Thanks to Polaroid’s cultishly coveted cameras and film, the company’s products have long been traded in the auction chasms of eBay: those classic Supercolor 635CLs leave nostalgic shutterbugs trolling the Internet for vintage models, and their discontinued instant film is perpetual hipster grail. But Polaroid also seems to suffer from endless financial malaise; last night and today, under order of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of Minnesota, the company put much more rarefied stock on a much less pedestrian block: over 1,000 pieces of photography amassed by Polaroid inventor and founder, Edwin Land, went to auction at Sotheby’s in New York. The auction house originally expected to pull in between $7 and $11 million total, but last night’s session fetched $7.2 million alone—with three more sessions and over 30 percent of the inventory left to go.
Click here to VIEW OUR GALLERY of the Polaroid collection under the hammer at Sotheby’s .
The collection is far beyond a pile of glowy, chemical-scented, white-bordered square snapshots—these are prized works by some of the boldest names in photography, taken with Polaroid film and cameras as well as other brands and types. Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, Chuck Close, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and David Hockney are among the many stars on sale, and several of their works have already set records. Last night, Adam’s Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park mural went, in a bidding frenzy, for $722,500. Close’s gigantic 9-Part Self-Portrait on Polapan (which you can view in our gallery) set a record for the photographer’s work: $250,500, well over its expected sale of around $60,000. Perhaps on the heels of publicity around the new Brooklyn Museum exhibition and the John Wilcock book (or maybe simply because he is who he is), Warhol broke a record with the large-format Polacolor print Self-Portrait (Grimace) going for almost $150,000, only to turn around and break that record with Self-Portrait (Eyes Closed), which went for over a quarter million dollars—way beyond its estimate of $15,000.
Sotheby’s directors speak about the Polaroid collection at auction.
Buying last night, which came at a frenzied pace in the room, on the phone, and online, indicated that some of the buyers bought multiple lots. Perhaps it’s happy news that Land’s collection won’t be orphaned among many various collectors, despite Polaroid's trustees having originally sought an institutional home to keep the collection together, according to sources. It has been reported that John Stoebner, a trustee of the company that is Polaroid’s cosignor, pulled several works from the auction at the last minute, among them photographs by Mary Ellen Mark, Warhol, and William Wegman. At the time of this posting, today’s sale was already tipping the total over $8 million, with around 300 lots left, and the highest tag items are set to hit the block tonight, including more of Adams’ mural-size pictures.
Claire Howorth is the Arts editor at the Daily Beast.