Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Sincere Plug for our 2010 Sponsors

I'd like to end this year with a sincere plug for the 2010 sponsors of DLK COLLECTION. Given that the vast majority of our readers subscribe to the feed (rather than arriving directly to the site), many of you may not even realize that we have sponsors. In fact we do, and their banners fly proudly along the sidebar.

As a friendly reminder, although we don't have non-profit status, being a photography critic/blogger is undeniably a money losing proposition. It's also a massive time sink, and if it wasn't such an amazingly gratifying and challenging labor of love, a rational person would give it up right away.

Our sponsors provide something extremely valuable that our mostly silent readers, followers, and intermittent anonymous visitors don't: they provide a public vote of confidence for what we are doing. With their dollars and their brands, they support the grand idea of a multitude of hopefully intelligent voices engaging in thoughtful discussion about photography of all kinds.

But let's not be confused however. While counting the number of click throughs or page views of a banner is mildly entertaining, the point of sponsoring this site is to get bodies in the door, to add subscribers (for the magazines), and to generate tangible sales. If we can reliably connect the dots between reading reviews on this site and buying photographs in the real world, then we're doing much more than just shouting into the void.

While each and every one of our 2010 sponsors is deserving of my heartfelt thanks and your disposable income, I would particularly like to highlight the support of Janet Borden Inc. (here). Janet's gallery has been an anchor sponsor of this site for the entire year, taking the top banner slot month after month. She has been tirelessly enthusiastic about the evolution of this blog, and has been quick to point out my delusions and misguided opinions with her biting wit. Her persistent encouragement, even when her show of the moment didn't get 3 STARS, has been invaluable. If you find enjoyment in what we are doing here, I urge you to reward Janet for giving her support when it wasn't even remotely obvious. Get down to Soho and buy that Lee Friedlander, Tina Barney, Martin Parr (or whoever) that you have been coveting, and tell Janet that one of the reasons you are there with your dollars out is that you read DLK COLLECTION. You can thank me by thanking her.

Our other monthly sponsors also deserve your attention and your patronage. They have chosen to stand and be counted as well, so open your wallets folks and show them you value their commitment to independent photography writing:

Amador Gallery (here)
ClampArt (here)
Robert Koch Gallery (here)
Lee Gallery (here)
Photograph magazine (here)
Von Lintel Gallery (here)

Finally, I'd like to send out an authentic thank you to the many sponsors (past, present and future) of other photography blogs. This is a vibrant and collegial community and the dollars that are spent in support of Joerg Colberg or AD Coleman, Marc Feustel or Andy Adams, or countless other important voices are critical to keeping them on the air. I know from experience: don't underestimate what a small amount of support will do for the confidence of a writer wondering if they can feed the beast with something intelligent for yet another day. And by the way, their daily traffic of targeted, photography-loving visitors is likely larger than the entire client database of most galleries.

This is the last post of 2010. We'll be back in January, starting with the posts that didn't get done this week: the 2010 Auction Summary, the Top 10 Photobooks of 2010, and hopefully some reviews of books that came out from under the tree. Happy Holidays!

Top Photography Venues in New York in 2010

In the past year, I have reviewed photography shows at a total of 77 different venues in New York and the surrounding area. After sifting through the best shows of the year in yesterday's post (here), I wondered about whether there might be some intriguing patterns if I looked more closely at the venues that were organizing those shows.
I've divided the venues into four groups: Specialist Photography Galleries, Contemporary Art Galleries (who show photography from time to time), Specialist Photography Museums and more general Art Museums (who also show photography from time to time). Of course we can quibble about which group a particular gallery belongs in, but I've done my best to locate them where I think they actually belong. I've then made two simple sets of calculations: a raw tally of the total number of shows I reviewed at each venue, and subsequently, the average rating I gave those specific shows.
In reviewing these statistics, keep in mind a couple of things: 1.) many of these places have multiple gallery spaces, and often run two or more exhibits simultaneously that I might review as separate and distinct shows, so while a normal gallery calendar might have 6-8 shows in a year, some of these locations have twice that many shows on view across the same period of time, and 2.) our rating scale has a high of 3 STARS and a low of 1 STAR, with shows below that receiving no review/rating; therefore the highest possible average is 3.00, and the lowest is 1.00 - although this low number is misleading, as one could imagine tallying all the shows I didn't review and giving them zeros and then adding them into that average, which would bring the numbers down substantially for many venues. Rather than descend into that kind of negativism ("all the photography shows at Gallery X or Museum Y were crap!"), I suggest we focus on the positive and just take the statistics with a grain of salt.
So let's start with the total number of reviews per venue:

Specialist Photography Galleries

Yancey Richardson Gallery: 7
Amador Gallery: 5
Janet Borden Inc.: 5
Howard Greenberg Gallery: 5
Edwynn Houk Gallery: 4
Yossi Milo Gallery: 4
Bruce Silverstein Gallery: 4
Danziger Projects: 3
Hasted Hunt Kraeutler/Hasted Kraeutler Gallery: 3
Pace/MacGill Gallery: 3
Throckmorton Fine Art: 3
Aperture Gallery : 2
Bonni Benrubi Gallery: 2
Robert Mann Gallery: 2
Laurence Miller Gallery: 2
Sputnik Gallery: 2
Commerce Graphics: 1
Daniel Cooney Fine Art: 1
Keith DeLellis Gallery: 1
Foley Gallery: 1
Gitterman Gallery: 1
Gallery at Hermes: 1
Higher Pictures: 1
Michael Mazzeo Gallery: 1
Julie Saul Gallery: 1
L. Parker Stevenson: 1
Sasha Wolf Gallery: 1

Contemporary Art Galleries

Cheim & Read: 3
Gladstone Gallery: 3
Pace and PaceWildenstein: 3
Von Lintel Gallery: 3
303 Gallery: 2
ClampArt: 2
Paula Cooper Gallery: 2
Gagosian Gallery: 2
Marian Goodman Gallery: 2
Sean Kelly Gallery: 2
Matthew Marks Gallery: 2
Marvelli Gallery: 2
Robert Miller Gallery: 2
Sonnabend Gallery: 2
Winkleman Gallery: 2
Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery: 2
David Zwirner: 2
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery: 1
Mary Boone Gallery: 1
Bortolami Gallery: 1
Kathleen Cullen Gallery: 1
Gana Fine Art: 1
Murray Guy: 1
Stellan Holm Gallery: 1
Hous Projects: 1
Paul Kasmin Gallery: 1
Koenig Projekte: 1
Galerie Lelong: 1
Luhring Augustine: 1
Postmasters: 1
Andrea Rosen Gallery : 1
Sikkema Jenkins & Co: 1
Stux Gallery: 1
Sundaram Tagore Gallery: 1
Team Gallery: 1
Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects: 1
UBU Gallery: 1
Zabriskie Gallery: 1
Specialist Photography Museums

International Center of Photography: 6

Art Museums

Metropolitan Museum of Art: 5
Museum of Modern Art: 5
Whitney Museum of American Art: 3
FLAG Art Foundation: 1
Guggenheim Museum: 1
Jewish Museum: 1
Lever House Collection: 1
MoMA PS1: 1
NYPL of the Performing Arts: 1
Princeton University Art Museum: 1
Studio Museum in Harlem: 1

I think these numbers are mostly indicative of depth, both in the sophistication of their exhibition programs and the breadth of their stables or curatorial interests. They tally consistent commitment and performance in the staging of solid photography shows, and over time, create a sense of brand, in terms of places that visitors can expect to see quality photography over and over again. I think a score of 4 or higher here is something to be proud of. Congratulations to Yancey Richardson Gallery for putting up the biggest numbers.
Now let's turn to the average ratings for shows put on at these venues. I have separated out those venues with only one review, as their "average" score is not as meaningful:

Specialist Photography Galleries
2 or more shows (average)

Pace/MacGill Gallery: 1.67
Aperture Gallery : 1.50
Robert Mann Gallery: 1.50
Bruce Silverstein Gallery: 1.50
Amador Gallery: 1.40
Throckmorton Fine Art: 1.33
Edwynn Houk Gallery: 1.25
Janet Borden Inc.: 1.20
Howard Greenberg Gallery: 1.20
Bonni Benrubi Gallery: 1.00
Danziger Projects: 1.00
Hasted Hunt Kraeutler/Hasted Kraeutler Gallery: 1.00
Laurence Miller Gallery: 1.00
Yossi Milo Gallery: 1.00
Yancey Richardson Gallery: 1.00
Sputnik Gallery: 1.00
1 show (no average)
Michael Mazzeo Gallery: 2.00
Commerce Graphics: 1.00
Daniel Cooney Fine Art: 1.00
Keith DeLellis Gallery: 1.00
Foley Gallery: 1.00
Gitterman Gallery: 1.00
Gallery at Hermes: 1.00
Higher Pictures: 1.00
Julie Saul Gallery: 1.00
L. Parker Stevenson: 1.00
Sasha Wolf Gallery: 1.00

Contemporary Art Galleries
2 or more shows (average)

Marian Goodman Gallery: 2.50
Pace and PaceWildenstein: 2.33
Matthew Marks Gallery: 2.00
Cheim & Read: 1.67
Sonnabend Gallery: 1.50
David Zwirner: 1.50
Von Lintel Gallery: 1.33
303 Gallery: 1.00
ClampArt: 1.00
Paula Cooper Gallery: 1.00
Gagosian Gallery: 1.00
Gladstone Gallery: 1.00
Sean Kelly Gallery: 1.00
Marvelli Gallery: 1.00
Robert Miller Gallery: 1.00
Winkleman Gallery: 1.00
Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery: 1.00
1 show (no average)
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery: 2.00
Mary Boone Gallery: 2.00
Andrea Rosen Gallery : 2.00
Bortolami Gallery: 1.00
Kathleen Cullen Gallery: 1.00
Gana Fine Art: 1.00
Murray Guy: 1.00
Stellan Holm Gallery: 1.00
Hous Projects: 1.00
Paul Kasmin Gallery: 1.00
Koenig Projekte: 1.00
Galerie Lelong: 1.00
Luhring Augustine: 1.00
Postmasters: 1.00
Sikkema Jenkins & Co: 1.00
Stux Gallery: 1.00
Sundaram Tagore Gallery: 1.00
Team Gallery: 1.00
Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects: 1.00
UBU Gallery: 1.00
Zabriskie Gallery: 1.00
Specialist Photography Museums

2 or more shows (average)

International Center of Photography: 1.67

Art Museums
2 or more shows (average)

Museum of Modern Art: 2.00
Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1.80
Whitney Museum of American Art: 1.67
1 show (no average)
NYPL of the Performing Arts: 3.00
Princeton University Art Museum: 3.00
Jewish Museum: 2.00
Studio Museum in Harlem: 2.00
FLAG Art Foundation: 1.00
Guggenheim Museum: 1.00
Lever House Collection: 1.00
MoMA PS1: 1.00

In my view, an average of over 1.00 for the Photography Specialist galleries is an achievement worth noting (they're putting on photography shows every month remember), and for all other venues, an average of over 1.50 signals something special. It is no surprise to me that the MoMA and Met have such solid ratings numbers, nor that Marian Goodman, Pace, and Matthew Marks came out so high this year. Congratulations to Marian Goodman Gallery for having the highest ratings for photography of any local venue this year.
I think these numbers expose an obvious reality in the gallery world: in many cases, top photographers "graduate" from a Photography Specialist gallery to a Contemporary Art gallery when they achieve a certain level of stature. This isn't always true, but the fact that many of the Contemporary Art galleries have such impressive ratings numbers is indicative of cherry picking of the "best" photographers and showing their work from time to time - their overall photography programs are not as consistent, but when they do show photography, the quality tends to be high.
A final consideration for these lists is who's conspicuously missing. I went back to my list from 2009 and discovered a large number of well known venues (38) who either failed to attract my attention enough for a review of anything on view this year or were somehow absent from the photography scene entirely. Without naming names or casting aspersions, I very much hope to see a return of superlative photography to these locations in 2011.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Top Photography Shows of 2010

As 2010 draws to a close, the time has come to single out those gallery and museum shows of photography that were the best of the year. In many ways, such a choosing and list making has a delicate element of photographic re-evaluation - what looked good then is perhaps less amazing now and vice versa. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we can now see the past year's photography shows not as discrete individual units rated on their own merits in a certain place and time, but as passing moments placed on a larger scale of relative worth, part of the entire continuum of art history. Which of these shows (or artists) will matter in ten or fifty years, and which others will have faded into obscurity before we ring in the New Year? After a total of 153 in-depth photography reviews this year (and countless others visited and tactfully omitted), I certainly have some opinions on these questions.

While I had plenty of moments of awe and enchantment this year, I have to admit that as the months clicked by, I more often struggled not with too much joy, but with the concept of grade inflation: not wanting to give an endless stream of 1 STAR ratings (which some of you have complained about), and yet, not really finding enough shows that met my internal idea of something astonishing. Where were all the mind-blowing shows I was searching for?

At year's end, a total of 10 shows (a paltry 6.54% of all shows reviewed) had received our highest 3 STARS rating, given to the single best photography show on view in any given month in our restricted time-based rating scheme. Logically, this kind of system should have produced twelve 3 STARS shows (1 for each of the 12 months), but this year, somehow it didn't. Similarly, a total of 31 shows got a 2 STARS rating (20.26% of all shows reviewed). And again, the system should have produced 36 of this 2 STARS rating type (given to the next three best shows in any given month, times 12 months), but it didn't. Was I just annoyingly stingy and overly critical, or was there really a slight decline of quality and originality?
So in the spirit of sparking some discourse and thinking, I have asked myself whether any of the 2 STARS shows deserve a retroactive promotion. So I'll start by providing you will all the raw data, so you can draw your own conclusions. Below you'll find the list of the 10 shows that received 3 STARS in 2010 (in alphabetical order by artist or show title), and further down, the 31 shows that received 2 STARS, with links to the original reviews in parentheses for the "why" of each choice:


Robert Adams, Summer Nights, Walking @Matthew Marks Gallery (here)
John Baldessari, Pure Beauty @Metropolitan Museum of Art (here)
Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century @MoMA (here)
Rineke Dijkstra @Marian Goodman (here)
Lee Friedlander: America By Car @Whitney Museum of American Art (here)
The Original Copy: Photography of Sculpture, 1839 to Today @MoMA (here)
W. Eugene Smith, The Jazz Loft Project @NYPL for the Performing Arts (here)
Frederick Sommer, Circumnavigation @Bruce Silverstein Gallery (here)
Starburst: Color Photography in America 1970-1980 @Princeton University Art Museum (here)
Hiroshi Sugimoto: The Day After @Pace Gallery (here)


Uta Barth: ... to walk without destination and to see only to see. @Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (here)
Bernd and Hilla Becher, Water Towers @Sonnabend Gallery (here)
Cuba in Revolution @ICP (here)
Joe Deal, West and West @Robert Mann Gallery (here)
William Eggleston, 21st Century @Cheim & Read (here)
Lee Friedlander, Recent Western Landscape @Mary Boone Gallery (here)
Adam Fuss, Home and the World @Cheim & Read (here)
David Goldblatt, Particulars @Howard Greenberg Gallery (here)
South African Photographs: David Goldblatt @Jewish Museum (here)
Chris Killip, 4+20 Photographs @Amador Gallery (here)
Hipsters, Hustlers, and Handball Players: Leon Levinstein's New York Photographs, 1950–1980 @Metropolitan Museum of Art (here)
Looking Forward Looking Back @Pace/MacGill Gallery (here)
David Maisel, Library of Dust @Von Lintel Gallery (here)
The Mexican Suitcase @ICP (here)
Richard Misrach @PaceWildenstein Gallery (here)
Ryuji Miyamoto, Kobe @Amador Gallery (here)
Tina Modotti: Under the Mexican Sky @Throckmorton Fine Art (here)
Zwelethu Mthethwa, Inner Views @Studio Museum in Harlem (here)
Martin Parr, Luxury @Janet Borden Inc. (here)
Irving Penn, Archaeology @Pace/MacGill Gallery (here)
Pictures by Women: A History of Photography @MoMA (here)
Man Ray, Paris @Edwynn Houk Gallery (here)
Thomas Ruff @David Zwirner (here)
Lucas Samaras, Poses/Born Actors @Pace Gallery (here)
Will Steacy, Down These Mean Streets @Michael Mazzeo Gallery (here)
Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand @Metropolitan Museum of Art (here)
Paul Strand in Mexico @Aperture Gallery(here)
Thomas Struth @Marian Goodman (here)
Miroslav Tichy @ICP (here)
Wolfgang Tillmans @Andrea Rosen Gallery (here)
Twilight Visions: Surrealism, Photography and Paris @ICP (here)

As I review these two lists, now with the advantage of passing time and the resonance of memory, I am generally happy to defend how these ratings ended up; I feel like this Top 40 (41 actually) was largely the best of what was on view in New York this year - if you only saw the 3 STARS shows and nothing else, and even though these shows had their own flaws, on the whole, you would have had a pretty solid year of photography viewing. If pressed to do some fudging along the edges with the long arm of history watching, I think Joe Deal (@Robert Mann), David Goldblatt (@Jewish Museum), or Leon Levinstein (@Met) may end up being more important than I originally gave them credit for. But on the whole, I stand behind the ratings and the logic/rationale the supports each of them.

The harder question to answer is whether my conclusion that 2010 was a less than stellar year for photography was actually a commonly held perception among gallery patrons, museum goers or collectors. Perhaps this community of readers saw the world differently, and the breath taking high points you experienced were more consistent than mine. I think great shows take us outside ourselves, providing excitement and inspiration, challenging our accepted ways of thinking, and hopefully educating us in broad and unexpected ways. I think many of us that haunt galleries and museums are relentless seekers, looking for those stimulating ideas that jolt us into new and unexpected mindsets. But unfortunately, regardless of whether the work was vintage or contemporary, black and white or color, I just don't think that there was enough of the ground-breaking, durably original, idea-rich, radical boldness on view in 2010 that would normally keep my mind buzzing for days.

This apparent minimum of greatness does not however dampen my overflowing enthusiasm for photography in all its myriad and ever-changing forms. Perhaps we are in a short-term, temporary lull, waiting for the gathering of now-unformed ideas into authentically new visual vocabularies. Hopefully 2011 will bring all those mythical shows to New York that I have been impatiently waiting for, the work having been caught in the backwaters of scheduling and slot filling. Against the backdrop of nearly two centuries of photographic history, I'm sorry to report that 2010 didn't show us as much as I had hoped for, but my standards and aspirations for the medium are perhaps unrealistically high. But with the New Year comes a clean blank slate, and the opportunity to be surprised and amazed all over again.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand @Met

JTF (just the facts): A total of 115 photographs, all drawn from the permanent collection, variously framed and matted, and hung in a series of three connected rooms on the second floor of the museum. A handful of images are exhibited on the exterior walls, showing work from each photographer plus additional detail on several photographic processes. In the main exhibit area, each photographer is given his own room. In the Stieglitz room on the left, there are a total of 42 individual photographs by Stieglitz (either framed or in cases), plus two cases of Camera Work and other books/plates and 4 portraits of Stieglitz - 1 by Steichen and 3 by Strand. The Steichen room in the center contains 36 photographs by Steichen, either framed and hung on the grey walls or laid out on tables. The Strand room on the right contains 24 works by Strand, with 1 portrait of Strand by Stieglitz and a case containing 3 Camera Work gravures. Overall, the works in the exhibit span the period from the early 1890s to the mid 1930s, and cover a wide range of processes, including gelatin silver, platinum, platinum-palladium, palladium, direct carbon, gum bichromate and autochrome. A catalog of the exhibition has been published by Yale (here) and is available for $35. A supporting group exhibit of 1910s photography entitled Our Future is in the Air continues in adjacent rooms. (Blurry, crowded installation shots of the main show at right.)

Comments/Context: The Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand show at the Met is exactly what its title suggests: three silos of star-power vintage work by contemporaneous master photographers, the connecting backstory provided by snippets of explanatory wall text. Given the Met's truly world class holdings in the work of these three influential artists, the show is a budget-friendly way for the museum to bring some of its treasures out of storage.
The Stieglitz room is basically a mini-retrospective, with representative images from most of his major themes and subjects: late 1800s Pictorialist New York, Modernist nudes of Georgia O'Keeffe, cloud study Equivalents, views near Lake George, and later 1930s New York cityscapes. It's a solid, greatest hits summary of Stieglitz' career, with everything from Spring Showers and The Steerage to Spiritual America. While this room is densely packed with famous imagery, Stieglitz' nudes of O'Keeffe never fail to outshine everything else for me. There is a full wall of elegant fragmented body parts on display, pared down and thrillingly alive; few have done it better in the century since.

The Steichen room focuses on his turn of the century Pictorialist work, leaving out virtually all of his later career. Clustered at one end of the room are some of the gems of this era: moonlit landscapes, ethereal nudes, and haunting images of Rodin's Balzac. But shockingly, even these masterpieces fade into the background when hung near the set of three large exhibition prints of the Flatiron Building. Seen alternately in soft green, rich blue, and dark brown, the building's personality changes, looming out of the twilight. Together, they are a staggering example of tour-de-force printing.
The Strand room centers on the first two decades of the photographer's career, and it is Strand's images from before 1920 that are the most relevant to the discussion of the interactions with Stieglitz and Steichen. His sparse, geometric abstractions from 1915-1917 really broke with the past and ushered in Modernism. The black rectangles of Wall Street, the arcs of bowls, the patterned shadows on a table, even laundry strung across city backyards are all transformed into pure lines and shapes, breaking with the fussiness of Pictorialism and leading the move to straight photography.
With such an embarrassment of riches on display, it seems downright ridiculous to find fault with this show, and yet, I think it suffers from trying to do too many things, and ultimately fails to tell us anything particularly new about these three photographers. If the goal was to parse the intricate connections between these three (both artistically and as people), then a chronological ordering and timeline would have been much more effective in teasing out the influences; the current structure creates three distinct buckets, and the connections and overlaps between them aren't made particularly clear (the supporting exhibit of 1910s photography doesn't add much to the narrative either). And while the Stieglitz room has a retrospective feel, the other two are edited in ways that add more random and tangential elements into the conversation (Steichen's autochromes, Strand's Mexican portfolio). There is also an overlay of process instruction, begun on an exterior wall, but left unfinished and uncorrelated in the three gallery spaces.

In the end though, these quibbles are drowned out by the power of some of the iconic prints on view. While the scholarship ball may not have been moved forward much with this show, what I'll remember about this exhibit five or ten years from now is getting the rare opportunity to stand up close to those three Steichen Flatirons, and to see for myself just how spectacular they truly are.
Collector's POV: I'm going to forgo the usual discussion of prices for this show, not only because this is a museum exhibition, but because trying to accurately pin down prices for the rarities on display here is simply a fool's exercise. While the work of all three photographers is generally available in the secondary markets, if we focus on the "best of the best" prints (especially the large exhibition prints), there are few if any market equivalents. Undeniably, if some of these masterworks were to inexplicably come into the market now, they would easily fetch well into the millions. This isn't true for everything on display, but this exhibit has a stronger concentration of exceptionally valuable/expensive vintage photography than any other show in New York this year.
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Reviews: NY Times (here), New Yorker (here), Financial Times (here), Haber Arts (here)
Through April 10th

1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10028

Monday, December 20, 2010

Top 10 Photography Lots at Auction in 2010

According to our statistics on 71 different auctions around the world in 2010 (covering both focused Photography sales and the photography buried in Contemporary Art and other compilation sales), these were the top 10 photography lots in terms of overall selling price this year. Unlike last year, when no works crossed the $1 million dollar mark in public secondary market transactions, 8 out of the top 10 lots this year broke that threshold (3 actually crossed $2 million dollars). Our top lot last year (Gilbert & George, The Moon, 1978), would have been good for a tie for 10th place this year (last year's list can be found here).

While some might persuasively argue that certain artists do not fall under the label of "photography", all of the works that have been included in this list are made up of photographic prints. Prices all include the buyer's premium and have been converted to dollars/rounded to the nearest dollar where appropriate (1 Euro = 1.31 Dollars; 1 Pound = 1.55 Dollars, both exchange rates slightly lower than last year; varying quality reproductions via the respective houses).
1.) $2770500: Lot 14, Cindy Sherman, Untitled #153, 1985, at Phillips de Pury & Company, Carte Blanche, November 8th

2.) $2098500: Lot 8, Andreas Gursky, Frankfurt, 2007, at Sotheby's, Contemporary Art, November 9th

3.) $2060338: Lot 6, Andreas Gursky, Pyongyang IV, 2007, at Sotheby's, Contemporary Art, October 15th

4.) $1669738: Lot 72, Andreas Gursky, Madonna I, 2001, at Sotheby's, Contemporary Art, February 10th

5.) $1426500: Lot 19, Cindy Sherman, Untitled #420, 2004, at Phillips de Pury & Company, Carte Blanche, November 8th

5.) $1426500: Lot 58, Cindy Sherman, Untitled (#88), 1981, at Christie's, Post-War and Contemporary Art, November 10th

7.) $1101710: Lot 16, Richard Avedon, Dovima with elephants, Evening dress by Dior, Cirque D'Hiver, Paris, August 1955, 1955/1978, at Christie's, Photographies provenant de la Fondation Richard Avedon, November 20th

8.) $1082500: Lot 122, Edward Weston, Nautilus, 1927, at Sotheby's, Photographs, April 13th

9.) $962500: Lot 17, Thomas Schütte, Old Friends, 1993, at Phillips de Pury & Company, Carte Blanche, November 8th

10.) $902500: Lot 113, Richard Prince, Untitled (Cowboy), 1998-1999, at Phillips de Pury & Company, Contemporary Art, November 8th

10.) $902500: Lot 8, Andreas Gursky, Chicago Board of Trade, 1997, at Christie's, Collection of Michael Crichton, May 11th
While we cover most of the major auctions, it is entirely possible (though not hugely likely) that a photograph could have sold outside our coverage area, in a smaller house or in a secondary market location (especially in the 19th century realm), but could still have reached the top 10 in terms of overall price. So please, if we've missed something somewhere, by all means, add it in the comments.

Cuba in Revolution @ICP

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing a total of 160 black and white photographs, generally framed in black and matted, and hung against taupe and red walls throughout the entire lower level of the museum. The exhibit also includes vintage newsreels projected on a screen, 2 glass cases displaying various magazine spreads, and a video. (Luis Korda, Fidel Castro and Comandante Camilo Cienfuegos entering Havana, January 8, 1959, at right, top, via ICP.)

The show is divided into eight chronological sections, each with a title and start and end dates, together spanning the period between the mid 1940s and the late 1960s. The photographers included in each section are listed below, with the number of prints on view in parentheses:

Pre-Revolutionary Havana: Constantine Arias: 1945-1957

Constantine Arias (18)

The Fall of Batista: 1958-1959

Tirso Martinez (1)
Guillermo Morales (1)
Osvaldo Salas (1)
Unknown (4)

The Years of Struggle and Victory: 1958-1959

Ernesto Fernandez (1)
Burt Glinn (6)
Antonio Nunez Jimenez (1)
Luis Korda (1)
Tirso Martinez (2)
Roberto Salas (1)
Flip Schulke (2)
Andrew St. George (4)
Unknown (4)

Diplomacy and the Cold War: 1959-1964

Sergio Canales (5)
Henri Cartier-Bresson (1)
Mario Collado (1)
Bob Henriques (1)
Alberto Korda (5)
Osvaldo Salas (2)
Andrew St. George (3)

Heroic Portraits

Rene Burri (9)
Elliott Erwitt (1)
Bob Henriques (1)
Alberto Korda (9)
Lee Lockwood (2)
Tirso Martinez (1)
Liborio Noval (1)
Aldo Diaz Rodriguez (1)
Osvaldo Salas (3)
Andrew St. George (4)
Unknown (5)

Picturing the Cuban People: 1959-1963

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1)
Raul Corrales (5)
Burt Glinn (1)
Alberto Korda (3)
Lee Lockwood (1)
Flip Schulke (4)
Andrew St. George (1)

Che Guevara: The Death and Rebirth of an Icon: 1967

Brian Moser (10)
Freddy Alborta Trigo (8)

Cuban Counterculture and Exile: 1965-1968

Jose Figeroa (14)

The exhibit was curated by Brian Wallis and Mark Sanders, in association with the International Art Heritage Foundation. Since photography is not allowed in the ICP galleries, there are unfortunately no installation shots for this show. (The images at right come via the ICP website.)

Comments/Context: OK. I'll admit it. As I walked down the stairs to the Cuba in Revolution exhibit in the basement of the ICP, I was thinking to myself that this was going to be yet another dry historical survey, interesting at a high level from a factual perspective, but likely a show I would decide to pass on reviewing altogether. So much for preconceived notions. While the show downstairs does travel a chronological path of Cuban history, what is exciting and unexpected is how the story is told through photography: how the local and international photojournalists chose to chronicle the revolution (which narratives to follow and how to portray them), how the cult of personality was created around the leaders, and how scenes were stylistically created that embodied certain heroic attributes and emotions. What's interesting here is not so much the gathering of the well-known facts, but the entire construction of national history going on along the way via photography. (Raul Corrales, La Cabelleria, 1980, at right, middle, via ICP.)
The exhibit begins with a "before" section, a series of images of life in Havana under Batista, before the revolution: drunken tourists, chorus girls, hotel gambling and brassy nightlife, juxtaposed with tenements, prostitutes and student demonstrations, with an underlying premonition that these inequalities could not be sustained. The story really starts to accelerate with images of people murdered in the street, cars blasted with gunshots, and Castro being released from prison; the clear conclusion from the pictures is that feelings of unrest were building.
As the fighting starts in earnest, the images become almost like classic guerilla propaganda: scraggly beards, camouflage fatigues, rebel outposts in the jungle, military leaders on patrol and giving fiery speeches. I say almost because these were independent photojournalists not media stooges, and yet, it's fascinating to see how the revolutionary leaders crafted scenes, situations and photo ops that offered certain visual conclusions, how they controlled the message and generated fervent drama. After the jubilant tanks roll in and the government falls, the tenor of the images changes once again, now showing Castro at the UN, Castro jumping down from a tank during the Bay of Pigs invasion, or on skis in the USSR, consolidating his diplomatic position on the world stage, less guerrilla and more emerging statesman.
The better part of two entire rooms is devoted to heroic portraits of Castro, Che Guevara and other rebel leaders, and these images show these figures at their most photogenic - alternately brooding and defiant, warmly human or even solemn and almost religious. Che smokes and drinks mate, Castro plays baseball and golf, and pals around with Hemingway. Alberto Korda's famous portrait of Che is shown in a variety of sizes and croppings, showing how the intensity of the image was maximized. Around the corner are a series of later images of Che's death in Bolivia, where his corpse is laid out, reverently and theatrically photographed like an iconic Jesus.
The final two sections of the show show contrasting views of the Cuban people and their feelings about the revolution. One section shows celebrations and mass rallies in support of the rebels, with flags and hats perched on machetes, the ideals of the revolution embodied in pictures. The images from the mid 1960s show families in exile (or on the way), dancing and kissing, and kids showing off a banned Beatles album. Here we have the origins of resistance and counterculture, and the divisions couldn't be more stark or obvious.
Regardless of your opinions or biases on the politics of the situation, this show is a perceptive look at the creation and shaping of collective history via photography. These are powerful, well made pictures with the ability to exert influence over the simplistic categorization of "good" and "bad", and they re-opened my eyes to the complex and nuanced nature of photojournalistic storytelling and narrative building.

Collector's POV: While none of the works on view in this museum exhibition was for sale, many of the images by Magnum photographers can be found from time to time in the secondary markets or are likely available as modern prints directly from Magnum. Of the native Cuban photographers, Alberto Korda has the most robust history at auction, with a handful of prints selling between $1000 and $17000 in recent years, his famous Guerrillero Heroico at the top end of that range. (Andrew St. George, Che Guevara relaxing in his room at La Cabana fortress and drinking mate, 1959, at right, via ICP.)
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Reviews: NY Times (here), Boston Globe (here), NPR (here), NY Photo Review (here)
Through January 9th

International Center of Photography
1133 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036

Friday, December 17, 2010

Auction Results: Photographs, December 13, 2010 @Christie's

The results of Christie's final various owner Photographs sale of the year generally met expectations, falling right in the heart of the estimate range. Even though the two Penn lots that topped the sale failed to sell, a handful of prints by Peter Beard picked up the slack. The overall Buy-In rate came in just over 25%, ensuring a solid if uneventful outing.
The summary statistics are below (all results include the buyer’s premium):
Total Lots: 187
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: $830500
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: $1234000
Total Lots Sold: 139
Total Lots Bought In: 48
Buy In %: 25.67%
Total Sale Proceeds: $920688

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

Low Total Lots: 173
Low Sold: 127
Low Bought In: 46
Buy In %: 26.59%
Total Low Estimate: $951000
Total Low Sold: $716938

Mid Total Lots: 14
Mid Sold: 12
Mid Bought In: 2
Buy In %: 14.29%
Total Mid Estimate: $283000
Total Mid Sold: $203750

High Total Lots: 0
High Sold: NA
High Bought In: NA
Buy In %: NA
Total High Estimate: $0
Total High Sold: NA
The top lot by High estimate was tied between two lots: lot 65, Irving Penn, Cuzco Children, Neg. No 142, Peru, Dec 1948, 1949, and lot 137, Irving Penn, Juliet Auchincloss, 1949, both at $30000-50000; neither of these lots sold. The top outcome of the sale was lot 160, Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled #2450, from Kitchen Table Series, 1990, at $35000 (image at right, top, via Christie's).

While only 70.50% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above the estimate range, there were a total of thirteen surprises in this sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate):
Lot 23, Richard Misrach, White Man Contemplating Pyramids, 1989/1991, at $13750 (image at right, middle, via Christie's)
Lot 50, Ansel Adams, Jeffrey Pine, Sentinel Dome, 1940/Later, at $7500
Lot 73, Peter Beard, 150-160 Iber, Tsavo North, along Athi-Tiva, in hunting block 33, Feb 1965, Later, at $21250 (image at right, bottom, via Christie's)
Lot 74, Peter Beard, From The End of the Game (Last Word from Paradise), c1965/Later, at $18750
Lot 75, Peter Beard, Bibiana at El Molo Bay, Loiyangalani, Lake Rudolph, 1968/Later, at $26250
Lot 76, Peter Beard, Orphaned Cheetah Cubs at Mweiga National Park headquarters, 1968, at $27500
Lot 88, George Tice, Country Road, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1991/1999, at $7500
Lot 107, Leif Erik Nygards, Marilyn Monroe, Bel Air Hotel, June 27th, 1962/Later, at $7500
Lot 110, Henri Cartier-Bresson, La Plaine de la Brie, 1968/1970s, at $20000
Lot 122, Eddie Adams, Symbolism: March on Washington, 1963, at $9375
Lot 135, Ruth Bernhard, Hips Horizontal, 1975, at $16250
Lot 160, Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled #2450, from Kitchen Table Series, 1990, at $35000 (image at right, top, via Christie's)
Lot 179, Elliott Erwitt, New York City, 1953/Later, at $10625

Complete lot by lot results can be found here.

20 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10020
ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE: Thankfully, this is the last of the auction results posts for the year. After a pair of remaining show reviews at the beginning of next week, we'll head into our massive year end roundups. These will include the 2010 auction summary and top 10 lots at auction in 2010, the top 10 gallery and museum shows of 2010, the top 10 photobooks of 2010 and a sincere plug for our 2010 sponsors. Get ready!

Auction Results: MUSIC, December 10, 2010 @Phillips London

There just isn't any way to sugar coat the dismal photography results from the recent MUSIC themed sale at Phillips in London. With a Buy-In rate at 60% and Total Sale Proceeds that missed the estimate range by a mile, it was a bomb. Luckily, the top two lots found buyers, avoiding what would have been a major wipeout.

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

Total Lots: 75
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: £243150
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: £351450
Total Lots Sold: 30
Total Lots Bought In: 45
Buy In %: 60.00%
Total Sale Proceeds: £135388
Here is the breakdown (using the Low, Mid, and High definitions from the preview post, here):
Low Total Lots: 64
Low Sold: 27
Low Bought In: 37
Buy In %: 57.81%
Total Low Estimate: £155450
Total Low Sold: £45813
Mid Total Lots: 9
Mid Sold: 1
Mid Bought In: 8
Buy In %: 88.89%
Total Mid Estimate: £126000
Total Mid Sold: £11875
High Total Lots: 2
High Sold: 2
High Bought In: 0
Buy In %: 0.00%
Total High Estimate: £70000
Total High Sold: £77700
The top lot by High estimate was lot 1, Idris Khan, Rachmaninoff...Preludes, 2007, at £35000-40000; it was also the top outcome of the sale at £56450.

Only 70.00% of the lots that sold had proceeds above or in the estimate range, and there was just a single surprise in this sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate):
Lot 205, David Redfern, Jimi Hendrix, Royal Albert Hall, London, 1969, at £6000 (image at right, top, via Phillips)

Complete lot by lot results can be found here (Evening) and here (Day).

Phillips De Pury & Company
Howick Place
London SW1P 1BB

John Baldessari, Pure Beauty @Met

JTF (just the facts): A total of 121 works in various media, hung against white walls in a winding series of 11 rooms. By my count (and this was a bit tricky given the number of multi-part pieces on display), there were 76 photographs and photo-based works, 23 paintings, 6 videos, 14 books and other ephemera, and 2 sculptures. These works span Baldessari's entire career, from 1962 to 2010. This show had previous stops at LACMA (here), the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (here) and Tate Modern (here), before finding its way to the Met. An exhibition catalog is available from the bookstore for $75/35, depending on the binding. Since the Met did not allow photography in this particular exhibit, there are unfortunately no installation shots to accompany this review. The individual images at right are via the Met website. (John Baldessari, Floating Color, 1972, at right.)

Comments/Context: John Baldessari's fantastic retrospective exhibition now on view at the Met has more ideas per square foot than any other show I have seen in New York this year. It voraciously wanders from idea to idea, mixing and juxtaposing, compiling and clustering, with a powerful cerebral logic that moves easily from arid and brainy to joyfully playful and downright funny.
While Baldessari has aptly been called the godfather of Conceptual art, this show led me to a more complex reading of where his greatest innovation really lies. I now see him at the confluence of three rivers of artistic thought: the last waves of Pop art and its transformation by mass culture, the heady idiosyncrasy of Conceptual art (especially in its manifestations in photography and its explorations of optics, illusions, and visual puns), and the birth of Appropriation art and its reuse and recontextualization of images drawn from various media, including the cinema. These three sets of forces have been processed in his mind, twisted and connected into a range of new and original possibilities and end points. He is really much more of a bridge figure and downstream influencer than I gave him credit for.
The exhibit is organized chronologically, so the first several rooms are full of mostly 1960s-era paintings that expand beyond the realm of Pop and introduce the combination of smart textual language and photographic imagery to stretched canvas. You can really see Baldessari moving beyond simple representations of everyday pop culture objects toward a more inward looking examination of the nature and process of art itself. Out of the ashes of his cremation of most of his early work (complete with urn and cemetery plaque) comes a flowering of conceptual projects the depth and breadth of which is truly astonishing.
The next few rooms of 1970s work are by far the highlight of this retrospective. It is not an exaggeration to say that every single work on display in this stretch of spaces has something unexpected to say. Images of a red ball in the sky are aligned horizontally, fingers select carrots from groups of three, a circle of red arrows shows the direction people are walking and Baldessari hits a variety of objects with a golf club. The flood of ideas gains momentum as the artist sings Sol LeWitt's sentences, writes and rewrites that he will not make any boring art, and repeats over and over again the phrase "I am making art" as he moves around in his studio. Colored sheets of paper are thrown out of house windows, tiny corners of paintings are used to represent the whole, and car hoods are arranged by their subtle shades of color. It's a bravura performance of deviant ideas, continually pushing the edges of what had heretofore been possible. (John Baldessari, Goodbye to Boats (Sailing In), 1972-1973, at right.)
When Baldessari transitions to the larger scale multi-part photocompositions for which is likely best known, I think the air actually deflates just a bit; in comparison to the sly trickery and raw energy of the 1970s work, from the 1980s onward, I think the power of the works is more muted. He's moved on to appropriation as his main underlying tool (particularly from film stills), and has relied on implied emotion, psychology, and symbolism as his primary tricks of the trade; each gathering of juxtaposed images (enlarged, cropped etc.) is now a kind of dramatic rebus to be puzzled out. A ladder of dead and sleeping men lay in horizontal stripes, guns radiate from a kiss, gangsters and lovers are paired together, people fall upward, and a long thin line connects a mountain climber and a scuba diver who are juxtaposed with cakes. Soon his signature colored dots are introduced to make faces anonymous, and this motif then evolves into colored silhouettes and overlapping painted/photographic scenes. The clusters get physically larger and larger as the years pass, becoming both more intricate and more obtuse. The final room of the show contains his most recent works and has him coming almost full circle, back to pared down painting once again, but via the assimilation of decades of underlying conceptual themes.
For seekers of brain stimulation and lovers of open ended interpretation, this retrospective is a must see. In many ways, what I like best about this show is that photography is seen as an integral part of the evolution of Contemporary Art (capitalized), where multiple images, automatic picture making, serial and time-based works, and the rethinking of photographic imagery are all tightly woven into the fabric of ideas that are being explored, rejected, and reimagined. It is no wonder that Baldessari has been so influential; his abundant harvest of witty logic has not only collated several of the main tributaries of recent artistic method, but has provided handy jumping off points for countless others who have explored some of the more promising side roads and backstreets.
Collector's POV: John Baldessari is represented by Marian Goodman Gallery in New York (here), where an exhibition of new paintings was on display this Fall. Baldessari's work has become consistently available in the secondary markets, nearly always available in Contemporary Art auctions rather than those focused solely on Photography. Prices for his photo-based pieces have ranged in recent years from $10000 to nearly $1 million, with most of his larger multi-part works made since the 1980s routinely fetching six figures. Some of Baldessari's paintings have run even higher, up to $4.4 million in 2007. (John Baldessari, Kiss/Panic, 1984, at right.)

Rating: *** (three stars) EXCELLENT (rating system described here).
Transit Hub:
  • Reviews: NY Times (here), New York (here), LA Times (here), Wall Street Journal (here), Time Out (here)
  • Feature: New Yorker (here)
John Baldessari, Pure BeautyThrough January 9th

Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10028

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Auction Results: Photographie and Selection from an American Collection, December 8, 2010 @Van Ham

With an overall Buy-In rate over 60%, the results from the two recent photography sales at Van Ham in Cologne were, not surprisingly, far below the pre-sale estimates. 4 out of 5 of the top lots failed to find buyers, and there just weren't enough positive surprises to make up for all the passed lots. (Van Ham does not provide an estimate range in many cases, just a single estimate number, so this figure is used as the High estimate in our calculations).

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

Total Lots: 443
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: 1120800€
Total Lots Sold: 173
Total Lots Bought In: 270
Buy In %: 60.95%
Total Sale Proceeds: 519952€

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

Low Total Lots: 424
Low Sold: 163
Low Bought In: 261
Buy In %: 61.56%
Total Low Estimate: 804800€
Total Low Sold: 343427€

Mid Total Lots: 17
Mid Sold: 9
Mid Bought In: 8
Buy In %: 47.06%
Total Mid Estimate: 231000€
Total Mid Sold: 128225€

High Total Lots: 2
High Sold: 1
High Bought In: 1
Buy In %: 50.00%
Total High Estimate: 85000€
Total High Sold: 48300€

The top lot by High estimate was lot 1046A, Andreas Gursky, Cairo (General View), 1992, at 35000-45000€; it did not sell. The top outcome of the sale was lot 1415, Edward Steichen, An Apple, a Boulder, a Mountain, 1921, at 48300€.

76.30% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above the estimate. There were a total of 11 surprises in the sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate):

Lot 1080, Siegfried Lauterwasser, Wahltag/Appenzell bei Schneefall, 1951, at 3795€
Lot 1091, Floris Neusüss, Munchen 64 (Nudogram), 1964, at 25300€ (image at right, top, via Van Ham)
Lot 1116, Tata Ronkholz, Trinkhalle Koln-Nippes, Merheimer Str. 294, 1983, at 2990€ (image at right, middle, via Van Ham)
Lot 1122, August Sander, Familienportrait, 1921, at 3220€
Lot 1127, August Sander, Herbstwald, 1938, at 4370€
Lot 1128, August Sander, Der Stadtwald zu Koln verschneit, 1936, at 5290€
Lot 1177, Boris Becker, Salzau im Mai (4 prints), 1993, at 1920€ (image at right, bottom, via Van Ham)
Lot 1181, Sibylle Bergemann, Loret Becker, 1992, at 1440€
Lot 1199, Rosemarie Clausen, Totenmasken grosser Deutscher, n.d., at 840€
Lot 1258, Karl Hugo Schmolz, Open (Riphahn), 1957, at 1680€
Lot 1271, Unbekannt, Gebruder Wright (erster Flug!), 1903, at 1080€
Complete lot by lot results can be found here.

Van Ham Kunstauktionen
Schönhauser Straße 10 - 16
D - 50968 Köln

Lalla Essaydi, Harem @Houk

JTF (just the facts): A total of 14 large scale color photographs, each mounted but unframed, and hung against alternately red and cream colored walls in the main and side galleries. There are 12 single images and 2 triptychs on view. Neither process information nor physical dimensions were given on the gallery checklist. The works were made between 2008 and 2010 and are available in editions of either 10 or 15. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: I'm guessing that most contemporary photography collectors can easily identify the work of Lalla Essaydi: large scale color images of young Arab women, draped in gauzy white clothing and covered head to toe with Islamic calligraphy, with the patterns of writing echoed on the walls and furnishings around the subjects, creating an enveloping environment of patterned henna lines. Her works explore and reimagine Western stereotypes of the Arab world, from exoticism to 19th century Orientalism (think Delacroix), adding a uniquely modern, feminist point of view.

This show reprises some familiar images from her Les Femmes du Maroc series and mixes them with new work from her Harem series. It isn't surprising to find that at some point the "all-over calligraphy" artistic motif would eventually run its course, and Essaydi has now moved on to exploring the adjacent territory of the colorful decorative patterns found in the tiled areas of Moroccan palaces, particularly the hidden rooms reserved for members of the harem. Her models pose in sitting nooks, doorways, on floors and near archways, surrounded by elaborate wood carvings and staggering patterned tilework. Once again, she uses the camouflage technique of matching her models' robes to the surrounding environment, this time covering the loose drapery with endless blue and white abstract geometries. Her young women are trapped in these spaces, lost in the endless and elaborate ornamentation, dissolving into intricate designs.

These new works once again consider many of the same themes from her earlier work: the role of women in the modern Arab world, the constraints of tradition, and the Islamic cliches, conventions and misunderstandings of the West. Her pictures continue to be pleasingly decorative, while at the same time quietly undermining the scenes they portray. All in, in this new series, Essaydi hasn't radically modified the artistic formula that has worked for her in the past; instead, she has made a smaller step to a related set of subject matter that can be easily placed into her existing (and already successful) visual framework.

Collector's POV: The works in the show range in price from $9500 to $32000, largely based on size it appears. Essaydi's prints have entered the secondary markets with more regularity in recent years, particularly in Contemporary Art auctions. Prices for these sales have generally ranged between $7000 and $15000.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Exhibit: DeCordova Museum, 2009 (here)
  • Book: Les Femmes du Maroc (here)
Through January 15th

Edwynn Houk Gallery
745 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10151