Are These Ansel Adams Photos up for Auction at Sotheby’s Criminally Undervalued?

Some of Ansel Adams’ most famous works will go up for auction at Sotheby’s in December. The labeled prices seem shockingly low for someone with Adams’ reputation. Is this a reflection of where photographers sit in the art world?

When you hear the name of Sotheby’s, you think of high-priced auctions and the rich and wealthy throwing wads of cash at items that the economically elite of this world like to dabble in, and the kind that you and I will most likely never get our hands on. For an item to go up for auction at Sotheby’s, we imagine that it must be something pretty rare and special. From December 14, Sotheby’s, New York, will be holding an auction for some of Ansel Adams’ most famous works. If you don’t know who Adams is, he’s about as famous as they come in the photography world for his black and white landscape works in the National Parks of the U.S. The works are being put up for sale by the longtime collector and oil company CEO, David H. Arrington, and represent one of the most significant and impressive private collections of Adams’ work in the world.

However, when I saw the expected prices of some of the works listed, I was rather surprised. For example, an early print of “Moonrise,” “Hernandez,” and “New Mexico” are expected to get between $700,000 and $1,000,000. Sure, that’s a pretty impressive price for a printed work, but when you think that Peter Lik’s “Phantom” (supposedly) fetched $6.5 million, and Andreas Gursky’s “Rhein II” got $4.3 million, Adam’s expected price seems criminally low to me, considering his iconic status in the world of photography. Also, when you think that Picasso’s 1955 painting, “Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’),” fetched $179.4 million in a Christie’s auction, it reinforces how low the expected price for Adams’ work is.

What do you think? Are these expected prices low, or do they represent fair value for Adams’ work? On a bigger note, do photographers sit way down the pecking order when it comes to the art world? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


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