Stalling Polaroid Art Sale with Sotheby’s

A group led by a former US magistrate judge has launched an 11th hour campaign to prevent the auction of photographs from the Polaroid collection. Judge Sam Joyner and others are working towards filing a motion for a rehearing at the Minnesota bankruptcy court that awarded sale rights to Sotheby’s last August. The Art Newspaper reported that a selection from the Polaroid collection is due to go under the hammer at Sotheby’s New York on 21 and 22 June. The auction of more than 1,200 works is estimated to fetch $7.5m-$11.5m. Joyner said: “We have certainly had a number of photographers saying they would be interested in having their rights preserved. We are evaluating the possibilities.”

The once-mighty Polaroid Corporation (famed for its invention of instant, negative-free photographs, but since eclipsed by digital photography) filed for bankruptcy twice in the past decade—most recently in 2008 in connection with a $3.65bn Ponzi (investment fraud) scheme at parent company Petters Group Worldwide. The Polaroid name and assets—barring the photo graphy collect ion—were ac quired by private equity firm Hilco Consumer Capital and liquidator Gordon Brothers Group, for $88m in 2009. The collection remained behind with the defunct Polaroid Corporation, renamed PBE, and is in the hands of PBE’s liquidators.

The Polaroid Collection chronicled decades of experimentation by artists including Andy Warhol, Chuck Close, Ansel Adams and William Wegman. The collection was the initiative of Polaroid founder Edwin Land, who gave film and equipment to leading artists in exchange for photographs.

While many of the photographs in the collection were owned outright by Polaroid—including a core group of vintage gelatin-silver prints assembled for Polaroid by Ansel Adams in the 1950s and around 400 photographs taken by Adams himself—there are a “significant” number of agreements that did not “give full and complete commercial rights” to Polaroid, according to Joyner. He hopes to galvanise artists involved in the collection to file motions for a rehearing, and is contacting hundreds of photographers in a bid to check their original agreements with Polaroid.

Polaroid’s right to sell the collection—and the subsequent rights of the purchasers—was dependent upon the language used in the agreements, said Joyner. Some of the agreements only granted Polaroid licence to exhibit and publish the works for non-commercial use, he said. Joyner believes that both the Delaware Bankruptcy Court that awarded transfer of the Polaroid Collection in 2002 and the Minnesota Bankruptcy Court that approved the Sotheby’s sale in 2009, “acted without full knowledge of the restrictive language in the many and varied licence agreements”. He cites a sample Polaroid Collection Release form to artists which specifically grants “worldwide non-exclusive rights for exhibition and editorial (non-commercial) publication purposes of the…images in perpetuity”—rather than constituting a commercial bill of sale.

For more of the article by Charlotte Burns visit www.TheArt Newspaper.com

Polaroid photos by Lucas Samaras, Chuck Close and Andy Warhol
Eli Consilvio