WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Urban Culture Auctions (UCA), a division of Palm Beach Modern Auctions, recorded a 100% sell-through rate with its September 26 auction of mid-20th-century “beefcake” photos taken by Bruce Bellas (1909-1974), known professionally as Bruce of Los Angeles. More than 200 lots of vintage prints, negatives, slides, real-photo greeting cards and posing props were offered, with 93% selling during the auction and the remaining 7% after the event. Absentee and live online bidding was facilitated by LiveAuctioneers.
Focused on the male physique, 1950s/’60s photos of male nude models and bodybuilders were in the vanguard of gay culture
Most of the photos, which played an important contributing role in the foundation of America’s gay movement, were taken in Bellas’ Los Angeles studio, while a smaller number that focused on weightlifters and Southern California’s fitness culture were shot at Muscle Beach in Santa Monica/Venice, California. All focused on the male physique.
The Bellas archive was consigned by art director Dimitri Levas, who was Robert Mapplethorpe’s (1946-1989) close friend and set stylist. He currently serves on the board of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Levas was also a set designer for renowned fashion photographer Bruce Weber.
Bidding was off to an exciting start when the sale’s opener, a group of three photos and the actual Roman-style posing column used in the photos, swept past its $1,000-$2,000 estimate to land at $9,750. It was followed by the top lot of the day, a selection of four photos offered together with the red demilune posing seat used by models in all of the pictures. The price realized was $18,200, more than nine times the high estimate. Making it a trifecta, the sale’s third lot, consisting of four Bruce Bellas (1909-1974) nude male photos plus negatives and the tom-tom drum used as a prop in those images, achieved $4,225.
There was strong interest in photos of actor Joe Dallesandro, who starred in several Andy Warhol movies and is considered the most famous male sex symbol of both gay subculture and American underground films of the 20th century. In 2009, he was honored with a Teddy Award for his contributions to the LGBTQ community. Sixteen lots of Dallesandro photographs were offered, several accompanied by enlargeable negatives. An 11- by 14-inch gelatin silver print of Dallessandro in a casual pose sold for $3,120, while a grouping of four different poses from the same sitting made $3,250. Both lots had been entered in the sale with a $1,000-$2,000 estimate.
Action was brisk through all four online-bidding platforms, as is usually the case for UCA events. “The bids poured in from Spain, Canada, Italy, Switzerland, the UK, New Zealand, and of course, the United States,” said auctioneer and auction house co-owner Rico Baca. “That being said, the most successful bidder in terms of volume was a private collector from Florida who was here at the gallery.”
The sale concluded with a small collection of provocative circa-1970s photos of male models in sexually explicit positions. All exceeded expectations, including a group of three shots of a model wearing a motorcycle cap, which sold for $2,210 against an estimate of $400-$600.
“The auction was a resounding success, with the marketplace validating Bruce Bellas both as a photographer and a historically noteworthy figure,” said Baca. “The enthusiasm we felt from the live audience and remote bidders made it clear that even sixty-plus years after these images were created, Bellas’ impact on gay culture and the art world is still being felt.”
To discuss consigning any quality item of vintage pop culture memorabilia to a future Urban Culture Auctions event, call 561-586-5500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit them online at www.urbancultureauctions.com.