News last year that the work of Australian landscape photographer Peter Lik’s photographic work, ‘Phantom’ had become the most expensive photo in history was quickly called into question. The image was said to have sold for an impressive $6.5 million, or £4.1 million. The work is a black-and-white shot of Arizona’s Antelope Canyon, with a piercing column of sunlight appearing like a ghostly figure between the rocky outcropping.
The sale of the photograph was said to have been to an anonymous Los Angeles collector, it also said to have included two other photos by the artist: ‘Illusion’, which sold for $2.4 million, or £1.5 million and ‘Eternal Moods’, which fetched $1.1 million, or £700,000. This sale had therefore placed four of Lik’s works among the top twenty most expensive photos of all time. Apparently.
The artist’s chief financial officer claims that over 100,000 of Lik’s photographs have been sold for more than $440 million, which would make him the most financially successful fine art photographer of all time.
Then came the Sydney Morning, citing the lack of documentary proof of the sale aside from the press release. When Fairfax Media reported that Lik sold another work for $1 million, or £636,000 in 2012, art consultant David Hulme went on record saying he would warn clients to “be extremely wary of purchasing a Peter Lik photograph, however good it is, because Peter Lik’s photographs have no secondary market presence or value,” routinely fielding calls from Lik owners who are hoping for a profitable resale.
Hulme went on to tell the Times that he worries that the galleries’ tiered pricing structure is “misleading” customers, understandably causing them to assume that the outside market will reflect the ever-rising prices charged by the artist.
Now the New York Times, has also called these figures into question, citing that at auction, Lik has never sold for more than $15,860 or a mere £10,261 – a price that was achieved for ‘Ghost’, a colour version of the work ‘Phantom’, at a 2008 sale. That is his only sale thus far that has brought in more than $3,000 or £1,940.
The Australian photographer sells in limited editions of 995,and is able to create artificial demand by driving up the prices as the number of copies diminishes. An image that is 95 percent sold-out becomes “Premium Peter Lik” for having been worth around £4000 – rises to $17,500. This perceived scarcity provides a big incentive to buy today, before the price goes up even further as the works find their target buyer.
The Guardian recently described the work as “hollow, clichéd, and tasteless, the black and white shot of an Arizona canyon isn’t art – and proves that photography never will be”.
The publication went on to state at the time of the supposed record sale: “the record-setting picture typifies everything that goes wrong when photographers think they are artists.” The publication continues stating that Lik’s use of black and white as “outmoded” and “affected.”
© Artlyst 2014 photo courtesy of Peter Lik all rights reserved