Peter Lik took a photograph entitled Phantom which was sold for unbelievable sum of $ 6.5 million, and those following the news about the art market (also everyone reading the art pages in the newspapers) were quite shocked. The news left no one indifferent. Firstly, the “usual, regular” people who are not involved in art market, nor possess knowledge on how the art market actually functions were shocked that someone would actually buy a photograph for that amount of money. Secondly, the actors at the art marker, or the connoisseurs of contemporary art were surprised by the fact that Peter Lik was the author of the most expensive photograph ever sold. There is nothing unusual in the works create by Lik, but there are so many photographers whose reputation on the international scene was (and still is) so much higher. Thirdly, and probably, for this article, the most important reaction came from other connoisseurs of contemporary art who didn’t react at all to this sale. The reason for that is because Lik is not present at the most important art market stages. His works are not valued there as much as someone would think. The brilliant article by David Segal in the New York Times reveals what is behind this record sale. The whole machinery of semi-legal actions led to the artificial inflates of Lik’s market, increasing the price of his photographs up to the unimaginable amounts. The question is how Lik managed to do that, and what the consequences of his actions are?
Peter Lik is an Australian photographer, who has been living in the United States for more than a decade. He began his career by opening a successful postcard company in his home country. After that, Lik opened four galleries to sell his prints. Yet, his wish was to move to the United States and to expand his business. At the beginning, he settled down in Maui, Hawaiian Islands, where he opened a gallery. Two years later, in 2005, Peter Lik opened a gallery in in the shops in the famous Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. In the years to come, he opened 15 galleries across the US, while keeping the core of his business in Las Vegas. He has sold over 100,000 photographs, all of them custom-printed, mounted and framed, then boxed up at the headquarters in Las Vegas. Last year, the company sold $ 1.6 million worth of photographs every week. However, the art of Peter Lik has always been in the background. His career is much more about the galleries he owns, the huge amounts of money his company earns by selling his photographs. He never showed any interest in the work of his colleagues, nor was he interested in following new trends in contemporary photography. Lik just focused on his business and on the three months journeys across the country where he takes his photographs.
After the breaking news in December that his Phantom photograph was sold for $ 6.5 million, many experts began to question who is behind this trade. The identity of the buyer wasn’t reveled. The serious doubts emerged about the real value of Peter Lik’s Phantom, and a whole scheme of the price-creation process was revealed. Nearly every Peter Lik photograph is printed in a limited edition of 995. The first print sells at about $ 4,000, with the price rising as the edition sells out. He printed a single copy of “Phantom.” Then he alerted some of his most passionate collectors, one of whom agreed to the $ 6.5 million price. The assumption is that it was a private sale, with a hired PR company to follow the reactions of the wider audience. However, this is only the pick of the iceberg. The team of the so-called experts and collectors always walk around the Lik’s galleries, speaking about the “enormous” value of Peter Lik’s photographs.
Peter Lik took a photograph entitled Phantom was sold for unbelievable $ 6.5 million, and he is the author of the most expensive photograph ever sold. Yes, he won in this completion. But, what is the price of his win for the contemporary art and photography, and for the art market? It is completely fair that many actors at the art market simply ignore the Lik’s work. However, what about the buyers of his photographs? Is it their own responsibility for being naïve and buying the photographs for the price that is so much overrated? According to the artnet Price Database, Lik has never sold for more than $ 15,860 at auction. Yet, he is selling his photographs for millions of dollars. Having in mind suspicious circumstances surrounding Lik and his actions at the market, serious questions should be posed. Do we need more regulations at the art market? As we wrote in the article dealing with the money laundering at the art market, the potential buyers should be informed about the real prices at the market. Unfortunately, many buyers of Lik’s photographs were not informed at all. Yes, it’s also their responsibility, but it should be the responsibility of other actors at the art market as well, because the example of Peter Lik and Phantom is not a pure exception.
All images for illustrative purposes only!
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