#1 Phantom — Peter Lik, $6.5 million
On December 9, 2014, fine art photography Peter Lik allegedly shattered all existing records with the sale of his Phantom black and white image (above). “The purpose of all my photos is to capture the power of nature and convey it in a way that inspires someone to feel passionate and connected to the image,” Peter said of the reported sale, which also reportedly included two other images and amounted to $10 million total. No word yet on who exactly ponied up the $10 million; all reports reference a press release in which only Peter and his attorney are quoted.
#2 Rhein II — Andreas Gursky (1999) $4.3 million
German photographer Andreas Gursky is known for his large-format architecture and landscape photographs, often taken from above. The above image, “Rhine II,” set the world record for the sale of a photograph when it was auctioned off at Christie’s in New York in November 2011. Before the 1990s, Gursky did not digitally alter his images, but “Rhine II,” a C-print mounted to plexiglass, was digitally altered — Gursky, wanting to construct a desolate landscape, removed distracting elements including a factory building, walkers, and cyclers.
In a video interview, Gursky described his vision for the image: “It says a lot using the most minimal means … for me it is an allegorical picture about the meaning of life and how things are.”
#3 Untitled #96 — Cindy Sherman (1981) $3.9 million
Before “Rhine II,” the sale of Cindy Sherman’s 1981 photograph entitled “Untitled #96” held the world record for highest sale of a photograph, also at Christie’s. Sherman — known for her provocative self-portraits — is exceptionally popular with collectors, once netting $13.7 million in one auction alone, according to Bloomberg.
#4 To Her Majesty — Gilbert & George (1973) $3.7 million
Gilbert & George are partners in life and work, but the pair is adamant that they are “two people, but one artist,” as George put it in an interview with Reuters. And while their work has risen to iconoclast levels in the last decade, the duo shuns all talk of the art “scene.” Says Gilbert, “We are not part of it, we never go near it. Our reason for making pictures is to change people, and not to congratulate them on being how they are.”
#5 Dead Troops Talk — Jeff Wall (1992) $3.7 million
Canadian artist Jeff Wall is best known for his large-scale back-lit cibachrome photographs, and is regarded as a major influence on the Dusseldorf group led by Andreas Gursky (who has cited Wall as “a great model for me”). Wall won the Hasselblad Award in 2002.
“I didn’t make Dead Troops Talk to comment on the Afghan war. I made it because I wanted to do a picture of dead men conversing. It was a theme or an image, or both, that occurred spontaneously, I have no idea why. So the picture had a personal, or inward, starting point.” — Jeff Wall, in an interview with Photoworks
#6 Untitled (Cowboy) — Richard Prince (2001-2002) $3.4 million
Richard Prince began his foray into artistry at Time-Life, Inc., where his job was to clip articles from magazines for staff writers, according to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Then an aspiring painter, Prince held onto what was left of the magazines after the articles were clipped out: pages upon pages of advertisements. Untitled (Cowboy) represents the height of Prince’s fascination with American archetypes, and the picture is actually a photograph of an advertisement. Says the Met, “Untitled Cowboy is, in the largest sense, a meditation on an entire culture’s continuing attraction to spectacle over lived experience.”
#7 99 Cent II, Diptychon — Andreas Gursky (2001) $3.3 million
“The first time I saw photographs by Andreas Gursky…I had the disorienting sensation that something was happening—happening to me, I suppose, although it felt more generalized than that. Gursky’s huge, panoramic colour prints—some of them up to six feet high by ten feet long—had the presence, the formal power, and in several cases the majestic aura of nineteenth-century landscape paintings, without losing any of their meticulously detailed immediacy as photographs. Their subject matter was the contemporary world, seen dispassionately and from a distance.” — Calvin Tomkins, The New Yorker
#8 Los Angeles — Andreas Gursky (1998) $2.9 million
“Gursky’s world of the 1990s is big, high-tech, fast-paced, expensive, and global. Within it, the anonymous individual is but one among many.” — MoMA
#9 The Pond—Moonlight — Edward Steichen (1904)
When The Pond-Moonlight was sold in 2006, it more than doubled the previous record for the medium, according to BBC. Steichen was one of the first Americans to use autochrome, and there are two copies of this photograph in existence — the one sold at auction and the one in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection.
#10 Untitled #153 — Cindy Sherman (1985) $2.7 million
“You can be terrified and screaming and hiding your eyes, but you’re laughing, the worse it is, because it’s just so over the top and cathartic to confront these things that are really disturbing. It’s okay because they’re fakes. It’s all set up. It’s functioning like a fairytale.” — Cindy Sherman