Is That $6.5 Million Photo Sale for Real? Probably Not!

Peter Lik Phantom. Photo: Peter Lik.

News that Australian photographer Peter Lik had broken the world record for the most expensive photograph with a $6.5 million sale has understandably taken the art world by surprise. Some people, however, are expressing doubt that the black and white landscape photograph really commanded such an astronomical price tag (see “$6.5 Million Landscape Is World’s Most Expensive Photo“).

The Sydney Morning Herald has taken Lik’s unlikely sale to task, 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 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. This is because Peter Lik’s photographs have no secondary market presence or value.”

Though Lik has had minimal success in major art galleries and auctions, he is mainly represented in Las Vegas, where over-the-top price tags from everything from food to entertainment to accommodations have become the norm. If the sale is authentic, the city’s spendthrift ethos may have played a role in the $10 million transaction, which included two other images, giving Lik four of the top 20 most expensive photos of all time.

A video accompanying the Herald story described Lik, who has his own YouTube channel, as “a cross between a fine art photographer and Bear Grylls,” the star of Man vs. Wild., and showed the artist rappelling down a cliff to get an unusual angle for his shot. The Art Market Monitor went with “something of a Thomas Kinkade of photographers.”

Jeff Frost, <em>Standing in the Circle</em> (2014).

Jeff Frost, Standing in the Circle (2014).

Even if the $6.5 million photo sale is legit, a rival photographer named Jeff Frost is already claiming to have broken the record—by a 10 cent margin. In a phony press release mocked up to resemble the one sent out by Lik, Frost begins by admitting that “this is going to seem incredible given the fact that the world record had just been set, but the dollar amounts being so close is pure coincidence.”

He claims that he was all set to sell his piece for $6.5 million when he “made an offhand remark that I would not sell the piece to my anonymous collector unless I received 10 additional cents. Obviously I was joking, but the collector—showing his good humor—dutifully paid $6.5 million and 10 cents. He even made the last zero on the check a smiley face, if you can believe that.” The release describes Standing in the Circle, a dessert landscape scene from Joshua tree, California, featuring a group of tree-like figures congregating around a glaring flash of light, as a “major masterwork.”

“It just so turned out that Mr. Lik was selling his piece at the exact same price,” added Frost. “We realize that the odds are completely out of this world, but this is very real, I assure you. No one is more shocked than my team and I.” Conveniently, his buyer, too, wishes to remain anonymous “for antisocial reasons.”

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