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Thursday, 19 May 2011


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What a gem of a blog Mike, you succinctly articulated my thoughts about the art auction caper entirely. I have no gripe with Cindy Sherman but I would not have thought that she was poised on quite so lofty a pedestal in the Photo Pantheon.


Anyone who can fork over that much for a photograph already has a title.

Careful Mike, bringing up social injustice is going to bring out the entitled self-made-man (and they'll all be men for certain, most likely white) brigade arguing that there is no such thing, or that even if there is, it's possible that *these* men earned their millions.

That said, I agree with you completely.

So when something like this happens, does the object forever retain that value? Are we going to see this photo go for $4M in a few years?

Regarding the work by Cindy Sherman: One must remember that by the mid to late 1980s, the fine art world fully embraced the notion that one did not have to paint or sculpt with oil, stone, metal, etc. to be a fine artist. This included the use of materials common in the photographic world. Simultaneously, the art market expanded with the increasing number of wealthy people interested in art for investment purposes (the rich do that) and the growth of contemporary art on both coasts.
So while the work Untitled uses photographic processes and was shot - if I remember correctly - with a 35mm Nikon back then; the actual work itself has more to do with performance art than the art of photography, as many photographers see it. In a sense, Sherman falls into the same fine art conceptual cadre as Ed Ruscha, Dough Huebler (who recorded his art on film but the art was gone), John Baldessari (enlarged old Hollywood publicity stills he bought in tourist shops), and Richard Prince. To name a few.
I like Sherman's work but, what has she done lately? is always the problem with conceptual one liners.

I don't know, maybe the fact that the picture was on the cover of Photographers A-Z means that someone, who knew about the work of many photographers, thought that the picture was significant ? Although Cindy Sherman may not be highly regarded in photography circles, I've noticed that she is one of few photographers whose name often appear in "art" publications. Her name is deeply associated with post-modernism.

I would have guessed the Warhol.

Who owned the print? I suspect it wasn't Cindy Sherman.

There should be a clause in Art sales whereby the artist receives a percentage of the price paid each time one of his/her artworks is sold. I don't know how you'd enforce that, but it only seems fair to me.

Of course, why should I expect art collectors to be fair when they don't even have the common sense to NOT spend almost $4 million on a photograph?

Maybe whoever, whomever, owned this will donate a buck or two to the lulu fund.

Amen to that, Mike.

Well stated. You're in fine form today!

The one thing that price denoted is that while it may be a photograph Sherman is an 'Artist' not a 'Photographer'

Brain hurts

Arrrrrgh. This wouldn't bother me as much as it does but last night I was looking for What Remains on Netflix and couldn't find it streaming. I could wait a couple days for the disc but whims being what they are.... Anyway, I opted for Art:21. I usually will endure art windbaggery. But Jeff Koons was just too much. The giant factory he employs to make his "art" is impressive to be sure - but I just can't listen to him. Call me a curmudgeon but I'll take Calder any day over Koons. What does this have to do with anything? I don't really know but I blame you Mike for recommending The Art of the Steal, it only cemented my cynicism.

I could care less about what they paid, but Cindy Sherman is right up at the joint-top of the list of photographers I think are great and have something to say.

It also may be indicative that the heady days of super rich Wall Street types are back; and that the recession is indeed over (at least for some micro-fraction of the US population).

Mike, did you know there's a good song about Cindy Sherman? It's by legendary British folk singer Billy Bragg. You may like. Someone even made a nice montage of Cindy's photos with it ( I don't remember if the three million dollar picture is in it ).


You can add my name to the list of people who don't get it.

Wasn't there a fuss a few years ago about her work? Someone was selling her work on eBay - and it turned out that she had donated material to the Library of Congress. The seller was buying prints from the Library, and then re-selling them. So, I suppose, if you wanted a Cindy Sherman for yourself you could contact the Library of Congress and they would make one for you for a very reasonable price.

It's time to re-institute the 90% tax bracket on the wealthy that was in place in the Eisenhower years. If the contemporary ultra-rich have no more taste than that, they don't deserve all that money.

... interstitching ... disjointure ... heady apotheosis ...

That's worth a million right there.


Mike, I can't help but feel a little uneasy by the way you characterize Sherman's work, because if it had been a picture of Paris by Atget that had reached the same value, you would have never qualified it as a "heady version of a sophomore Walker Evans" or something similar.

Sherman's Untitled Film Stills is really strong stuff, and though it's the kind of art that depends on a particular ecology of vision, one that is distinct from many previous photographers, it remains a watershed work.

I personally prefer her B&W work to her later colour work, at which point her ideas start to feel spread, but it's the period at which she is conversely beginning to be recognized as a bankable artist.

Bear in mind that the previous records for photo auctions included stuff like Richard Prince's Marlboro Cowboys (another deservedly WTF artist at times) and Andreas Gursky's 99 cent diptychs. All men.

To be frank, I find your tone slightly misogynistic.

Not that I really disagree with your larger point here, but talking about the "inherent worth" of a work of art seems a bit problematic.

I'd settle for being one third the photographer that Cindy Sherman is :)

If there is one thing that has rarely been lacking in human society it is people with more money than sense.


I have a cousin whom I regularly talk with. We're close (we spent many weekends together as children), except in the sense that our moral senses are about a far apart as it is possible to be. She spent time demonstrating against just about every military action my country sent me to. Northern Ireland, Iraq 91, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan.

But she is a founder member of the "Young British Artists", and one of 4 shortlisted one year in the 90s for the Turner Prize. She is therefore "Art Royalty", in the UK at least. Even though her lustre appears to have dimmed in recent years, she still commands 6 figure fees for "installations". Most of her current work she admits is commissioned by people or entities she has never heard of.

To come to your point. Her view - which I take seriously - is that modern "art" is a matter of acceptance among a small and self-selecting group of opinion formers. Get on the right side, and you are OK. There is no getting on the "wrong side", except that your efforts will only ever cost you money as you market them to village sales for tens of pounds (or dollars).

I'm not arguing against Cindy Sherman, although I've never liked her work. I am arguing against a random blasé Cindy Sherman being annointed as the most valuable photograph ever. Bah.

I'm a big fan of any photographer as long as he's a white male. I've always been fawningly sycophantic about Richard Prince even though I don't get his work and I never feature female photographers in "Random Excellence" or recommend books by women because I believe women should be kept barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. That's just who I am.


Eli Broad has several Cindy Shermans and they're probably ranked in the top 10% of all the art works he has purchased.

Either that means Cindy Sherman is very good or Eli Broad sucks as an ART Collector.

I go for the later.

Annie Leibovitz is probably scratching her head with amazement, at that price her portfolio would be worth a billion.

"There should be a clause in Art sales whereby the artist receives a percentage of the price paid each time one of his/her artworks is sold...

Posted by: Miserere"

A couple of years ago, and it might have been here?? this topic was covered referring to such a clause being used or proposed in Europe? (the memory grows foggy). But I do remember some strong statements at that time to that effect by Ms Sherman, herself. She was pissed at missing out on the big bucks of the art aftermarket for her work.

Food for thought.


Yup: I, too, am a big Cindy Sherman fan. I, too, think if any living photographer deserves that record sale, she does. (Though as someone pointed out above, she's not really a photographer in any interesting sense: she's an artist who happens to make photographs. The auction, after all, was Contemporary Art, not Photography.)

@Miserere: at one point, someone -- I think Robert Rauschenberg -- did lobby for such a law, and in fact in California it was passed: there, artists receive 5% of the price of a resold work of art from the seller. Which explains why there aren't many big auctions in California. I'm all in favor of artists' rights, but this seems to me to be no different than straight resale: if I hocked, say, an original Eames chair on eBay, I wouldn't -- and shouldn't -- owe the Eameses, even if they were still alive to collect.

And Mike, if you really want to get your blood pressure up, consider this: Sherman was 27 when she took that photograph. And many people (myself included), think her best work was already behind her. The 'Untitled Film Stills', which I think are great, were started when she was 23, and finished when she was 26.

Raising Mike's Blood Pressure, Part II:

The Sherman, by the way, was from an edition of 10. (The Gursky -- the previous record-holder -- was from an edition of 6; Richard Prince makes editions of 3).

Art and the establishment eh.

Value is seldom related to worth in the artistic sense. Buyers are usually rich, not knowledgeable. A picture becomes valuable because of who owns it and an artist because of who is collecting their work (or because of their public notoriety). Not because they are any good.

Was ever thus.

Still, want to feel better? Read this exquisitely poisonous critique of a different artist. Tracey Emin is one of the most successful in Britain, adored by trendies and sponsored by none other than Charles Saatchi (so she must be good right?).

Warning, lots of Anglo Saxon mixed in with the Latin...


There, I almost feel better again!

While that's the most expensive (not going to use the word valuable here) single print, I thought the most valuable photograph was the one Microsoft chose for the default Windows desktop (you know, the Teletubbies hill one).

This may indeed be the most valuable (highest priced) photograph; certainly on the public market. There are, however, private transactions that often go unreported. The same is true in many fields; cars, for instance, where private sales are sometimes considerably higher than even the most famous public auctions.

Duh. This is old hat and has been since rich guys like Nelson Rockefeller starting buying "daring" abstract paintings that had no obvious narrative to them. How scandalous!

I like generally like Cindy's stuff (I think I've managed to get to about five exhibitions in the last decade and one of them was hers) but this sale has next to nothing to do with photography or art. It has to do with the concentration of wealth in few hands and the search for an alternative place to put it as conventional options continue to deteriorate. Nobody believes that any "intrinsic value" of millions exists in Cindy's photo, but there is a well-oiled fine art marketing machine that does a good job of making up for that. Whoever bought this photo may or may not have an interest in photography but certainly has lots of available cash that could be earning 1% in treasuries. This was a more appealing option at the moment. He/she might lost his/her shirt, but that's the way bubbles, even well-managed bubbles, work: last one in gets theirs.

I was quite happy to hear that one of Cindy's prints was now number one, it meant that Richard Prince was no longer the one at the top of the list.

I'm going to pull out my copy of Das Kapital, dust it off, and see what the future holds for us.

Posted by: Chuck Albertson: "Anyone who can fork over that much for a photograph already has a title."

Ding, Ding, Ding! The TOP Clever Comment of 2011 (to-date) goes to Chuck! It certainly gave me a giggle.

I clicked on the link expecting to find Steichen's "The Pond-Moonlight" somewhere on the cover.

A fool and his money are soon parted.

There isn't any inherent value in art work. They're f***in' wallpaper. Or hatracks. If you burned a photograph during a Wisconsin winter to keep warm, they'd keep you warm for nine seconds. They are worth (in monetary terms) exactly what people will pay for them. In twenty years, nobody will buy this photo, and then it'll be worth nothing. Sherman deserves the money as much as the millions-equivalent given Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier, the highest paid French painter of the Impressionist era. You never hear about him any more, because his paintings are not very good -- so some rich French guy paid way too much for them. So what? Both Messonier and the rich guy are now dead, and the money has been dispersed.

I have to say I object to the line of thinking that would suggest somebody should set up a morally based remuneration system, especially, say, if it were run by religious fundamentalists, who would probably have a plurality of the vote, if the vote was "fair." No salaries for gays or fallen women...or artists.

"The Sherman, by the way, was from an edition of 10."

I sure hope Cindy kept two or three of those for herself.


Four million for something that will literally disappear within a year if you're able to view it properly- not that I'd want to.

This end of the art market has nothing to do with art it is more akin to financial investment. Chances are that the buyer won't even see it, it will be crated up and stored somewhere.

Seems like a victimless crime, since one fool paying someone $4million for a random photograph does not take something away from anybody else.

That said, it would be hillarious if Cindy Sherman now started cranking out thousands of prints of the same picture and selling them for $10 each.

I like Driver 8's comment. I've read variations of it before, usually from American bloggers. The inference that unfettered expressions of I Did It Because I Can are healthy, desirable yins to the yang of command economics/outright totalitarianism is a curious one to a non-libertarian. If choice it is (rather than a non-sequitur), I see it more as one between anthrax and cholera.

"There should be a clause in Art sales whereby the artist receives a percentage of the price paid each time one of his/her artworks is sold."

Yeah, and when you sell your used Chevy, G.M. should get a cut.

Am I the only one here that actually likes the photo? It's worth what somebody is willing to pay, but I know there is no way my wife would allow me to buy it and hang it up on our wall at any price!

Well Mike, if nothing else, you certainly got me interested in checking out Cindy Sherman. Maybe instead of spending a few grand on the next updated version of my camera, lens, or software so that I may fill my hard drive with yet more images, I could make a down payment on one of her photos should I be interested.

Gotta admit though, lining the pockets of corporate Japan is probably not as crazy as paying $4 million for a picture. I must keep my priorities straight.

I'm less bothered by her photograph going for almost 4 million than I was by the first photo to ever sell for more than a million, a re-photographed Marlboro ad by "appropriation artist" Richard Prince (see http://www.utata.org/salon/20894.php).

Shouldn't every photograph be worth $4 million?

On the other hand the Greatest ever (IMHO) Robert Frank prints are really quite affordable.

Very informative article and well said!

I know you characterise your comments as "ridicule" (and $4m for a photo certainly deserves some of that), but the point you raise about the "fatally distorted" market deserve some deeper thought.

How is it distorted and who's doing the distorting? I can't see how the free market we have in art now is distorted, beyond the purchasing decisions of individuals - quite the way it should be. Or is this simply a complaint of "too much money"? How much would be just right, in your opinon, for this picture - $2m, $1m or $50? Indeed you seem to be suggesting there should be "art police" to make sure people spend only what the prevailing opinion deems to be the correct amount for the correct pieces. Apart from being completely impossible to enforce the moral consequences are disastrous.

But in this brave new world it would be ok to limit the amount that is spent on art because how much money we could actually own would be limited by the "money police"... after it's been taxed at 90%. No thanks, Mike.

I don't think that Sherman print has been established as "The world's most valuable photograph". The nearly $4 million price is just what it sold for on that day, in that auction, and is of course subject to change. If one of the other identical Sherman prints from that series were auctioned today it might sell for a small fraction of the price we see here. Who knows.

And if all the photos on the cover of the A-Z book would have been in the auction I would have guessed the highest price would go to Warhol first, then Sherman. It's art. Go figure.

Ah, and Medvedev is on the list of the 10 most valuable photo's as well. Making lists, a favorite passtime of the mentally underdeveloped I guess. Having said that, if someone wants to fork over close to 4 million for a piece of art, in my book he or she needs professional medical attention fast. No piece of art has an inherent value at all. All its value is derived from appreciation alone And thus art has reduced itself (or is reduced) to the status of stocks bonds, CDS's and CDO's and other derivatives. Mike you said it quite right a few weeks ago. The only way to counteract this art market which virtially nullyfies 99% of all artists in order to make a fast buck with the 1% that receive the blessing of the powers that be (based on image, quality, what ever?), is to keep the business in ones own controll. Sell for a price that more or less rewards the trouble.....and makes you live a day to day life. Sell a few more and you can afford a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom condo in a backwater town. If you are really popular, your pictures would pop up in every household from Waikiki to Washington and back again (and you would probably make a bundle yourself but nowhone would make a bundle off you).

Greetings, Ed

I blame Szarkowski for such nonsense. He helped give legitimacy to conceptual photography; and the NY Art World continues to profit from their ability to define what is good, i.e. bankable. But, despite the best efforts of the cynical post-modernist pundits, Truth and Beauty do exist; and Sherman's work ain't beautiful.

One way of looking at this is simply that a photograph has sold for nearly $4 million. The upper limit for photographs is on the rise, which is surely a good thing ?

Sherman's work has always (well since I have been paying attention) fetched huge prices. Here is a recent interview where she talks (among other things) about the prices her work fetches :

"There should be a clause in Art sales whereby the artist receives a percentage of the price paid each time one of his/her artworks is sold. I don't know how you'd enforce that, but it only seems fair to me."

There is:- http://www.dacs.org.uk/
It's time to re-institute the 90% tax bracket on the wealthy that was in place in the Eisenhower years. If the contemporary ultra-rich have no more taste than that, they don't deserve all that money.

I would say that taste is the very least of the objections any right thinking person should have. But that's pinko talk ! I'll be advocating a fair healthcare system and a decent education for all next.


Mike, agree totally with your view of Cindy Sherman, don't get it, never will. I understand it in the definition of the times it was produced, but sorry, still doesn't cut it. And the person that's accusing you of being a misogynist? Really? That's more of a snapshot of their psyche. You are spot on with the assessment of it being like the high-school photo 101 self-portrait assignment writ large. I remember seeing it during the time she was producing a lot of it, and even then, we were all: "...how is a person like this doing work like this, even getting written up?" Chalk it up to those wacky New York art marketers looking to market the 'next big thing'. You can't make money selling stuff unless you find stuff to sell to the suckers born every minute.

Have to say though, I softened on old Cindy a little when she appeared in the movie 'Pecker' sort of making fun of herself. Leave it to John Waters to get it right. Now I sort of think she's a gal that fell ass-backwards into the wheel-barrow full of money and can't believe it either.

Hi Mike,
I admit I have trouble following your line of thought. To me the fact that today, as you put it, "any demure high school sophomore girl in Photo 101 class makes a self-portrait of herself in heels, makeup, and teased hair with a little bare shoulder showing" would make Sherman's work from the 80s very significant indeed.
I definitely don’t have the necessary knowledge to establish a top 200 most significant photographs (and I don’t really care if Sherman should be on it or not) or to give an opinion on how much a photograph should sell for, but I just thought your only argument for discrediting Sherman’s work was kind of weak :-)
(but don’t worry, I still love your blog :-))

On the other hand I may agree with what a previous commenter said about this sort of work being, at the time, (perhaps) more about capturing performing art than “Photography” per se…


There is some criticism of rich folks' taste in some of these comments. You guys have it all wrong, we should be encouraging this kind of extravagant behavior. Getting big fat rich guys to empty their wallets is a way better way to get at their cash than by taxing it, or waiting for them to give it away, or waiting for them to start up productive companies at which you might find employment.

It's all relative. People with limited means buy extravagant stuff all the time, lottery tickets, another digicam, a newer lens. There's lots of people around who used to own cheap second-hand cars and could never understand why others wasted their money on new fancy ones; then they got raises and did the same. What if you had so much money that $3 million was chump change?

It's a good picture, and it's a significant picture.

IMHO this is an artless picture on a par with the one showing a South African guy sleeping on the grass.

I wouldn't give you tuppence for Sherman's picture...unless I could sell it for $3,890,500.

I am an absolutist by conviction, but in art I am relativist: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What do I have to smoke in order to make this photo beautiful?

Well let's hope it is a sign of the great economic health of the world. The market is what the market pays. Personally, I would have rather invested in some of the gems at Swann Auction Galleries. It is crazy what DIDN'T sell there.

When I first heard about the sale I forwarded the picture to some friends. They were all surprised. I then suggested to a couple of them that they look at it as if it were a painting and they immediately said something like, "Oh. Yeah, I see it now." I am still fairly disconnected from Art (capital-A). I have no Art education and, as I would assume is not atypical for a layman, I prefer sound aesthetics over conceptual art. I see photography like any other craft - a piece might also be Art, but the medium is not always inherently Art. I continue to use capitals as I think there is a place for lower-case art, but that's a digression. I similarly believe that not every painting is Art, nor every sculpture, jazz composition, performance piece, poem, etc. I think when people think of photography they do not inherently think in terms of Art. I think they blend journalism, documentary (esp vacation/family snaps) and then aesthetics. I hazard a guess that it's important to think of this Sherman piece as Art and imagine its place among curators, critics, trained sophisticates, the wealthy (who, often despite their lack of training nonetheless are heavily tied to and influencing of the Art world, as patrons and therefore as drivers of currents). What would somebody Fancy think about this? Forget a Photographer's viewpoint, that's not relevant. Let's talk concept and theme, maybe provenance, etc.

For me, at least, it changes how I view the piece. It makes more sense to me in that context, maybe. For what it's worth, I don't think I prefer my view of things when wearing my Art-spectator hat; I prefer my Photographer hat.

@Michel Hardy

It's $3,890,500 for a photograph of a woman who dressed herself up for the camera.

$4 million.

If it had been an Atget then of course it wouldn't be as WTF; Atget has been dead nearly 100 years for a start.

so maybe my family photos of my kids are worth big bucks?? who would of thought ?

Could it be that it was just the right size for the little alcove by the guest bathrooms in the Aspen house ;-)

Let me start by saying that although I like some of Cindy Sherman’s work a lot, I’m not a fan of hers generally. Much of her work dated too quickly for my taste. But your posting surprised me. This auction really seemed to get under your skin. Whether it was the money, the art world, or the photo itself that bit at you, I don’t know. But the sarcasm was uncharacteristic and dripping. This is not a criticism of your writing or thoughts. I think the force of your reaction says a lot and opens up a lot of discussion. Most of the blog responses here have been solidly in your camp so clearly you’re not alone in these feelings. But I think your reaction also shuts down a lot about what happened in this expensive purchase. I’m not an expert on Sherman, photography, or the art market, so I’m not the person to unpack this. But that won’t stop me from lobbing a few points into the debate. This may be the most expensive photograph ever purchased but it’s far from the most expensive piece of contemporary art ever purchased so are we even judging this by the right yardstick? Why do we as a society have so much difficulty celebrating the success of women? Or the bite of feminist imagery (even though I don't think Sherman identifies her work that way)? I'm not saying you wouldn't have had just as strong reaction to a similar auction of a photograph made by a man. But I think there’s something telling about your attempt to devalue Sherman by comparing her to a high school sophomore. It's not that you’re wrong. I think the immature young girl is very much alive in her work but what’s wrong with that? I’m just saying it’s a particular way of putting women down that’s very different than the way we’d slam a man. The “interstitching and the disjointure of appearance with identity” is a poke, I assume, at the way that the art world justifies its existence and value with cloudy talk meant to keep the rest of us away. But, appreciate it or not, Sherman has been making a sustained attempt to get us to see just how it is that we become who we are in this world and how much of who we are ever really belongs to us. I’m not saying there aren’t other ways to approach this theme you might prefer more but I’d be hard pressed to knock her intention. I’d be surprised if Sherman herself thought she was the best photographer in the world at a pixel-peeping or any other level. As for the auction price, well, it is the art “business” after all.

I'd find a vintage photo of a Sherman tank more appealing. Cindy happened to be at the right place at the right time when her career took off. She had close friendships with influential art critics. Hmm.

I'll side with the people saying that Sherman isn't selling to the same market as traditional photographers. They may look like photographs and be produced with photographic methods, but they're marketed more like paintings and get a painting-like price. Make of that what you will.

It's a "print" for gosh sakes!

Not a one-off painting or sculpture.

Stupid is as stupid does.

More money than brains, or so it would seem.

If I had 4 mil to spend on art work It better take a tractor trailer or 2 to get it home. (or say Monet on the front.) Like others I believe in the free market system and one has to respect the old line "something is worth whatever someone is willing to pay"

Personally I would have more expected a price like that to belong to a Weston, Stieglitz or Steichen. Didn't realize Cindy Sherman was up there in value with those guys.

Sorry, could never get off on Cindy Sherman's work. Too much self-absorption--much like a lot of the 80s....

Not surprised that it sold for as much as it did. ANOTHER thing about the 80s was the overheated Art Market and the junk that got sold for VERY HIGH PRICES as Art ( I mean, three basketballs floating in a fishtank? A board with "Rat, Rat, Rat" painted on it? C'mon....)

Looks like things haven't changed much in the "Art World." Pretentiousness and bragging rights about what one paid for a certain piece of "Art" still predominate...

I have a bunch of apps on the iPad/iPhone App Store that show photos, one of which (Arthur Rothstein's FSA photos) has over 9,000 photos for a total of $3, which works out to $0.00033 per photo, or 12 billion times cheaper than the Cindy Sherman.

In case anyone is on a budget...

Eh; the art collecting world in general is insane. I guess this shows that photography really is art :-) .

Which is to say they don't agree with me on what's interesting. People are welcome to spend their money on whatever they want, though.

What is the "inherent worth" of any "work of art"? Whatever someone is willing to pay. Get over it.

Wait, aren't these folks (the bidders, I mean) aren't they the ones who are supposed to be using their tax savings to invest in businesses, and create, you know, jobs?

"... two guys who are much richer than social justice needs anyone to be ..."

I don't know about social justice, but although I normally lean towards the Tea-Party-side of policy and politics, this sorry story is almost enough to make me wanna be a socialist.

Doesn't the Andy Warhol self-portrait count? At $38M it'll be tough to beat. http://harveybenge.blogspot.com/2011/05/andy-warhol-self-portrait-us38442500.html

Who was the seller? Did the artist make the money? Probably not. Probably some guy who bought the image for $1000 fifteen years ago. Artist/creator does not share in the windfall.

Because the courtiers, I mean curators, say contemporary photography has value too many people believe them. Sadly, the emperor has no clothes.

The five hundred most signifiant images of all time... I'd buy that book.

Michel, the only thing in the tone I would think is slightly cheeky is about what every girl in photography 101 does, which is the self portrait. That is totally true, though.

I've seen some of the series on a wall and it's very impressive. Almost anyone who just sees it on the web doesn't know how good it looks in a print.

The art critic Robert Hughes put out a video on this very subject: The Mona Lisa Curse. Well worth watching but it is only available on youtube (which means it is free - a definite advantage)and was broken up into 12 parts to meet the youtube requirements: http://www.youtube.com/watch?playnext=1&index=0&feature=PlayList&v=EbQ0GqX0Its&list=PLC19B4F073379EBA1

I saved it to my PC and have watched it several times.

"Shouldn't every photograph be worth $4 million?"

Dear god, no. Every photograph isn't even worth looking at!


"Why do we as a society have so much difficulty celebrating the success of women?"

Except this isn't a success for a woman. Cindy Sherman is on record as being resentful of the fact that she hasn't seen a penny of the high prices for the Untitled Film Stills work, which she made when she was quite young and which left her hands long ago.


And of course we shouldn't forget that someone else was prepared to pay almost $4 million either.

I agree that the buyer and those who helped to bid this modest image up are fools, but it's their money, and we still have this concept of private property in this country. Shame on them that they can't find a better use for it, but it's an imperfect world, after all, and I don't think either one of us really knows how to fix it. Live and let live, and laugh at the knuckleheads.

Mike, I'm pretty sure that Cindy -- like most smart artists -- holds back at least one copy of each of her editions. In fact, I believe -- contrary to your story afew posts above -- she sold her own full set of the Untitled Films Stills to MoMA a few years ago, for about a million. Can you point me to where she's on record with her resentment?

That said, auction prices like this aren't always good for the artist: it means you have to be on watch for speculators trying to buy your work because they think they can sell it for more in a few years -- and few artists want that to happen. It means that the market for your new work suffers, because everyone wants the old, million-dollar stuff (and, again, you don't see any of that money). It can lead to a lot of collectors trying to cash in, dumping their works from the same period on the market, and thereby producing a glut that makes prices go down as suddenly as they went up.

But Cindy's a very charming and modest person, and as blue chip as an artist her age can be. I'm sure she'll be fine.

She's also very smart: for those of you who don't like Prince, I give you this true story:

Cindy and Richard lived together as a couple when they were in their 20s. During that time, they produced a double-portrait, each one dressed as the other. A few years ago, Richard started selling them, but didn't give any of the proceeds to Cindy. So she bought one that he had sold, and rephotographed it the same way he rephotographs other people's work. Then she made an edition, signed it herself, and sold it again, this time under her own name (which made them worth more than Prince's, at the time). She outsmarted him, and it was a funny move: even Richard had to give her credit for doing it.

-- I do, too. For that alone, she gets some props from me.

Dear Dave, rp, et.al.,

Happy as I would be to see a return to the Eisenhower tax brackets (pinko? hardly -- I'm off in the far infrared), it wouldn't solve the problem.

The uber-rich who have had poor sense and taste in art have always bought dumbly. It's not a new thing.

There's a whole museum in San Francisco, The Palace of the Legion of Honor, whose work comes mostly from the collections of robber barons of the west. By and largely, it's an amazing collection of crap art.

pax / Ctein

" I normally lean towards the Tea-Party-side of policy and politics, this sorry story is almost enough to make me wanna be a socialist."


every cloud has a silver lining.....

to the barricades !


Define "egalitarian".

No, wait... I just looked it up.

Some people are worth more than money. Some people are worth only money. Some people are worth lots of it.

I know which group I'd like to belong to. Leave them to it.


Mike - don't miss the documentary Guest of Cindy Sherman. An outsider's view of the New York art scene. A bit whiny, but very entertaining: http://www.guestofcindysherman.com/

@Michel Hardy-Vallee

Re: "To be frank, I find your tone slightly misogynistic."

Well, no-one is above criticism based on gender. To make it otherwise would be patronising.

Mike never said that Richard Prince should have been so valuable either. Bit of a straw man argument that one. RP is way up in my WTF list too.

In fact there are plenty of genders in my WTF list for a start. I think Tracey Emin, Gilbert and George and Damien Hirst cover my bases for now. On the flipside there are Louise Bourgeois, Francis Bacon and Man Ray. Yep, I hate and love (some art by) women, gay men and heterosexuals. In fact I hate and love (some art by) every segment of the population equally without regard to race, religion, gender, sexuality or political preference. No prejudice here. I just appreciate some level of intellect and a modicum of talent. Call me a snob.

I don't put Sherman herself in the WTF category. She is revered in art circles (moreso than photographic ones) as one of the pioneers of post-modernism and the examination of cultural stereotypes. It probably explains why her work commands high prices regardless of which work it is.

Yes, her work has strong links with feminism, as it focuses on the artificiality of cultural feminine stereotypes. But her work was powerful, valid and well done as an artistic statement at least. In the '70s this had significant resonance. Perhaps nothing has changed. Perhaps it got worse. She probably can't fit into a size zero dress.

But that doesn't mean there are not many photographs, and certainly some by Cindy, that are much better than this one, or issues of cultural significance just as important. One could no doubt make a case that some of her actual photographs could make the top 200 (if one were to assess art by socio-political post-modernist impact), but you could make the same argument about Diane Arbus and Dorothea Lange. Perhaps even a man or two.

And if one WERE to be critical of Cindy's work it's that she is still making the same point. She's a one trick pony, but she turns that trick with pride.


Auction houses take a commission or "premium", generally around 10-15%. So that's a substantial bundle in this case, around $500,000 perhaps, that goes not just on profit for the auction house but employs art historians, valuers, building trades for the exhibition spaces, printers, photographers (yes) for the catalogue, web designers, caterers, telecommunications providers and so on.

In the case of art historians, there's really just auction houses and galleries as employers, so jobs are more valuable to them. And we do need these people. Reading some of the comments above, I am confirmed in my belief of that.

So it isn't true that rich people spending money on art doesn't produce any good for others.

I have been thinking about this for the last couple of days and have determined my ignorance concerning "Art" is deeper than I can even comprehend. Is the value of the print related in any way to an explanation even mildly comprehensible to the "Man in the street," or, is it just one of those things you either get or you don't?

As I approach retirement age, I have more time to contemplate such heady matters and I appreciate any assistance I can get.

FWIW, when I first looked at the print, It screamed: "Household cleaning product add"

Just kidding.................Who am I to critcize? I mean, some of those old Coke advertising materials are worth a fortune too.

I appologize if I have ruined the essence of this photo for anyone.


"Is the value of the print related in any way to an explanation even mildly comprehensible to the "Man in the street," or, is it just one of those things you either get or you don't?"

Again, merely a guess, but I suspect it's that someone (who is very wealthy) has a collection, and the collection really needed a Cindy Sherman, and the collector wanted that one particular Cindy Sherman, and there was someone else who really wanted it too, so it was sort of a perfect storm.

What most people don't realize is how much money you need to spend $4m on one photo. My point of reference is that Tennis star John McEnroe is a committed art collector, but says he can't compete with the big boys (or words to that effect) because is a "only" worth $100 million. At that level of wealth he doesn't feel comfortable spending more than $500,000 on a single piece. To be spending $4m on a C-print (they FADE, did I mention that? They're not stable over time), you really need a bare minimum of five times as much wealth as McEnroe has. The new owner is most probably a billionaire. Again, just an educated guess.


Unless I'm mistaken, Cindy Sherman is a member of that class of artists known as Not Dead.

So couldn't the losing bidder go to her and say "I'll give you (say) two million dollars for an identical copy of that print."

People might quibble about ethics and artistic integrity and blah, blah, but seriously, for a life-changing amount of money, what would you do, if you were her?

Just out of curiosity -- I should know this, but I don't -- don't all photos fade? All color photos, anyway? How long, realistically, can you expect any print to last? Decades? Centuries? Is a picture that holds its color for, say, 100 years inherently more valuable than one which holds its colors for ten? In any case, a quick check around the web suggests that C-prints got much better in this regard after about 1980.

A lot of art decomposes over time: fluorescent acrylic paint, for example, which Frank Stella used in some paintings, fades within a few years. And of course, oil paintings yellow (though oddly enough, they do more quickly if they're kept in the dark than if they're exposed to light).

My point is just that all images change over time -- nor is this necessarily a bad thing. I don't know if a Rembrandt should look like it was painted yesterday; we want -- at least, I want -- art to remind us of the pastness of the past, as well as its presence.

Besides, I would imagine that anyone who can afford to spend 4 mil on a photo can afford to spend whatever it takes to preserve it for as long as possible. -- Which, ironically, suggests that maybe it's a good thing that there are rich people around to buy these things, since otherwise, they might be lost altogether.

Sorry for the multiple posting -- Mike, you can decide whether I'm nattering on too much -- but I think it's worth pointing out, too, that virtually all of the work that sells for this kind of money ultimately ends up in a museum. Sometimes sooner and sometimes later, but in time it becomes available to the public eye, usually for free or a small fee. I dislike -- I despise -- the disparities of wealth in this country as much as any of you, but the fact is that collecting physical objects, whether it's Ming vases, First Folios, or Cindy Sherman photographs, is generally an activity available only to the very rich, who have the means, not just to acquire them, but to preserve them. And in time, they almost inevitably get donated to public institutions (which usually don't have the funds necessary to buy such things for themselves) and hence become part of a nation's patrimony. So, yes, the art market is insane, and we can agree or disagree about individual sales, but (aside from speculators and profiteers) collecting art may be one of the few pro bono things that the very rich actually do. I suppose we could raise taxes on the rich, give part of the resulting budget to MoMA, and let them make the purchases themselves, but imagine the outcry that would result: "My tax dollars went to pay for some stupid Pollock? It's just a bunch of drips. To a Weston nude? That's just fancy porno?"

No, I think it's better the way it is. At least rich people can act without interference from the Jesse Helmses of this world.

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