Monday, April 30, 2012

August Sander: Citizens of the Twentieth Century @Houk

JTF (just the facts): A total of 34 black and white photographs, framed in black and mounted, and hung against almond colored walls in the main gallery space. All of the works are posthumous gelatin silver prints with black borders, printed by Gerd Sander in 1990. 29 of the prints are roughly 10x7, in editions of 12. There are also 5 larger prints, ranging from 23x13 to 23x18 in size. The images were originally made by August Sander between 1906 and 1940. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: I doubt that there are any words worth adding to the celebration of August Sander's landmark photography project Citizens of the Twentieth Century. His ambitious and exhaustive portrait of the German people has influenced generations of photographers from across the globe, as evidenced by recent paired showings here in New York with both Seydou Keïta (here) and Boris Mikhailov (here). Edwynn Houk as recently taken on representation of the August Sander family collection, and this show is a foundation sampler of images from this iconic project.

The prints in this exhibit are not vintage rarities, but posthumous prints made by Gerd Sander relatively recently. So instead of the warm patina of age, they have a sharp crispness of silver tonality, making them seem surprisingly modern. The pastry cook, the bricklayer, the boxers, the three young farmers, the pairs of children, the soldier, they are all brisk and refreshed rather than tired. Several of the images have been enlarged to roughly twice the original size (I had never seen these before), but they too are clean and lively.

While this show doesn't give us any particularly new or original insights on August Sander, seeing a strong grouping of his portraits like this one never fails to impress. It's proof that greatness doesn't age, and that the true masters of the medium can be revisited time and again without becoming stale.
Collector's POV: The prints in this show are priced as follows. The 10x7 prints are either $4500 or $6000. The larger prints (roughly 23x16) are either $12000 or $18000. Sander's photographs are widely available in the secondary markets, including portraits, landscapes, and later prints/portfolios made by both Gunther and Gerd Sander. As a result, prices vary widely, from as little as $1000 for lesser known images to more than $100000 for iconic vintage portraits.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Feature: Wall Street Journal, 2008 (here)
  • Exhibit: SFMOMA, 2002 (here)
Through May 12th

Edwynn Houk Gallery
745 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10151

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