courtesy Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction, which will take place in London on the 3rd of October 2019, will offer a Jean-Michel Basquiat acrylic, silkscreen ink and oil stick on canvas titled “PYRO”, signed and dated 1984 on the reverse. This is the highlight of the event and is estimated to sell for …….., “Estimate upon Request,” which means you will have to contact Sotheby’s directly.  A dynamic estimate, perhaps, which may fluctuate, based upon the buyer interest shown, is part of this event’s marketing plan. Nevertheless, we will not have to wait too long before the price realized is revealed.

Auctions are supposed to help us figure out the valuation of a unique collectible at any given time through the winning bid amount placed by the high bidder. Most of the paintings brought to market at events such as the Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction, are at auction for the first time, and yet, through some algorithmic evaluation, an estimated range is determined and posted in the catalogue. Often times the range proves to be on the low or high side, but, it is printed for potential buyers to consider.  

Similarly, the bookseller who sells through an auction without a reserve may or may not have an approximate range that a particular collectible is expected to trade. Besides auctions, in most other channels, a bookseller is required to provide the ask price for a particular collectible in order to bring it to market. If the asking price is too low, then money is left on the table. On the other hand, a price set too high carries the risk of remaining unsold. The other variable in the evaluation is time. As time goes by, the market conditions of supply and demand usually tend to shift, affecting the price higher or lower. In order to increase the chances of a book being sold in the short term, the asking price should be set at the low end of the estimation, while longer timeframes offer the luxury of being able to test the market at the high end of the estimation. Time allows for the price to be lowered.

Given the particular conditions in which a sale is brought to market, it is always a good idea to assess the price estimate as accurately as possible. A good evaluation makes use of comparables, factoring in any differences between each of the comparables and the book assessed. As such, the rarer the book, the more the price becomes a matter of opinion for two reasons: First, there is not adequate information available to accurately evaluate, and second, books that are scarce and extremely desirable do not stay in stock because collectors are willing to pay any price for something they want. For some considerations on pricing rare books, please read our prior post, “Pricing your rare books to market” by data scientist, James Sekkes.

Works of Jean-Michel Basquiat have been sold at auction before, but nothing closely resembling the dynamism and vitality of PYRO on such a medium. The literatures referenced by Sotheby’s, that include this work are quite scarce as well, and are selling for over $1,000, no matter the edition:

Richard D. Marshall and Jean-Louis Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Galerie Enrico Navarra, Vol. II, Paris, 1996, p. 124, no. 8.

Richard D. Marshall and Jean-Louis Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat,  Galerie Enrico Navarra, Paris 2000 (3rd edition), p. 224 (Vol. I) and p. 198, no. 8 (Vol. II).

courtesy Swann Galleries

Books signed by Basquiat are extremely rare and desirable due to high demand and the artist’s early death from a drug overdose in 1988, when he was just 27 years old. The most famous signed book is a hardcover catalog that accompanied the artist’s exhibition at the Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, (Bischofberger was Basquiat’s European representative from 1982, and was his most consistent dealer until his death), published in Zurich in 1985. The trade edition consisting of 1,000 copies carried Basquiat’s scribble signature. One such copy sold at Swann Galleries in April of 2018, for $2,500. An additional 100 copies signed by Basquiat with his full name were also released. The “a.p. 2/100” copy is currently valued at $19,000 – $24,000 and this seller will entertain offers at the high end of the price range.



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Photographing Paris

by AndreChevalier on September 4, 2019

Paris de NuitTwo rare photography books portray two separate images of the beautiful city of Paris.  The books represent the improbable encounter of two Parisian worlds: the surrealistic vision of Brassaï, and the documentary view of Atget.

Eugene Atget (1857-1927), documented much of the architecture and street scenes of Paris before their disappearance to modernization. Most of his photographs were first published by Berenice Abbott after his death, in his book “Atget Photographe de Paris.” The book was published in 1930 simultaneously by Verlag Henri Jonquieres, in Paris and Leipzig, with the German edition, “Lichtbilder” which was released in a limited edition of 1000. The book captures Paris before its rapid changes; many of the areas Atget photographed were soon to be razed as part of massive urbanization
projects.  It features photogravures of many of the areas and architectural locations in nineteenth-century Paris and Versailles with curiously empty streets, markets and shops, and objects that filled the discreet spaces in-between.

Photographs of Paris, by Hungarian born Brassaï (Gyula Halasz) (1894-1984), were published in the 1930s by Charles Peignot, director at Arts et Métiers Graphiques in a collection named “Paris de Nuit.” Paris by Night, Brassai’s first book, is a landmark work of technical achievement, with 62 pictures among the hundreds of nocturnal photos taken by Brassaï during 1930 and 1931. The images show an incomparably rich palette of blacks and shades of gray, with breadth of tonal range and exquisite expressiveness as light reflects in wet streets and diffused by fog.

Eugène Atget: Notre-Dame. 1927 | MoMA
Brassaï : Notre-Dame La NuitMedium: Sheet-fed GravurePrinting

Atget’s photographs were taken with wide views at dawn, to give a sense of space and ambience. The first hour of light after sunrise, part of what photographers call the “golden hour”, or the “magic hour”, is the type of light which produces less contrast, reducing exposure to strong shadows or blown-out highlights. In Brassaï’s images, artificial light has come to replace that of the sun taken with a tripod and a long exposure time during the photographer’s long strolls after dark. The city looked as if bathed in artificial light, rendering a beautiful décor of transformed trees at the banks of the Seine mixed in with objects, which occasionally rendered disturbing figures.  

Atget: Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (credits: George Rohr, 2008) Brassaï Paris de Nuit p.2

A feature of shooting during the golden hour of the morning is that there are generally fewer people around at dawn than there are at other times of the day. Atget’s pictures of deserted streets, stairways, and shop windows show a subtle perception without much street life.  Brassaï on the other hand,  who became interested in photography as a way to record encounters on his nightly walks through the streets of Paris, captured the luminosity and the eeriness of all corners of the city and lifestyles of Paris at night in the early 1930s.  His subjects seemed not only aware of the photographer, but they seemed to collaborate with him.  

Both Brassai and Atget were two of the most influential photographers of the 20th century.  Brassai’s unique style gave Paris de Nuit its distinctive intimacy and was a revelation for his artist friends.  Surrealists Man Ray, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso admired his work. Fellow night owl Henry Miller wrote: “Brassaï is a living eye…his gaze pierces straight to the heart of truths in everything.” Atget will be remembered in Bernice Abbot’s words: “as an urbanist historian, a genuine romanticist, a lover of Paris.” In 1931, four years after his death, the American photographer Ansel Adams wrote, “The Atget prints are direct and emotionally clean records of a rare and subtle perception, and represent perhaps the earliest expression of true photographic art.”

As officials are in a race to return Notre Dame to its former glory, the importance of Brassaï and Atget’s photography is reiterated. Their photographs are not only reminiscent of a city in its past beauty, but they also captured images using techniques and tools from a different period. Modern photographers, often work without a tripod, guerilla style, shooting hundreds of photographs a day which they then review on a computer screen and select the few to ultimately preserve, treating the city architecture as context-less two-dimensional abstract art.


Where American History and Christian Religion Crossed

July 18, 2019
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In the month of August 1963, in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and with a crowd of over a quarter of a million people, Martin Luther King Jr., delivered his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” In that same month, King’s first printing of a collection of his sermons titled, “Strength […]

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Extreme Femininity

May 1, 2019
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Times have changed and so have women, but not their innate ability to charm. Women possess the power to please or attract with their personality or beauty. Imagine living in another time, and, if it were to be the twentieth century, you would perhaps choose the hay-day of the 1920’s. It was a time for women […]

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The Jewels of Passover

April 17, 2019
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At the start of this year’s Holy Week a terrible blaze engulfed Notre-Dame. As I watched the spire of the cathedral fall, I wondered how destructive smoke and flames have often been to books throughout history. Vulnerable older editions from the 16th, 15th and even 13th centuries must have survived the misfortunes brought about by […]

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February 27, 2019

Issued in the aftermath of the Council of Trent (1545-63), the Index of Forbidden Books maintained by the Inquisition became an obstacle to the circulation of books and ideas in Europe and its colonies well into the 20th century – it is only in 1966 that the Catholic Church formally abolished it. Among the famous […]

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Messy Interconnections of Innovation

February 23, 2019

  In 1986, the co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AI laboratory’s, cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky, (1927-2016), published The Society of Mind.  The book describes a theory which attempts to explain how what we call intelligence, could be a product of the interaction of non-intelligent parts. He proposed that each mind is made of […]

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Sex: the single girl’s perspective

January 31, 2019
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Two titles written a decade apart:  the first, in the early sixties, at the onset of the sexual revolution, which brought us increased acceptance of sex outside of traditional heterosexual, monogamous relationships; and, the other, in the early seventies, during the post-pill and pre-AIDS period. These authors’ writings on the topic of sex in the single girl’s […]

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Fast Forward 50 Years

December 31, 2018
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Another year is upon us with the usual hoopla about the abnormalities of current times. As 2019 makes its debut, many of the values and beliefs we hold dear are being questioned throughout the world. Truthful facts, science, humanity, diversity and equality are a few on the top of the list. In the US, denying […]

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The Importance of Language in Rare Books

October 13, 2018
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How fortunate native English-speaking booksellers are to have English as their mother tongue! English is the lingua franca of global business. Not surprisingly, the official language of ILAB, (The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers), is English. However, the organization maintains that this stature is shared equally with French; hence the old ILAB motto “Amor librorum […]

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