A year ago, the art world was startled by the following message:
Peter Lik Print Sells for $6.5 Million, Shattering Record for Most Expensive Photo
Australian landscape photographer Peter Lik has taken the crown for most expensive photo ever sold. “Phantom,” the picture shown above, was sold to a private collector for a staggering $6.5 million. The record was previously held by Andreas Gursky’s “Rhein II”, which sold for $4.3 million back in 2011.[http://petapixel.com]
But soon there emerged a lot of doubts about this deal. As with his 2010 piece, "One", the purported sale was to a private collector, and therefore there was no way to verify the claim. Rumors have swirled for years that Lik’s investors "buy" his works at absurd prices as a marketing stunt to generate interest in his work. And soon the whole "business model" of Peter Lik has been questioned. Renowned media such as the New York Times or The Guardian dealt extensively with Peter Lik. "Is that $6.5 Million Photo Sale for Real? Probably Not!" an article on artnet news is titled. "Buyer beware: Treat Peter Lik photo sale with skepticism", "Those $10m Photos May Not Be Art—and Now There Are Doubts About the Truth of the Sales", "The Most Expensive Photo in the World, or the Best Marketing Stunt?" where other headlines.
There was also a significant backlash to this news on Twitter, where @LarryWasser called it "the sad story of uneducated buyers" and @polarapfel saw Lik's business as a guide to "how to run a successful scam on novice art buyers." On Facebook, Ken Micallef called Lik's practices "sickening and hilarious".
If you consider that, according to the artnet Price Database Lik‘s work has only topped the $3,000 mark (on the secondary market) once for a 2008 sale of a color version of "Phantom" (named "Ghost" then which is, as you can see above,the same picture, just converted to b&w, also nothing is known about the size), which sold for $15,860, these doubts are more than justified.
So what is Peter Lik‘s "Business model" then?
His editions are in lots of 995—950 „limited editions“ and 45 artist’s proofs. Each print is identical but the proofs have a bit more prestige to them so they start at $10,000. His business model is that as a print is selling, the price will increase. Once he has sold 10 percent of a limited edition, the price increases. So, an image that would cost $4000 if you bought the first one, could reach as high as $200,000 when it’s down to the last few.
(Note: Most photographers offer their work in very limited editions. A large format print is often limited to ten or less. And they all sell for the same amount.)
For the record-setting Phantom, Lik employed a new tactic, putting the word out to his most prolific collectors that his latest work would be one-of-a-kind. The $6.5 million sale was widely reported, but the backlash was swift, both against the photo's artistic value and the validity of the astronomical price tag. As the New York Times points out, the sale was both private and anonymous, so "it's hard to know what's 'official' about it."
The Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian newspaper, has taken Lik's unlikely sale to task, citing the lack of documentary proof of the sale aside from the press release and advices to be skeptical of the sale because
- The work was sold privately to an unknown buyer and no documentary proof beyond a press release of the sale appears to have been provided.
- Lik's work has been ignored by major public art galleries and dismissed by critics.
- When his photos have gone up for public auction, they have not sold well.
Art consultant David Hulme, who in 2012 warned against collecting Lik "because Peter Lik's photographs have no secondary market presence or value," routinely fields calls from Lik owners who are hoping for a profitable resale. He told the New York Times that he worries that Lik's 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. And Michael Hoppen, a gallery owner in London, was quoted by The Independent in England, "[Phantom] is an abomination. Art, whatever, the medium, is something that moves and informs you or changes your opinion. This has nothing to do with art or creative photography, and the tragedy is that it brings the whole business down."
The art world is full of ridiculous egos.
Peter Lik's claims to be the "world's most influential fine art photographer" and "one of the most important artists of the 21st century". But there are not many who would follow his view...
So here is my conclusion on this whole even episode:
If you have enough money and like Peter Lik‘s work - go for it. But don‘t expect that the worth will rise. (And maybe you should also take into consideration that there are hundreds of photographers that to much better work then Lik ever will do).
If you want to invest your money in art, hoping do get more out of it - don‘t buy Lik‘s work. You only would lose money...
This is a follow up of my 2014 articel at my art connected blog.