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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What's Your Art Worth?

I used to love Polaroids. Back in 2008, I was very upset at the news that the company was going to stop manufacturing film indefinitely. Sure enough, it was impossible to find within the year. Two years later, the dissolution of the company is still not complete. As part of their bankruptcy court order, more than 1,000 photographs from Polaroid's corporate collection have been auctioned off at Sotheby's in New York City.

The two-day auction included images by Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston, Andy Warhol and Lucas Samaras, among others. Some were Polaroids, some were not. But almost  all of them either met or surpassed their top pre-sale estimates. By mid-day yesterday, both Adams and Samaras had shattered personal auction records, selling their works for $722,500 and $194,500, respectively.

Problem is, many of the featured artists are upset about the auction. A number of them went so far as to write letters to the bankruptcy judge, to no avail. They were told that they should have gotten their work out before Polaroid went under. But many artists say they weren't aware it was happening. Some are still trying to negotiate for their works. Nevermind the fact that they can make a pretty penny. They'd say ownership of their art is worth the fight.

So what's a picture worth? A bunch of money? A legal tug of war? We've all heard the adage. Considering the hoopla this auction is creating, I'd say 1000 words sounds about right to me.

--Mo Hickey

3 comments:

Kelly said...

Why do the artists assume that they own the works? Didn't Polaroid own them? I'm confused!

Patricia Martin said...

Yes, I believe Polaroid is the official owner of the photos, otherwise the auction house would not have authority to sell them off. Proof of provenance is a big deal for auction houses. I suppose the artists wanted the chance to get them back for their own uses.

Mo Hickey said...

yes, Patricia's exactly right--I wasn't clear enough about the details. the artists want the right to use their works for their own purposes, which isn't an ownership right, but a legit creative right (I forget exactly what it's called) nonetheless.

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