William Eggleston turned out to be a bigger hit on the auction block than expected Monday. A sale of 36 photos by the famed Memphis photographer at Christie’s in New York netted $5.9 million, far surpassing the $2.7 million estimate.
A version of Eggleston’s “Memphis (Tricycle)” earned the day’s top dollar, selling for $578,500; it had been given a pre-auction estimate of $350,000. Another of his iconic photos, “Peaches” topped out at $422,500, while “Red Ceiling” sold for $386,500. The previous record sale for any Eggleston work was $275,000 for a version of the “Memphis (Tricycle).”
“Honestly, we didn’t know what the auction would do,” said Eggleston’s son Winston, who helps run the Eggleston Artistic Trust and was at Christie’s with his father. “There were a lot of strange surprises. But it was great to get a new record for one of Dad’s pieces.”
Benefiting the trust, the rare public sale of Eggleston’s work marked the first time his photos have been sold in an oversize format. Combining some of the 72-year-old photographer’s most famed works, along with selection of lesser-known images, each was produced in 60-by-44 inch size and utilized a new color printing process allowing for high quality reproductions
The large format seemed to catch the eye of collectors; even recently unearthed images — like the photo of a Cadillac convertible that served as the auction catalog’s cover — did strong business, selling for $362,500, far beyond the $50,000-$70,00 pre-auction estimate.
“We were surprised about that,” said Winston. “But I think this (format) was just a different way of looking at dad’s pictures and it resonated.”
The sale seemed to confirm the state of Eggleston’s growing reputation in the art world over the past few years, a period that began with the debut of a career spanning exhibit “Democratic Camera” at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 2008.
An effort was launched last year in Memphis to build an Eggleston museum. The $15 million facility would house the offices of the Eggleston photo archives and a collection of public galleries featuring his work as well as those of other contemporary artists.
As for William Eggleston, he watched the auction at Christie's in a side room on a closed circuit television.
“He was sitting there holding a copy of the catalog,” said his son, “and he was smiling the whole time.”
— Bob Mehr: 529-2517