Shortly after a major Cindy Sherman retrospective opens at New York’s Museum of Modern Art on Feb. 26, one of her most famous images will be sold at Sotheby’s. The combination could boost her prices after last year’s career high auction total of $13.7 million.
The 8-by-10-inch black-and-white photograph depicts a young working woman, wearing a crisp suit and an anxious expression, standing amid big city buildings. It’s part of Sotheby’s contemporary-art sale on March 9 in New York and has a presale estimate of $150,000 to $200,000.
“It will get people very excited,” said Todd Levin, director of Levin Art Group in New York. “I would expect it to sell for between $600,000 and $800,000, with buyer’s premium.”
The work is from Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills,” a groundbreaking group of 69 gelatin-silver prints made between 1977 and 1980. In each, Sherman plays a female stereotype -- bombshell, housewife, lonely girl. MoMA bought the complete series in 1995, and it occupies an entire room in the retrospective.
Sotheby’s “Untitled Film Still #21,” the first in an edition of 10, is signed by Sherman on the back and inscribed “City Girl.” The artist gave it to a collector associated with Sherman’s 1984 exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, according to the auction house.
Along with the hitchhiker and the librarian, the city girl is among the most popular photos from the series, said Janelle Reiring, a partner at Metro Pictures gallery, which has represented Sherman since 1980.
“I believe they were priced at $200 each” when the gallery started working with Sherman, Reiring said. “Cindy has sold them previously out of her studio for $50 each.” In her last Metro Pictures exhibition, in 2008, works were priced between $175,000 and $250,000.
Sherman’s annual auction revenue between 2000 and 2006 had remained mostly in the range of $1.5 million to $2.8 million and then jumped in 2007 to $8.9 million, according to Artprice, a French research company. That year, a photograph from her centerfolds series, which depicts women in different states of emotional distress, fetched $2.1 million at Christie’s in New York.
Her auction total dropped to $1.6 million in 2009, during the recession, and was back at $8.1 million in 2010.
Last year was her biggest, with auction revenue rising 70 percent from 2010 to $13.7 million, according to Artprice. The MoMA show, which comprises 171 photographs, could boost it even further.
“Museum activities are very telling and have a huge influence on the market,” said Lowell Pettit of Pettit Art Partners, a New York-based art advisory firm. “People pay attention to that.”
Last May, a color photo from Sherman’s centerfolds series fetched $3.9 million at Christie’s in New York, setting an auction record for the medium. (Six months later, German artist Andreas Gursky dethroned Sherman when his landscape photo sold for $4.3 million, also at Christie’s.)
In 1981, when Metro Pictures exhibited the 12 centerfolds, each was priced at $1,000.
The MoMA show also highlights the depth of support for the artist’s work. Images were lent by billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad and hedge-fund manager Adam Sender. Computer-software developer Peter Norton contributed money to the museum to acquire several Sherman works. French billionaire Francois Pinault is a major collector.
Broad, the founder of the Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation in Los Angeles, first saw Sherman’s work in the early 1980s and has since amassed more than 100 photographs by the artist.
“There has been always curatorial and museum support,” Reiring said, “‘and she’s been always popular with collectors.”