The Value of a Photograph

Andreas Gursky Rhein 2A glass-mounted print of Andreas Gursky’s Rhein II recently broke the record price for a photographic work, selling at auction for $4.3m.  As reported by BBC, the auction price greatly surpassed Christie’s anticipated sale price estimate of $2.5-3.5 million.  The buyer was not identified.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York also owns a print of Rhein II, a 61-1/4″ x 10′ 1-1/2″ chromagenic print.  The MoMA collection information about the piece indicates that in the process of making the image, Gursky digitally removed industrial buildings from the scene.

Not long ago, photographs and photographic based artworks were often relegated to the low end of the art market, but this is still in the process of changing.  Although it is an exceptional case, the sale of  Rhein II  demonstrates that artworks composed of photographic and digital media are (rightly) receiving recognition of their significance as contemporary art.  It also strongly suggests that the art market believes that photographic works will retain long-term (monetary) value, a perspective that counteracts the prior prejudice against non-traditional media as unmasterly, mass-produced objects.

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