so high that it brings you happiness; their structure is so pure, so resolute, so regular that here, finally, steel architecture seems to laugh. The car reaches an unexpectedly wide apro…