The Sotheby’s auction of more than 1000 photographs from the Polaroid Collection founded by Edwin H. Land in the 1950s will go ahead next week despite the controversy surrounding the sale.

Hundreds of artists, including Ansel Adams, William Wegman, Andy Warhol, Imogen Cunningham, Robert Frank, Helmut Newton, Luigi Ghirri, Chuck Close and Robert Mapplethorpe, donated Polaroid photos and other photographic prints to Land’s collection with the understanding, according to Close, that they were contributing to a collection that would be kept intact.

However PBE Corp., formerly Polaroid Corp., has been ordered by a Minnesota Bankruptcy Court judge to sell the collection to pay debts. PBE Corp. became a victim of a $3.7 billion Ponzi scheme by Minnesota businessman Tom Petters, whose Petters Group Worldwide bought it in 2005. Petters was convicted last year of fraud and money laundering, a sentence he is appealing while serving a 50-year prison term. After unsuccessful efforts to sell the collection to an institution, PBE Corp. decided to hold an auction to compensate creditors.

Some of the artists, most notably Chuck Close, under guidance from former magistrate judge Sam Joyner were reportedly contemplating legal action to block the sale from taking place, however no legal action has materialized.

Sotheby’s will auction only part of the collection—“the part of the collection that we felt had the most auction viability,” Sotheby’s photography expert Denise Bethel told reporters. The high estimate for the Sotheby’s auction is nearly $11 million.

Bankruptcy trustee John R. Stoebner will continue to seek buyer for the works that aren’t being offered for sale in the Sotheby’s auction, Bethel said.

Meanwhile, The Impossible Project, a Netherlands company that makes instant film for vintage Polaroid cameras offered an undisclosed sum for the 4,500 images from the Polaroid Collection that have been on loan at the Musée de l’Elysée in Switzerland since 1990. According to Dr. Florian Kaps, the company’s executive director, the offer has been accepted in principle but a contractual agreement is yet to be signed. Kaps says he hopes to complete the sale next week.

Adding to the controversy surrounding the sale and dispersal of the Polaroid Collection are questions about whether thousands of images may have been lost or stolen under PBE’s ownership. AD Coleman has pointed out on his blog Photocritic International that previous estimates placed the size of the collection at more than 24,000 pieces, while PBE Corp. stated in bankruptcy proceedings that the collection numbers just 16,000 pieces.

Stoebner did not respond to PDN’s request for an interview.

The Sotheby’s sales is scheduled for June 21–22. More information about the work included in the sale can be found here:

Related: Auction Preview: Gems of the Polaroid Collection

—By Conor Risch and Eli Meixler



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