Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Auction Results: First Open Post-War and Contemporary Art, September 23, 2009 @Christie's

Christie's got off to a good start this auction season with a solid outcome in its First Open Post-War and Contemporary Art sale last week. The photography in the sale generally performed well, with a low overall buy-in rate and Total Sale Proceeds within the range, albeit on the low side. A broader wrap-up article, covering the entire sale, can be found here.

The summary statistics are below (all results include the buyer’s premium):

Total Lots: 20
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: $256000
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: $371000
Total Lots Sold: 17
Total Lots Bought In: 3
Buy In %: 15.00%
Total Sale Proceeds: $263125

Here is the breakdown (using the Low, Mid, and High definitions from the preview post, here):

Low Total Lots: 4
Low Sold: 4
Low Bought In: 0
Buy In %: 00.00%
Total Low Estimate: $31000
Total Low Sold: $51250

Mid Total Lots: 15
Mid Sold: 12
Mid Bought In: 3
Buy In %: 20.00%
Total Mid Estimate: $280000
Total Mid Sold: $161875

High Total Lots: 1
High Sold: 1
High Bought In: 0
Buy In %: 00.00%
Total High Estimate: $60000
Total High Sold: $50000

82.35% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above the estimate range. There was only one surprise in this sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate):

Lot 1, Gerhard Richter, Guildenstern, 1998, at $20000

The top lot by High estimate was Lot 91, John Bock, Untitled, 2000, at $40000-60000, and it was the top outcome of the sale at $50000.

Complete lot by lot results can be found here.

20 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10020

Auction Results: Photographies, Mobilier et Objects D'Art, September 23, 2009 @Sotheby's Paris

The first photography lots on offer this auction season were buried in a house sale at Sotheby's in Paris last week, but the results were surprisingly strong, with a respectable buy-in rate (especially given the mixed sale) and Total Sale Proceeds that just missed the Total High Estimate. If this sale is any litmus test for the mood of the photography market, the activity level seems unexpectedly high.

The summary statistics are below:

Total Lots: 65
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: 409200€
Total Lots Sold: 47
Total Lots Bought In: 18
Buy In %: 27.69%
Total Sale Proceeds: 396625€

Here is the breakdown (using the Low, Mid, and High definitions from the preview post, here):

Low Total Lots: 52
Low Sold: 38
Low Bought In: 14
Buy In %: 26.92%
Total Low Estimate: 183200€
Total Low Sold: 210625€

Mid Total Lots: 13
Mid Sold: 9
Mid Bought In: 4
Buy In %: 30.77%
Total Mid Estimate: 226000€
Total Mid Sold: 186000€

High Total Lots: 0
High Sold: NA
High Bought In: NA
Buy In %: NA
Total High Estimate: 0€
Total High Sold: NA

A solid 91.49% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above the estimate range. Amazingly, there were a total of ten surprises in this sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate):

Lot 33, Andre Villers, L'Atelier de Picasso, Avec Tableau Portrait de Sylvette, 1954, at 6000€
Lot 58, Robert Mapplethorpe, Donald Cann, 1982, at 35550€
Lot 67, Adolf Fassbender, White Night, New York, 1930, at 16250€
Lot 139, Herb Ritts, Clay Nude on Mantel, 1989, at 6250€
Lot 144, Bruce Weber, Coast Guard On Leave, Honolulu, 1982, at 7500€
Lot 158, Berenice Abbott, Broome Street, New York, 1940, at 10625€
Lot 159, Andreas Feininger, New York, 1940, 12500€
Lot 160, Andreas Feininger, New York, 1945, at 11875€
Lot 161, Andreas Feininger, World's Most Wonderful Snowstorm, 1940, at 8125€
Lot 163, Serge Bramly, L'Avion Chanel, 2002, at 5250€

The top lots by high estimate split, but neither was the highest of the sale. Lot 65, Irving Penn, Enga Warrior, 1970/1977, with an estimate of 25000-30000€, sold for 33150€; Lot 156, Ansel Adams, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941/later, also with an estimate of 25000-30000€, did not sell. Lot 58, Robert Mapplethorpe, Donald Cann, 1982, was the top seller at 35550€.

Complete lot by lot results can be found here.

76, Rue Du Faubourg Saint-Honore
75008 Paris

Tim Davis: The New Antiquity @Greenberg Van Doren

JTF (just the facts): A total of 17 color works (16 single images and 1 triptych), framed in brown with no mat and hung in the entry and main gallery spaces. The c-prints range widely in size (from 8x10 to 60x72), were taken in 2008 and 2009, and are all made in editions of 6+2AP. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Humor and photography don't seem to go together very often these days; while a few recent photographers have succeeded in blending satire with significance (Martin Parr and Lee Friedlander come to mind), most don't even try; they're too busy being serious. And while the works in Tim Davis' new show aren't exactly guffaw-inducing, they certainly inhabit the territory of clever juxtaposition and irreverent contradiction.

The images in the exhibit were taken during a Rome Prize Fellowship in Italy, and later mixed with other works from China, the US, and elsewhere. In a gallery world full of rigidly formulaic narrow-gauged projects, these pictures cover a variety of subjects, are loosely connected thematically, and are printed in a wide range of sizes; this creates a feeling of singular discovery with each image, even when the adjacent images don't seem particularly related.

The detritus of modern life provides the setting for most of the pictures, albeit twisted by wry combinations with ancient undertones: golfers flail underneath a Roman aqueduct, an array of digital cameras show tourist snaps of the Colosseum, a miniature Sphinx flanks some hi-rise apartments, and a beautiful fresco is covered by a spiderweb of carved graffiti. Other pairings of detailed findings seem even more odd: a fluorescent green soccer cleat abandoned in lush ground cover, some large breasted prostitutes inexplicably standing in the woods, or a bronze statue of upside-down pants in a Chinese parking lot. There is certainly an element of witty surprise in many of these pictures; in others, the ironic significance is much less readily apparent, and the images seem more random.

All in, while the gallery show is generally solid if a bit uneven, I'm guessing this work will perform even better in book form, where many more images can be sequenced together and the sly complexity of the project can be more fully fleshed out.

Collector's POV: The prints in the show are priced between $2000 and $12000, based on size. Davis has no meaningful record at auction to date, so gallery retail is likely the only viable option for accessing his work in the short term. I think we first saw Davis' work at the Armory earlier this year, and while it doesn't fit into our particular collecting genres, I came away from this show impressed with the handful of images that smartly balance the found juxtapositions to highlight the overlooked absurdities.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Reviews: artnet (here), TimeOut (here)
  • Interview: White Hot magazine (here)
  • The New Antiquity, published by Damiani (here)
Tim Davis: The New Antiquity
Through October 24th

Greenberg Van Doren Gallery
730 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10019

Keizo Kitajima, The Joy of Portraits @Amador

JTF (just the facts): A total of 48 black and white and color images, framed in black and matted, and hung throughout in the main gallery space. (Installation shots at right.) Six separate projects are represented in the show; details for each are as follows:
  • Koza: 6 gelatin silver prints, taken between 1977 and 1980, printed in 2008, all 12x9 or reverse, in editions of 7
  • Tokyo: 8 gelatin silver prints, taken in 1979, printed in 2008, all 12x9, in editions of 7
  • New York: 11 gelatin silver prints, taken between 1981 and 1982, printed in 2002, all 12x9, in editions of 7
  • Eastern Europe: 6 gelatin silver prints, taken between 1983 and 1984, printed in 2003, all 12x9, in editions of 7
  • Seoul, Berlin, New York: 11 digital c-prints, taken between 1986 and 1989, printed in 2004, all 12x9 or reverse, in editions of 12
  • Soviet Union: 6 digital c-prints, taken in 1991, printed in 2009, 12x17 or reverse, in editions of 5
Comments/Context: The exhibit of Keizo Kitajima's portraits now on view at Amador Gallery is really a mini-retrospective of sorts, a sampler of a handful of different projects spanning approximately 15 years. What I like best about this show is that it shows the evolution of an artist's approach to picture making over time; ideas are expressed, refined, and adapted to different circumstances, and then eventually abandoned when a new perspective is required.

Kitajima's earliest works used a snapshot aesthetic to capture the cultural mixing of servicemen and local residents in Okinawa, often in bars or in nighttime encounters. In the following years, under the influence of Daido Moriyama and others, Kitajima's Tokyo work became much darker, toned, grainy and often out of focus, with a heavy emphasis on process; high contrast images were rephotographed and roughly printed, with chemical residues dripping visibly down the sides. The images have an avant-garde performance aspect to them, reminiscent of the whole Provoke era.

In the early 1980s, Kitajima came to New York, where he left behind the experimental processes and returned to environmental snapshot portraiture, now using flash lighting to document the gritty street life of the city; his camera was drawn to the fringes: the sordid, the outrageous, and the unusual. His book, New York, published in 1982, earned him the Kimura Ihei Award and cemented his position as a fine art photographer in Japan. Kitajima then moved on to Eastern Europe, where his portraits became slightly more formal, buttoned-up overcoats and three-quarter poses matching the grey skies and dreary cities.

Color entered the photographer's palette in the late 1980s, where his snapshot aesthetic was still in evidence, but now modified to capture fleeting head shots on city streets around the world; these works are strongly reminiscent of similar images by Harry Callahan and Philip-Lorca diCorcia. The final group of images in the show are from Kitajima's visit to the USSR in 1991, just prior to its collapse. These pictures are formal color portraits, carefully framed and composed, with more sense of surrounding context. Put side by side with his 1970s era black and whites, most would be hard pressed to be convinced that these two projects were the work of the same photographer.

While Kitajima's portraits aren't uniformly engaging, I thoroughly enjoyed being able to see how his technique has evolved over time, and how interlocking pieces have been added and taken away to create new aesthetic variations at each step along his artistic road.

Collector's POV: The prints in this show range in price from $2500 to $3500, based on the different projects. Kitajima's work has to date not been available in the secondary markets, so gallery retail is the only option for interested collectors at this point. A few of his collectible photo books have started to appear in the photo book auctions.

While portraits aren't a fit for our specific collection, I particularly enjoyed the late 1970s Tokyo images, where shadowy sunglassed faces are cropped and reworked.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub
  • The Joy of Portraits, published by Rat Hole Gallery (here)
  • NYTimes review, 2006 (here)
Keizo Kitajima, The Joy of Portraits
Through November 7th

Amador Gallery
41 East 57th Street
New York, NY 10022

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Auction: Photographs, October 15, 2009 @Phillips London

For some reason, Phillips has decided against a spot in line with the rest of the auction houses in New York this season, and scheduled a various owner photographs sale in London a week later. This sale is a mixed bag of material, tilted as usual toward the contemporary, with additional installments of Mapplethorpe prints from Lisa Lyon, vintage Japanese work from the Jacobsen/Hashimoto collection, and a handful of fresh works from the Humble Arts Foundation. There are a total of 180 lots on offer, with a total high estimate of £1283600.

Here's the breakdown:

Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including £5000): 87
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): £268600

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between £5000 and £25000): 86
Total Mid Estimate: £715000

Total High Lots (high estimate above £25000): 7
Total High Estimate: £300000

The top lot by High estimate is lot 131, Irving Penn, Girl behind glass (Jean Pacthett), New York, 1949, at £50000-70000.
Here's the list of photographers with at least 3 images in the sale (with the number of lots on offer in parentheses):
Robert Mapplethorpe (8)
Hiroshi Sugimoto (8)
Iwao Yamawaki (8)
Nobuyoshi Araki (5)
Shikanosuke Yagaki (5)
Rene Burri (4)
Horst P. Horst (4)
Farhad Moshiri & Shirin Aliabadi (4)
Lillian Bassman (3)
Henri Cartier-Bresson (3)
Helmut Newton (3)
Koyo Okada (3)
Norman Parkinson (3)
Sebastiao Salgado (3)
Chris Steele-Perkins (3)
Minayohsi Takada (3)
While there weren't too many great fits for our collection in this sale, we did like:
Lot 108 Susan Derges, River Taw (Crab Apple), 13 May 1998
Lot 146 Reem Al Faisal, Untitled from Jeddah Port, 1995
Lot 152 Hiroshi Sugimoto, Honen Dam, 2001
Lot 165 Iwao Yamawaki, View from a lookout tower, 1932 (at right)

The complete lot by lot catalog can be found here.

October 15th

Howick Place
London SW1P 1BB

Nicholas Nixon: Old Home, New Pictures @Pace/MacGill

JTF (just the facts): A total of 30 black and white prints, framed in black and matted, and hung against grey walls in the entry and two main gallery rooms. The prints are 11x14 gelatin silver contact prints, in editions of 10, made from negatives taken in 2008-2009. A monograph of this work is scheduled to published by Steidl in 2010. (No photography is allowed in the galleries, so the installation shot at right is via the Pace/MacGill website.)

Comments/Context: I'm pretty certain that if we asked a decent sized group of collectors what they know about Nicholas Nixon, nearly all of them would come up with The Brown Sisters. While it is wonderful for Nixon that this particular series has become so popular, I think that those images have inadvertently sucked away all of the attention from his other bodies of work, many of which deserve more recognition.
The new works on view in this show at first seem unrelated: close-up fragmented self portraits and dense elevated images of Boston city buildings. Yet the way these prints have been installed (in groups of similar subject matter, then interspersed, or in pairs of opposing subjects), there is a subtle interplay and connection between the two, creating a back and forth resonance that enhances both sets of pictures.
The self portraits recall the extreme cropping of Brandt's portrait of Giacometti (here). Nixon seems to have begun exploring this idea back in the late 1990s, when he was making a series of family images; this new project takes the idea much further. Here, Nixon has rigorously scrutinized every inch of his own face, analyzing its contours and folds with an amazing purity of vision. He has made various pared down images of a single eye, evoking different moods simply through the angle of approach; the white whiskers of his beard have become a field of crisp spiky grasses; his mouth has become a yawning dark abyss; an ear, an eyelash, a shirt button, and a ring all become become spare identifiers.
The city images are full of two dimensional juxtapositions of brick and glass, old and new flattened into planes of patterned windows and architectural details. Shadows and reflections provide further contrast; fire escapes and steel skeletons provide geometric repetition. Unlike Nixon's broader views of Boston and New York from the 1970s or more recently from the Big Dig, we are now much closer in, looking with unadorned clarity at how the details of the city are changing.
So thus, the connection between the two bodies of work becomes more clear: Nixon is examining the effects of aging (a topic he has addressed in other ways previously), both on himself and on his hometown. Like all of his work, these images are subdued in their emotions, lucid in their construction, and executed with exacting technical perfection. All in, this show is a tremendous reminder that exciting new work can still be made within the confines of the black and white traditions nearly everyone else has left behind.

Collector's POV: The prints in this show are priced at $3500 each. Nixon's work comes up at auction fairly regularly, generally ranging in price between $1000 and $7000. The images from The Brown Sisters are always at the top end of this range (even in editions of 50), while his other work is much more reasonably priced. Nicholas Nixon is represented on the West coast by Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco (here).
While I think several of the self portraits are the strongest images in this show, there are quite a few city scenes on view that would also fit nicely into our particular collection.

Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • The Brown Sisters @NGA, 2005 (here)
  • NY Times review of MoMA show, 1988 (here)
Through October 24th

32 East 57th Street
New York, NY 10022

Monday, September 28, 2009

Charles Marville, Paris Before Lartigue @Greenberg

JTF (just the facts): A total off 11 albumen prints (from wet collodion negatives), framed in brown and matted, and hung in the book alcove. The images were taken and printed in the 1860s/1870s, and are approximately 11x14 or reverse. (Installation shot at right, top.)

There are three other supporting exhibits also on view in the side galleries:
  • Eugène Atget: 8 images, a mix of albumen, arrowroot and gelatin silver chloride prints, taken between 1900 and 1926, all approximately 9x7 or reverse, framed in black and matted, against green walls. (Installation shot at right, bottom.)
  • Brassaï: 9 images, all gelatin silver prints, taken in the 1930s and mostly printed later, generally 12x9, framed in black and matted, in one of the viewing rooms.
  • John Collins: 10 images, all gelatin silver prints, taken in 1917, all approximately 4x5, framed in black and matted, in the other viewing room.

Comments/Context: The Marville exhibit now on view at Greenberg is really just one of four supporting shows that give the larger Lartigue exhibit some historical and visual context. The Marville works are the earliest in terms of chronology, documenting Paris in the mid-19th century; most are from his series of streetlamps (some free standing, others attached to gates, fences and railings), while the rest are empty street scenes, full of cobblestone intersections, horse carriages, and patterned buildings. Marville is perhaps my favorite 19th century architectural photographer; the crispness of his images has a "modern" feeling that foreshadows what would come along decades later and the tonalities of his prints are always rich and tactile.

The back room near Greenberg's office holds a group of Atget street scenes from the early 20th century (a few park and quay images are also mixed in), dark and shadowy views of inward leaning alleys and dense building facades. One of the side viewing rooms holds a group of Brassaï cafe scenes and night views from the 1930s, the other an earlier set of small Paris views (the Arc de Triomphe, the Seine etc.) by John Collins.

While none of these mini-shows really merits a special visit on its own, together they provide an excellent backdrop and contrast for the Lartigue show. In particular, they highlight how different Lartigue's approach really was; while the others were captivated by the details of the changing architecture of Paris, Lartigue was seeing the people, brimming with energy and life.

Collector's POV: The Marville images in the show are priced between $15000 and $40000. In the side galleries, the Atgets are priced between $12000 and $30000, the Brassaïs are $8000 to $25000, and the works by John Collins are $1000 each.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Marville in MoMA collection (here), in SFMOMA collection (here)
  • Book: John F. Collins Photographs, 1904-1946 (here)
Charles Marville, Paris Before Lartigue
Through October 24th

Howard Greenberg Gallery
41 East 57th Street
New York, NY 10022

Jacques Henri Lartigue, A New Paradise @Greenberg

JTF (just the facts): A total of 43 black and white images, framed in silver and matted, hung in the entry and main gallery space, against taupe walls. The prints come from the collection of Jacques and Florette Lartigue; many are vintage prints, others were printed as late as the mid 1960s; all of the works were taken between 1903 and 1939. The prints range in size from approximately 4x5 to 12x16, or reverse. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: In our lives as collectors, there are plenty of famous photographers that we haven't spent much time getting to know for one reason or another; we are of course generally aware of their contributions and can likely recognize a few of their well known images, but our knowledge and understanding likely falls off pretty quickly after that. Given our own specific interests, the work of Jacques Henri Lartigue falls squarely into this camp; we've certainly seen the speeding race car with the distorted wheels or the man wearing a suit while floating in an inner tube plenty of times, and loosely know the story of the young amateur photographer. But until this show, we hadn't seen many Lartigue images up close, nor had we seen a gathering of them all in one place to provide some further context.

The superb show of Lartigue prints now on view at Howard Greenberg was therefore more than just a group of terrific images; it vastly increased my understanding of Lartigue's art, and I came away significantly impressed with his ability to capture simple moments of joy. What I hadn't realized until I saw a whole wall full of images was how repeatedly innovative Lartigue was in his use of motion and movement; there are cars and go carts spinning out, flying machines and hot air balloons trying to take off, a woman floating down some stairs, a dog being thrown across a creek, a man hurdling some chairs, and people ice skating, and lunging after tennis balls, and falling in the water. The pictures are consistently effortless in capturing the essence of these activities; they are lively and fun, full of humor and playful silliness.

Another wall is filled with images of ladies and gentlemen in elegant fashions, promenading in the parks, complete with striped dresses, formal umbrellas, top hats, furs, and tiny dogs. This is the glamorous cosmopolitan life, and yet the images don't seem pulled from a fashion spread; these are real people, not models, and the tone is more of innocent wide-eyed amusement at these spectacles, rather than serious appreciation; the whole thing is just a little bit amazing.

After seeing this show, I have come to think that the childhood prodigy back story to Lartigue's photographs is a bit of a distraction to looking at the pictures more carefully; the tale of the kid with a box camera taking wonderful snapshots leads viewers to discount the consistent quality of the work. Lartigue was too often in the right place at the right time with his camera ready for these images to be accidental; his spontaneous compositions of high-spirited mischief are simple, but nearly always surprising and memorable.

This is easily the best show we've seen so far this season; and unlike many exhibits of "serious" photography, this one generates more genuine smiles and sparking eyes than anything else currently on view.

Collector's POV: The prints in this show are priced between $14000 and $40000. Lartigue's work is generally available at auction, ranging in price between $2000 and $45000 in the past few years, with most images selling for under $10000.

Rating: *** (three stars) EXCELLENT (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Donation Jacques Henri Lartigue (here)
  • WSJ review (here)
Jacques Henri Lartigue, A New Paradise
Through October 24th

Howard Greenberg Gallery
41 East 57th Street
New York, NY 10022

Friday, September 25, 2009

Auction: Photographs, October 9, 2009 @Sotheby's

Sotheby's has opted for a single various owner sale this season and filled it with a solid collection of vintage work, offered with surprisingly conservative estimates given the quality/rarity of many of the images up for sale. Both Paul Outerbridge and Harry Callahan are represented more fully than we've seen in many years. Overall, there are 246 photographs on offer, with a total High estimate of $5292000. (Catalog cover at right, via Sotheby's.)

Here's the breakdown:

Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including $10000): 112
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): $893000

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between $10000 and $50000): 120
Total Mid Estimate: $2809000

Total High Lots (high estimate above $50000): 14
Total High Estimate: $1590000

The top lot by High estimate is lot 196 Various Contemporary Photographers, The Master Collection, 1998-2009, at $200000-300000.

Below is the list of photographers represented by at least 5 items in the sale (with the number of lots in parentheses):

Ansel Adams (15)
Robert Mapplethorpe (15)
Harry Callahan (13)
Paul Outerbridge (13)
Bill Brandt (7)
Henri Cartier-Bresson (7)
Robert Frank (7)
Andre Kertesz (8)
Edwin Hale Lincoln (7)
Peter Beard (6)
Helmut Newton (6)
Edward Weston (6)
Manuel Alvarez-Bravo (5)
Diane Arbus (5)
Walker Evans (5)
Irving Penn (5)
Man Ray (5)
Francesca Woodman (5)
There are plenty of images to tempt us in this sale. Lots that would fit well into our collection include:

Lot 23 Edward Weston, Cabbage, 1936
Lot 66 Horst P. Horst, Calla Aethiopica, 1945/1985
Lots 81-87 Edwin Hale Lincoln, Wild Flowers of New England, Volumes I-VII, 1935 (if we were looking to acquire the complete set, the fact that these are being sold separately would be truly maddening)
Lot 96 Paul Outerbridge, The Arm, 1930 (at right, middle)
Lot 133 Bill Brandt, Belgravia, London, 1958
Lot 148 Harry Callahan, Sign Detail, 1945 (at right, bottom)
Lot 154 Harry Callahan, Light Study, 1940s
Lot 170 Robert Mapplethorpe, Lily, 1984
Lot 178 Robert Mapplethorpe, Calla Lily, 1988
Lot 241 Robert Mapplethorpe, Flower Studies, 1978
The complete lot by lot catalog can be found here. The eCatalogue is located here.

October 9th

1334 York Avenue
New York, NY 10021

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Auction: Photographs and Photographic Editions, October 6, 2009 @Bloomsbury

Bloomsbury begins the Fall auction season in New York with its dual sale of photographs and photographic editions coming up on the 6th. As such, I've split this post and the usual statistical measures into two sections, to reflect the differences between the two groups of items on offer. (Catalog cover at right.)

The photography section is headlined by a group of 50 Weegee prints (including quite a few of his distortions) from the Suzanne and Hugh Johnston Weegee Collection; a special reception with the collectors (who hold the largest collection of Weggee's work in private hands) and a screening of their documentary on Weegee is scheduled for October 2nd. In general, beyond the Weegees (who will appeal to a relatively small audience), the sale lacks real star power, with most of the lots in the affordable range. Overall, there are 197 photographs on offer, with a total High estimate of an even $1000000.

Here's the photography breakdown:

Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including $10000): 192
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): $911000

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between $10000 and $50000): 5
Total Mid Estimate: $89000

Total High Lots (high estimate above $50000): 0
Total High Estimate: NA

The top photo lot by High estimate is lot 19 Richard Avedon, Cyd Charisse, Evening Dress by Macrini, 1961/1981, at $20000-30000.

Our favorites from this portion of the sale include:

Lot 3 Lee Friedlander, Nude, 1981
Lot 37 Ruth Orkin, 3 White Stoops, 1952
Lot 77 Weegee, West 51st Street Sign, New York City, Distortion, 1955 (at right)
Lot 164 Iwase Yoshiyuki, Untitled (nude), 1950

The second section of the sale includes photographic editions and books; there are a total of 95 books on offer, with a total High estimate of $185800.

Here's the book breakdown:

Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including $10000): 94
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): $170800

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between $10000 and $50000): 1
Total Mid Estimate: $15000

Total High Lots (high estimate above $50000): 0
Total High Estimate: NA

The top book lot by High estimate is lot 219 Alexander Rodchenko and Volya Lyakhov, Poet Vladamir Mayakovsky, 1924; Soviet Advertising Posters 1917-1932, at $10000-15000.

For our own library, we would be interested in:

Lot 235 Yoshikazu Suzuki and Shohachi Kimura, Ginza Haccho, Ginza Kaiwai, 1954
Lot 261 Lee Friedlander, Flowers and Trees, 1981
Lot 280 David Goldblatt, Particulars, 2003

The complete lot by lot catalog (including both photographs and books) can be found here.

Photographs and Photographic Editions
October 6th

Bloomsbury Auctions
6 West 48th Street
New York, NY 10036

Hiroshi Sugimoto and U2

Last night, my 9 year old son and I joined 70,000 of our closest friends for an evening at Giants Stadium with U2. Most photography collectors will of course know that the cover of U2's most recent album, No Line on the Horizon, is a Hiroshi Sugimoto seascape, albeit with a giant grey equals sign superimposed on top. (Cover art at right, via Amazon.)

As the band began to sing the title song, Bono said a quick thank you to Sugimoto, and then the seascape came up on the giant, 360 degree video screen that hovered above the stage (the entire set up looked like a four legged alien spacecraft that had landed on the football field). As the song was played, the seascape continually morphed into a montage of bisected monochrome images that looked a little like Sugimoto's various seascapes, but didn't seem to be actual images by him.

What was surprising about all this was that after the song was over, and the band was transitioning into New Year's Day, Bono continued to talk about Sugimoto. He mentioned that Sugimoto was in the crowd, that he really wanted to thank him again, and that he was "a great artist". I can't really imagine that very many people in the crowd had any idea what he was talking about. But then I thought to myself: when was the last time the biggest rock star on the planet interrupted one of his signature songs in a stadium full of screaming people to give a shout out to a fine art photographer? There can't be any equivalent moment in the entire history of photography.

Or perhaps we were just witnessing an art royalty coronation: the rising of a rock star photographer.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dennis Hopper, Signs of the Times @Tony Shafrazi

JTF (just the facts): A large show of Hopper's art, including oil paintings, photographs, and clips from films and television. 3 gallery spaces are filled with 11 separate video screens, running continuous loops of scenes from Hopper's career as an actor. The other three gallery spaces contain a total of 12 billboard sized oil paintings and 119 black and white photographs. The photographs are all gelatin silver prints, framed in blond wood and matted, and sized 16x24 (or reverse). The prints were made in 2009 from negatives taken in the period 1961-1967; they are available in editions of 15. The oils have no frame and are sized 80x120 (or reverse). (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Virtually everyone on the planet knows that Dennis Hopper is a world renowned actor, an undeniably no nonsense 1960s cool guy who has shown a remarkable ability to stay audacious and relevant over a period of many decades. What is perhaps less well known is that Hopper is also an accomplished photographer and painter, and has taken more than a few iconic pictures of celebrities of various kinds. So as I walked through the many galleries of Hopper's big show in Chelsea, I kept coming back to a nagging question at the heart of the celebrity/artist paradox: if the name on the wall was John Doe instead of Dennis Hopper, would I see this broad collection of work any differently?

The majority of the photographs on view are candid portraits of famous people that Hopper knew and hung out with in the early 1960s; big name artists, musicians, actors and actresses were all captured by his lens. While I'm not sure I can identify a signature style that is common to all the images, it is clear that there are far too many excellent portraits here to have been some kind of lucky snapshot accident; Hopper clearly had an eye for well composed and unlikely portraits (I particularly liked Jane Fonda with a bow and arrow), and he had the access to make the pictures when no one else was around. The other photographs on view cover a wider set of subject matter: street scenes in New York and Mexico, abstracts of walls and graphical elements, and documentary imagery from the action in Selma, Alabama; all of these are well made, but generally lack the electricity that makes his celebrity portraits so memorable.
Perhaps to explore the boundaries of what happens to glamour on a large scale, several of his most notable photographs (including several of artists: Warhol, Lichtenstein, Johns, Ruscha, and Rauschenberg) have been blown up to billboard sized murals, exact copies of the original black and white pictures, only executed in a photorealist painting style. Given their size, these works are certainly eye-catching, and will likely appeal to those who want a gargantuan helping of fame in close proximity.
At some level, I think it will always be cool to have a Dennis Hopper on your wall; the aura of his personality certainly enhances the work by association. That said, if Dennis Hopper suddenly became John Doe and we were forced to judge the work purely on its rightful place in the history of photography, I think we'd categorize these images as the output as a talented 1960s celebrity photographer, who deftly captured the spirit of the times, but hasn't been heard from much since.

Collector's POV: The photographs in this show are priced between $17000 and $50000 (a bit high I would say, especially for later prints; you're clearly paying for the name), but a detailed price list wasn't available when I was there; no prices were given for the oil paintings; in general, it was all a little confused. Hopper's photographs have been available from time to time in the secondary markets, ranging in price between $5000 and $25000. For our collection, while the celebrity portraits aren't a great fit, we have always liked Double Standard, 1961, even though it is an outlier picture in relation to Hopper's more famous images.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Interview: New York, 2009 (here)
  • Book: Dennis Hopper: Photographs 1961-1967, TASCHEN (here)
  • Review: artnet, 2009 (here)
Through October 24th

544 West 26th Street
New York, NY 10001

Jed Fielding, Look at Me: Photographs from Mexico City @Andrea Meislin

JTF (just the facts): A total of 33 black and white images, framed in black and matted, hung in the reception/entry area and the main gallery space. All of the works are gelatin silver prints, 23x15 or reverse, printed in editions of 10. The images were taken between 1999 and 2005. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: When we think about the most successful photographic portraits made in the history of the medium, we often hear talk about how well the photographer and sitter worked together, how it was a collaborative exchange, and how there was trust and respect in both directions. Jed Fielding has explored the edges of these ideas in his new images of blind schoolchildren in Mexico; most specifically, what happens to the photographer/subject relationship if the subject is blind? And how does this alter the process of making an intimate and revealing portrait?

Irrespective of their lack of sight, Fielding's subjects are kids: laughing, playing, curious and energetic. I think a key difference is that their blindness has allowed the photographer to get up very close without creating a sense of discomfort or intrusion (the normal social boundaries are gone); he has been able to capture emotions and gestures that are often overlooked or quickly hidden if attention is being paid. The resulting pictures are consistently gentle and tender without being condescending; we've come a long way from Paul Strand's famous blind woman (here).

Another thing we viewers often forget is how much we look at people's eyes to get a sense for who they are. These children have unexpected blank stares, foggy white eyes covered in cataracts, giving them a strange, almost sinister feel, even though they are innocent kids. This surprising lack of connection creates real tension in the pictures, a mix of being uncomfortable and empathetic at the same time.

Fielding's pictures also bear the hallmarks of his ID teachers (Callahan, Siskind et al); there are plenty of dark shadows and formal compositions, printed with exquisite clarity and subtle tonalities. The excellent images taken through black fingers that partially obscure the lens (in the group at left in the top installation shot above) seem particularly reminiscent of the aesthetic conventions of the Chicago school.

Overall, this is a challenging and satisfying body of work, well worth a visit.

Collector's POV: All of the images in the show are priced at $4000. Fielding's work has no secondary market history, so gallery retail or direct from the artist will be the only options for acquiring the work in the short term.

I'm perhaps a bit embarrassed to admit that I hadn't really heard of Jed Fielding until I visited this show. And while the subject matter doesn't fit our collecting genres, I came away impressed with both the craftsmanship of the prints and the serious care with which the images were taken.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Artist site (here)
  • Look at Me book (here)
  • Review: Chicago Maroon (here)
  • 30 Years on the Street @Edelman, 2009 (here)

Jed Fielding, Look at Me: Photographs from Mexico City
Through October 17th

Andrea Meislin Gallery
526 West 26th Street
New York, NY 10001

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Todd Hido: A Road Divided @Silverstein

JTF (just the facts): A total of 15 color images, mostly framed in black with no mat, and hung in the back two gallery spaces. The chromogenic prints come in three sizes (or reverse): 20x24 (in editions of 10+3AP), 30x38 (in editions of 5+1AP) and 38x48 (in editions of 3+1AP). The images were taken between 2005 and 2009. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: The weather forecast for Todd Hido's group of new landscapes is remarkably consistent: cloudy, with a better than average chance for dreary, depressing rain. Hido's images document melancholy open roads, stark silhouetted trees, misty skies and barren fields, all seen through the blurry wetness of his car window.
The "open road" is of course an American tradition, embodying freedom, youth, and unlimited opportunity. As a result, it has been "done" plenty of times before; I can think of the famous Dorothea Lange image (here) and couple more by Robert Adams (couldn't find good scans) that cover the concept from the art photography point of view (and I'm sure there are others I've forgotten, so add them in the comments as appropriate); stock photography for advertising and the like is chock full of optimistic, sunny open roads.
Hido's muddy tracks are just the opposite: lonely, bleak and austere, in an introspective mood, even if the sun is trying to poke through. The works are unabashedly painterly (some might even lump them in the Neo-Pictorialist camp), using the rain to create out of focus softness with the foggy pastel colored light (think Stieglitz' Spring Showers). The best of the images in this show rise out of the bleary murkiness and find some emotional resonance, a subtle moment of unexpected beauty in an otherwise uninspiring landscape. Unfortunately, not enough of the works find this perfect pitch, and many sink back down into the empty psychological wasteland. All in, the exhibit is a bit of a mixed bag: a few moments of sublime quiet, intermingled with a few too many duller memories of standing in the cold rain.
Collector's POV: Given that the images in the show come in three sizes, there are of course three sets of prices: $3500 for the smallest works, $5500 for the mid sized, and $9000 or $9500 for the largest works. Hido's work has started to trickle into the secondary markets, with the few lots that have come up for sale in the past few years fetching between $2000 and $6000. While these landscapes aren't a good fit for our particular collection, my favorite image in the show was 5157 (shown on the far left of the installation shot at right).
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Artist site (here)
  • Interview: Inceptive Notions (here)
  • Review: American Suburb X (here)
Through October 24th

535 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011

Nicolai Howalt: Car Crash Studies @Silverstein

JTF (just the facts): A total of 25 color images, mounted to aluminum and unframed, hung in the front/entry gallery space. All of the images are digital c-prints, made in 2009, and printed in editions of 5. 21 of the images are car interiors and are sized between 15x19 and 19x24; they have generally been hung edge to edge or in a typology-style grid. The other 4 images are car hoods and have been printed much larger, the largest reaching approximately 70x86. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Danish photographer Nicolai Howalt’s images of the remnants of car crashes alternate between the brutality of evidence and the lyricism of abstraction. In a neatly self-contained project, Howalt has found something new in the world of car culture, stepping back to find a mix of beauty and tragedy in the aftermath of destruction.

The best of the works in this show are the crushed and crumpled car hoods (reminiscent of the sculpture of John Chamberlain) that have been transformed into abstract swirls of color; they are scratched and scarred, slashed and bent, peeling and flaking, creating expressionistic movement and lively all-over compositions. Some of the works are extreme close-ups, where the color gets grainy and pixellated, creating a fuzzy texture of digital Pointillism. The works hold the wall extremely well, and work in different ways from a variety of distances.

The rest of the pictures on view provide a more sober counterpoint to the exuberance of the car hoods. Using a theme and variation approach, Howalt examines the damaged interiors of vehicles, with an intimacy that borders on the gruesomely voyeuristic; strands of hair dangle from a shattered windshield, while bloody hand prints cover a steering wheel. The interiors are flash lit, with pure white or black backgrounds, highlighting the curves of a spiderwebbed window or a dented dashboard. A set of air bags, ranging from inflated to deflated, are shown as a typology, a not so subtle reminder of all that happened before the pictures were taken, but abstracted into a series of white circles.

Overall, this is a well constructed photographic project, with a few standout images to make you step back and nod your head in appreciation.

Collector's POV: The smaller prints in this show are priced between $2400 and $2600. The four large car hoods are each priced differently, ranging from $6000 to $18500, based on size. Howalt’s work is not yet available in the secondary markets, so gallery retail is really the only option for interested collectors at this point. While these works don’t fit with our specific collecting themes, if we owned an airy modern condo with large white walls, the crumpled car hoods would be tempting, especially the smallest of the four, a silky light blue abstraction.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Thomas Kellner curatorial projects (here)
Nicolai Howalt: Car Crash Studies
Through October 24th

Bruce Silverstein Gallery
535 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011

Monday, September 21, 2009

Auction: Photographs by Sally Mann, October 7, 2009 @Christie's

The single owner, single artist auction is the event in the secondary markets that looks and feels most like a gallery or museum show. In fact, this upcoming sale at Christie's bears a striking resemblance to a show of Sally Mann's entire Immediate Family series held at Edwynn Houk Gallery (here) in New York in early 2008 (unfortunately, I no longer have the price list from that show for side by side comparisons of individual images then and now). In this case, a dedicated collector from Washington, D.C., has assembled a broad range of Mann's work, and while most of the prints on offer here are from Immediate Family, there are a few others mixed in as well, some of which are unpublished. Overall, there are a total of 59 lots up for sale, with a total High estimate of $869000. (Catalog cover at right.)

In my experience, even after 20 years, these images still have a surprisingly polarizing effect on people: either they really like them (they are amazed by the quality of the prints, intrigued by the subtleties and vulnerabilities of youth etc.) or they find them very unsettling (the children are too young and exposed, too provocatively posed etc.). Perhaps this is the reason that a handful of images in this catalog have no online picture ("image not available"); while we might not call it censorship exactly, Christie's seems to be exercising some discretion in the event these images are found too upsetting for some.

Here's the breakdown:

Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including $10000): 17
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): $133000

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between $10000 and $50000): 42
Total Mid Estimate: $736000
Total High Lots (high estimate above $50000): 0
Total High Estimate: NA

The top lot by High estimate is lot 307 Sally Mann, Candy Cigarette, 1989, at $30000-50000.

While Mann's work is not a particularly good fit for our collecting genres, we have considered Night Blooming Cereus quite a few times over the years. The small 8x10 print in this sale is a terrific example of how size matters, as when this image gets printed larger, for some reason, it seems to take on a more Polynesian feel in our eyes, which we like quite a bit less. So our short list for this sale includes:
Lot 326 Sally Mann, Night Blooming Cereus, 1988 (at right)
Lot 350 Sally Mann, Gooseneck Loosestrife, 1985

The complete lot by lot catalog can be found here. The eCatalogue is located here.

20 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10020
UPDATE: After I published this preview, I got a nice note from the press folks at Christie's with the following response to the online Mann images (or lack thereof): "Christie's is being culturally sensitive to clients in all of the markets in which we operate." Mystery solved.

Tim Roda, Family Matters @Daniel Cooney

JTF (just the facts): A total of 21 black and white gelatin silver prints, binder clipped to the wall (not framed) in the single room gallery. The works range in size from 15x21 to 35x52, are printed in editions of 8, and were made between 2004 and 2009.(Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Tim Roda's photographs are like film stills from old home movies. The grainy black and white images are full of theatrical silliness, with scavenged but elaborate stage sets, unlikely costumes, and improvised narratives. Father and son play the roles of actors, alternating between irreverent humor, exciting drama, and the joyful craziness of make believe: bicycles, windmills, a towering dunce cap, and some extra long legs all find a way into their surreal stories.
The images themselves use wide contrasts of bright light and dark shadow to create a rough cinematic atmosphere, appropriately unfinished and raw. What I like best about the work is the genuine connection between the father and son: the creative working together, the whimsical games and joshing, the messy experimentation without any specific goal or endpoint; it's often not exactly clear what is going on or whether it is finished, but it is clear that fun is being had by everyone involved. This bond gives the pictures a surprising tone of tender nostalgia, without crossing the line into the soupy or saccharine.
If part of the role of art is to give us insights into our own lives, this body of work is a good reminder that meaningful family entertainment need not include a screen (TV, video games, computers and the like) or something expensive, but that with enough imagination and effort, it can be made from almost anything at all.

Collector's POV: The prints in this show are reasonably priced, asking between $1300 and $2000, based on size. Roda's work has no auction history, so gallery retail is the only option for accessing the work at this point.
When I first heard about this show, given that the work doesn't really fit into any of our genres, I thought it was probably one I would miss. But another collector whose affinities are more in line with Roda's approach sent me a quick note and encouraged me to check it out. I'm glad I did; the work was much stronger and more moving than I had expected.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Interview with Daily Serving, 2008 (here)
  • Exhibit at MoCP, Chicago, 2007 (here)
Through October 31st

511 West 25th Street
New York, NY 10001

Peter Hujar: Photographs 1956-1958 @Matthew Marks

JTF (just the facts): A total of 21 black and white gelatin silver prints, framed in black and matted, and hung in a single room gallery. The works were taken in Southbury, CT, and various locations in Italy between 1956 and 1958. Most of the prints are 10x10; a few are slightly larger at 13x13. (Installation shot at right.)

Comments/Context: Peter Hujar is probably best known for his sensitive portraits and street images chronicling the downtown scene in New York in the 1970s and 1980s and for his downstream influence on photographers like Robert Mapplethorpe and Nan Goldin. This small show takes us back to Hujar's beginnings and the unknown work he made in his early 20s, a kind of precursor to what would come later.

Nearly all of the images on view are of children, some from a home for the developmentally disabled in Connecticut, others from a convent in Florence and the streets of Rome. There are kids playing with a big ball, climbing on a jungle gym, scrambling in the water, and eating at a long dormitory table. These are simple empathetic pictures, gentle and uncritical, capturing small moments of emotion amidst the chaos of active play. They show the same genuine respect for the humanity and individuality of his subjects that would come to be the hallmark of his later work (and that of Diane Arbus).

While not every picture here is a standout, for those who want to get an expanded view of Hujar's work and his development as an artist over time, this small show is worth a quick visit.

Collector's POV: The prints in this show range in price between $12000 and $15000. Hujar's work is not consistently available at auction; the images that have sold in the past few years have ranged between $2000 and $23000; most prints are unique or in small editions, while a few have been printed in groups of 15 or even 50 (Candy Darling). Hujar is represented on the West coast by Fraenkel Gallery (here). While this work doesn't fit into our particular collecting parameters, my favorite image in the exhibit was Girl Sucking Her Thumb, Florence, 1958, where a child lies sideways on a white iron frame bed, peering out from the shadows.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Times review of ICA show, 2007 (here)
  • PS1 exhibit, 2005 (here)
  • NYTimes review, 1990 (here)

Peter Hujar: Photographs 1956-1958
Through October 24th

Matthew Marks Gallery
526 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10001

Friday, September 18, 2009

Amy Stein: Domesticated @Clamp Art

JTF (just the facts): A total of 18 color images, framed in white with no mat, hung in the main gallery space and the small side alcove. The works are digital c-prints, in two sizes: 24x30 (in editions of 10+2AP) and 30x40 (in editions of 3+2AP). The show includes 17 images in the small size and 1 in the large size; all of the works were made between 2005 and 2008. 12 of the images can be found in the book Domesticated, published by Photolucida (here), and available from the gallery for $24. There are 6 new images (not included in the book, but part of the same series) on view as well. (Marginal installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: The scenes depicted in Amy Stein’s Domesticated series chronicle the borderlands of the human and animal worlds, the places where two previously separate habitats now overlap and rub together, forced into precarious proximity by the encroachment of civilization on untamed nature: wolves are in the garbage, bobcats lounge on a construction site, bears are near the swimming pool, and deer are in the greenhouse and underneath the window. The images are full of confrontations and tests, separations and boundaries, anxiety and curiosity, both sides keeping a wary distance, and watching carefully.

It has already been well publicized that Stein uses stuffed animals (taxidermy) to create her diorama-like stories; these are not documentary photographs of real life events, but re-enactments of incidents and memories culled from conversations with residents of a small town in Northern Pennsylvania. This is I think a critical piece of information for understanding these works; documentary images of these same events would look different; they’d be messier, or too fleeting to have been captured at all, or most likely, the real thing happened in an altogether less interesting manner.

So what we actually have in these photographs is the recreation of memory and the embellishment of tales and legends told again and again. This kind of thinking on the part of the artist seems highly rooted in the history and practice of painting; much less so in the realm of photography (particularly “straight” photography). And so while it is relatively straightforward to see narrative and stylistic parallels with the work of Jeff Wall or Gregory Crewdson or even certain film makers here, I think the more interesting connections are to be made to painting, both in the process steps of formulating an image from memory and transferring it into a more easily digestible and compact form, and in the borrowings and echoes of art history, of allegorical works, and of fables, myths and fairy tales. Stein’s works are a synthesized reality, carefully composed for maximum narrative effect. The whole project shouts 19th century painting to me, even though the images have been executed by a contemporary photographer.

While not every image in the show packs a punch, the overall theme of human/animal interaction is deftly explored from a variety of vantage points in these pictures, coming to a complex and nuanced set of conclusions; perhaps this why the book form has been so successful for this body of work (it has won awards from Critical Mass in 2007 and the New York Photo Festival in 2008). All in, this is a convincing first New York solo show. What I like best is that she seems to have found practical ways to connect photography to painting, and to leverage the strengths of both to generate some unexpected and satisfying outcomes.
Collector's POV: The images in the show are priced based on size and location in the edition. The smaller prints range between $2500 and $5000; the larger prints start at $4500 (I’m not sure of the end of the edition price for the larger pictures). Stein’s work has no history to date in the secondary markets, so collectors will need to work within the gallery system to access her prints. For those on the West coast, Stein is also represented by Robert Koch Gallery in San Francisco (here).

While Stein’s work does not fit into our specific collecting program, I particularly enjoyed seeing the image Backyard, 2007 (here), which eerily reminded me of Goya’s The Third of May, 1808 (here, in the Prado).

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Artist website (here) and blog (here)
  • Review of UPenn talk (here)
  • Interview with The Rumpus (here)

Amy Stein: Domesticated
Through October 31st

Clamp Art
521-531 West 25th Street
New York, NY 10001