Friday, October 31, 2008

Photography in the New York Times

Back in September, I was reading Holland Cotter's review of Catherine Opie's retrospective at the Guggenheim (which we will cover soon I imagine), and I started to wonder what your view of the whole world of photography would look like if your only news source was the printed version of the New York Times (no online additions). October is a busy month for photography; there are lots of gallery and museum shows opening and the NY photography auction season takes place. So I thought I would do an experiment and cut out every article about photography for the entire month and then put them together to get a picture of how the NYT was reporting on the medium.

Of course, there is great photography published in every section, every day in the NYT. But I decided not to count great photojournalism in this tally; only the articles in the Arts section which covered the medium as an art form. (There was recently an article about a well known collector in the Obituaries which I also did not count.) I also did not count the advertisements for gallery shows and auctions, of which there were many.

So here's the data:

October 3
Full article in Arts about Gilbert & George at the Brooklyn Museum (Cotter)
Short article in Arts about Josef Koudelka at Aperture (Smith)
Short blurb in Listings about Catherine Opie at the Guggenheim (Cotter)
Short blurb in Listings about New Photography 2008 at the MoMA (Rosenberg)
Short blurb in Listings about Hans Silverster at Marlborough (Smith)
Short blurb in Listings about Roe Etheridge at Kreps (Johnson)

October 10
Short blurb in Listings about Gilbert & George at the Brooklyn Museum (Cotter)
Short blurb in Listings about Catherine Opie at the Guggenheim (Cotter)
Short blurb in Listings about Josef Koudelka at Aperture (Smith)

October 17
Short blurb in Listings about Gilbert & George at the Brooklyn Museum (Cotter)
Short blurb in Listings about Catherine Opie at the Guggenheim (Cotter)
Short blurb in Listings about Susan Meiselas at the ICP (Johnson)

October 24
Short blurb in Listings about Catherine Opie at the Guggenheim (Cotter)
Short blurb in Listings about Josef Koudelka at Aperture (Smith)

October 31
Short blurb in Listings about Catherine Opie at the Guggenheim (Cotter)
Short blurb in Listings about America and the Tintype at the ICP (Rosenberg)

So what are the conclusions?

First, anecdotally, I think of photography as being generally well represented in the NYT, but at least in the last month, this wasn't the case. If you are a purist and eliminate Gilbert & George from your count, then there was only one real article longer than one paragraph in the entire month. I also think of the Sunday Arts & Leisure being a good place for photography in more depth, but not so this month.

Second, I had not noticed how the NYT clumps the Arts news together and pushes it out on Fridays. I also had not really noticed how the same shows get repeated week to week in the Listings.

Third, the group above is mostly established, well known artists. Not a lot of experimentation or coverage of emerging artists going on here.

Fourth, there is no coverage of any exhibits outside of the New York area.

Lastly, they have clearly delivered the message that if you are going to see only one exhibit of photography any time soon, it should be the Catherine Opie show.

This post is not meant as a gotcha on the NYT. I conceived of it as simply a data gathering exercise to see if there were any patterns (and indeed, there were). I came away with the conclusion that if you are passionately interested in photography (as we are), the NYT can be a good first pass source, but if you want a fuller picture of the real action in this medium, you will need to look elsewhere to bring in other viewpoints. All in all, perhaps that conclusion is not surprising.

Happy Halloween!

If you are a collector focused mostly on "vintage" photography (like us), it is easy to lose sight of what it means to be a working photographer on a day to day basis. Many of the artists we collect are no longer alive, so our focus is on talking with dealers, auction house specialists and estate managers about work that is available in the secondary market. This kind of collecting has its own pace and style that is very different than collecting work by contemporary photographers, where there often can be direct, personal interaction with the artist.

Amy Stein is a contemporary photographer working and teaching in the New York area who writes a terrific blog (here) about her life as a photographer. We've never met her, but we have enjoyed reading about the gallery shows of her work and those of her friends, the events she is going to, her trips to take pictures, and more generally, watching from afar as a photography career gets built, brick by brick. Of all the artist/photographer blogs out there (and there are a staggering number), it is the only one we read on a regular basis. To us, it feels like an authentic view into life as a contemporary photographer at this moment in time, right now.

Stein has opted for the series approach to her work and has explored four different projects to date: Women and Guns, Halloween in Harlem, Domesticated (animals in human environments), Stranded (motorists on the roadside). Each of these efforts have produced thought provoking, well made color images that have a distinct and consistent point of view. In honor of Halloween, I've selected a few images below from her Halloween in Harlem series (Powerpuff Girls, Hulk, and Dog, respectively):

Stein's artist site can be found here, with images from all four series, as well as the other usual biographical information. And while her work doesn't fit into the narrow definition of our particular collection, we will continue to pay attention as her career evolves.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Photo Book Grab Bag

One of the ways we approach the process of teaching ourselves about photography in its many forms is to always be on the lookout for photo books that we can add to our library, even if their subject matter doesn't fit with our specific collecting themes. At this point, after many years, we've built up a pretty strong group of books centered on the photographers key to our collection, with a wider smattering of books representing the rest of the history of photography. But we're still expanding our knowledge, and new books are always being published, so whenever we hear about a book (new, old, out of print) that sounds interesting and is not already on our shelves, we order it on the Internet, from one of a variety of sources (Amazon, Abebooks etc.). This produces a wonderful element of surprise to the receipt of the daily mail - will there be a photo book (ordered weeks ago) in the pile? We're not particularly fussy about first editions or perfect condition; we just like having a solid copy as reference.

So today's post outlines (in summary form) a handful of books that we've have piled up in recent weeks. I don't believe there is any pattern to this particular group, but plenty of interesting material nonetheless:

1.) Light Readings, A Photography Critic's Writings, 1968-1978, A.D. Coleman, University of New Mexico Press, 1998 (second edition)

Believe it or not, we had never heard of this book until recently, when it came up in passing during an email exchange with gallery owner Joseph Bellows. I have since spent time reading each and every essay in this volume, and can wholeheartedly recommend finding a copy and reading it for yourself. These essays show what it was like to be a photography critic in the late sixties and early seventies, and you can clearly see Coleman struggling with what that meant and how to approach the task. What I appreciate most is that he was unmerciful. When he didn't like a show or a book he read, he said so, with a level of scholarship, intelligence and wit that is virtually absent from our public discourse on photography today; when he did find something of value, he was eloquent in his support. Overall, the level of craftsmanship in the essays is consistently high. This book has been inspiring to me (in the context of this blog) to work to reach for a higher standard of quality in our posts, and to be honest in our appraisals of what we see (rather than simply reporting that everything is wonderful), even when it might be unpopular. Go out and get this book if you don't have it already.

2.) Think of England, Martin Parr, Phaidon Press, 2000

We have run across the work of Martin Parr in quite a few places recently, and since we didn't have any books of his in our library, we decided to start with this one. Parr is famous for his humor, and while this is clearly evident in these images, I was struck by the careful framing and thoughtful use of color across this entire volume. These are very well made, memorable photographs.

3.) Delta West, The Land and the People of the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta, Roger Minick, Scrimshaw Press, 1969

While these images were made in the 1960s in the Sacramento delta in California, they echo images from the FSA in the 1930s, full of dusty roads, falling down shacks, and farm workers. This book has high quality reproductions of the photographs, interspersed with commentary from the residents.

4.) Dan Graham, Gloria Moure, Ediciones Poligrafa, 1998

Dan Graham's color photography of houses and buildings in the 1960s seems to be coming up again and again for us, and so we needed to get some background on his career. This book has some excellent examples of these housing tract images, as well as a solid retrospective of all his work, from video and performance art, to conceptual installations and other structural elements. While his photographs aren't particularly representative of all that he has done, they would clearly fit well with Lewis Baltz and Robert Adams.

5.) It's Beautiful Here, Isn't It..., Luigi Ghirri, Aperture, 2008

We've seen a few Ghirris in the past months, and are looking forward to the Ghirri show to be held at Aperture in November (which we will certainly visit). We bought the book to get a fuller view of his work, especially in the context of trying to get our heads around color work from the 1970s and 1980s. It's an excellent volume, showing an extended exploration of how color can be used as an element of picture making.

6.) Roy DeCarava, A Retrospective, Peter Galassi, Museum of Modern Art, 1996

We have been exposed (pardon the pun) to a city scene or two by DeCarava that might fit into our collection, so I wanted to get a better picture of DeCarava's career (since we weren't particularly familiar with it) and thus we bought this retrospective book. In looking through this exhibition catalogue, there are indeed some terrific city views of Harlem that would match our collection. But these bare, geometric prints are a minority in a spectacular body of work that is focused on people and their lives. These images are a testament to the power of photography in capturing the quiet, fleeting moments of life. I was also impressed by the tonal range of these prints, especially the dark greys and blacks, and how well they are handled; there is some amazing craftsmanship at work here.

7.) Sequences, Duane Michals, Doubleday, 1969

Duane Michals will likely never be represented in our collection, but we've seen so many of his sequences over the years that we felt the need to have a book to better understand how all the work fits together. This is a simple volume of thought provoking works that explore the nature of narrative and time in photography.

The library is always expanding, so by all means, tell us about great photo books we may have missed in the comments section.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Auction: La Photographie IV: Collection Marie-Therese et Andre Jammes, November 15, 2008 @Sotheby's

The catalogue for the final part of the Jammes sale arrived a week or so ago, and I must admit, it feels somewhat bittersweet. During our years of collecting, we have admired their efforts from afar and their influence has been strongly felt, even though we have not had any personal contact with the famous pair. They have become the standard bearers for systematic and scholarly collecting, for taking it seriously, for being rigorous and thoughtful, for educating others, and for working patiently and diligently over a lifetime at building a careful and meaningful collection, regardless of the interest of anyone else. Their knowledge has filled in gaps in the historical record, their books are key reference volumes, their exhibitions are historic, and the catalogues from the previous sales are collector's items in their own right. They are the antithesis of the flashy, bling bling collector of the 21st century. So it is with some sorrow that we see the final chapter of their amazing collection being cast to the wind.

Given the unspoken move away from 19th century material in the mainstream photography market (evidenced by the very few 19th century lots among the literally thousands of photographs for sale in this season's auctions), it is refreshing to get a full dose of unexpected 19th century work in a single sale. There are a total of 192 lots in this sale, approximately 30 of which are buy-ins from the previous sales (now with lower estimates). The total high estimate for the sale is 2970800 Euros, and given the success of the previous parts of this sale, it won't be surprising if this sale also performs strongly, even in the face of volatile market conditions.

Here's the breakdown:

Total Low Lots (high estimate below 7500 Euros): 98
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): 385800 Euros

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between 7500 and 35000 Euros): 77
Total Mid Estimate: 1160000 Euros

Total High Lots (high estimate above 35000 Euros): 17
Total High Estimate: 1425000 Euros

Given that we have very little 19th century material in our collection, there aren't many lots that fit for us in this sale. This is a result of the parameters of our genres, rather than any comment on the high quality of the work in this sale. A couple of lots that do fit are:
  • Lot 178 Germaine Krull, Metal (a photo book we have long wanted to have for our library)
  • Lot 187 Emmanuel Sougez, Etude Industrielle, 1930
Hopefully, many of these lots will end up in museums, or with collectors who share the Jammes' passion for the medium. In any case, keep the catalogue as a reminder of what great collections look like and as an impetus to set your standards high.

La Photographie IV: Collection Marie-Therese et Andre Jammes
November 15

76, Rue Du Faubourg Saint-Honore
75008 Paris

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

New Exhibits @JGS Forward Thinking Museum

The JGS Forward Thinking Museum is brimming with photography exhibits worth checking out. If you haven't visited the museum before, it is an online, immersive environment, where you "enter" the museum and use an "elevator" to visit various "floors" where exhibits are displayed. There are now over 35 floors of photography exhibits, with some floors holding a variety of shows. Every time I visit this site, it seems there are new exhibits to see or old ones worth revisiting. While we can't possibly review each and every one of the shows on display, here are a few (both new and old) that we have found of interest
  • David Maisel, Oblivion: There are 8 high contrast black and white aerial views of Los Angeles in this exhibit, filled with patterns of freeways, developments, streets and intersections. There are certain reminders of Ed Ruscha in these prints, but in a much darker, moodier, almost apocalyptic way. There are also a few negative prints that are even more haunting.

  • Jan Banning, Bureaucratics: This show is a series of 49 color portraits of bureaucrats from all over the world (Yemen, India, China, Bolivia etc.), sitting behind their desks. They are a fascinating kaleidoscope of odd environments, with flags, political portraits, bold paint, and other surprising accoutrements.

  • JGS Theater: There are 30+ videos of various photographers on view in the "theater". While I haven't seen them all, I have enjoyed Naoya Hatakeyama's The Skin of the City, Daido Moriyama's Memories of a Dog, and Stephen Shore's American Beauty. They all incorporate the photographer talking directly about his work.

  • Risaku Suzuki, Snow and Cherry Blossoms: There are 22 color images in this exhibit. The blurred images of snow against the night sky and of a clear blue sky seen through a veil of pink cherry blossoms are quiet and lovely, without being cliche.

  • Martin Parr, Art World Openings: This show has 22 color images of patrons at art openings, some looking at the art, some looking at each other. Parr's wry observations are palette cleansing in a world of people taking themselves too seriously.

  • Daido Moriyama, Shanghai: There are 45 black and white images of Shanghai in this exhibit. It is interesting to see Moriyama, whom we associate with uniquely Japanese subjects, taking his eye for darkness and shadows to China.
You could spend hours digging around all that is available in the museum, and there is a wide variety of photography on view, including a strong emphasis on contemporary photojournalism. It is well worth your time to pay a visit. The JGS Foundation site (with an amazing photography collection) can be found here. The Forward Thinking Museum can be reached from that site or directly, here.

By the way, if you subscribe to the feed from this blog, your reader will show an earlier post showing some random notes I inadvertently published this morning, which I have since deleted (but the first mistaken post doesn't disappear for you unfortunately). Sorry for the confusion.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Auction: Photographs, Featuring Works from the Estate of Dan Berley, November 21, 2008 @Rago

It's easy to get lulled into thinking that the only photography auctions worth following are those of the top two (or four, or however many) houses that are household names. The fact is, if you are as crazy as we are, there are lots of sales at smaller auction houses all over the world that have interesting photography up for sale (often at lower prices) that are worth checking out.

A terrific example of this is the upcoming sale at Rago (just outside Trenton, NJ). Dan Berley was a long time collector of photography (beginning in the 1960s) who partnered with gallery owner Lee Witkin to publish a number of photography portfolios in the days when photography galleries were few and far between. His collection spans all types and styles of photography, and this sale offers a wide range of excellent prints, particularly the portfolios, which are available from many artists (there are also quite a few complete Camera Work issues). There are a total of 301 lots up for sale, with a total high estimate of $1453600.

Here's the breakdown:

Total Low Lots (high estimate below $10000): 277
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): $857600

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between $10000 and $50000): 22
Total Mid Estimate: $476000

Total High Lots (high estimate above $50000): 2
Total High Estimate: $120000

Here are some of the lots we find of interest:

  • 1032 Dr. Dain Tasker, Fuschia - Upright Type, 1930s
  • 1042 Karl Struss, Cables, Singer Building, 1912
  • 1080 Imogen Cunningham, Two Callas, 1929/1970
  • 1084 Imogen Cunningham, Triangles, 1928/Later
  • 1137 Edward Steichen, The George Washington Bridge, 1931 (image at right, top)
  • 1146 Ralston Crawford, Interior View of Station, Newark, 1942 (image at right, bottom)
  • 1254 Aaron Siskind, Chicago, 1952
There is some high quality work in this sale, well worth taking a look, even if you've never bought from Rago.

November 21st

333 North Main Street
Lambertville, NJ 08530

Friday, October 24, 2008

Jeff Curto's History of Photography Podcast

For the past month or so, I've been listening to a History of Photography podcast when I have some time to fill on a train or airplane. The audio is a recording of the live class that Professor Jeff Curto teaches at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois (a Chicago-area community college) each week, complete with student questions and discussion. If you have a video-enabled iPod (or the like) or listen over the Internet, his slides are also included; they are synchronized with the audio, so you can see the images he is showing as they are discussed (very cool).

While I think most collectors have a decent general understanding of the history of the medium, what I have liked about this class is that it has both refreshed my memory about some things I already knew and filled in some gaps, especially in the areas of 19th century processes (can you remember how wet collodion and gum bichromate were actually done?) and the relationship between 19th century photography and the other arts and culture of that time. I have listened to the first 7 lectures (so I am not quite current), and most of them have been thematic, rather than chronological in their organization. After setting the context of the course with a whirlwind tour of the invention and history of photography in the first couple of lectures, Curto has focused on portraiture (with a heavy emphasis on daguerrotypes by Southworth & Hawes), transportation (Grand Tour and western exploration photography), the interaction between photography and painting, and most recently, stereoscopic photography and photography of standard subjects (particularly 19th century landscapes). I believe there are 8 more lectures to come.

I have enjoyed listening to this course and would recommend it to you as a collector, unless you have a Ph.D. in photography (in which case it will be completely review).

The podcast website can be found here. There are links on this page to iTunes (for getting the podcast - it's free by the way), as well as to the class homepage and other resources.

As an aside, if you spend some time digging around on iTunes, you'll find that many major museums (MoMA, SFMOMA, Tate Modern etc.) are making their artist lectures and interviews, recorded at live events, available for free as podcasts. I have recently listened to some interesting talks given in the past few years by Hiroshi Sugimoto, Wolfgang Tillmans, Nan Goldin and others, dug up from these archives, and I have Jeff Wall, Gilbert & George, Robert Adams, and Dan Graham all queued up for my next plane trip. A good (and somewhat hidden) resource worth exploring.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

In Search Of: Imogen Cunningham Tuberose

Virtually every photography collector we have ever met has a short list of pictures that they are constantly searching for. Every time a new auction catalogue comes, they look for these images. When they meet their favorite dealers, they ask about these images. Sometimes, these searches can go on for years.

This blog continues to be an experiment in how the process of collecting can be augmented by the virtual world. And so today, we are going to try a new feature, called In Search Of (you may remember a 70's TV show by the same name, but in that case, Leonard Nimoy was searching for Bigfoot and aliens, not photography). The concept behind this type of post is simple: tell the community of readers what you are looking for (no matter how random or arcane), and maybe someone out there will have some useful information to contribute. Perhaps a dealer will read this and have that exact work hiding in a flat file somewhere. Perhaps a collector will have the image and be ready to deaccession or trade it. Or perhaps someone will see a print in an obscure auction somewhere and call your attention to it.

To test drive the process, we'll start with an image that has been on our short list for a long time. If you have looked at our collection, you will likely notice that Imogen Cunningham is our largest holding. Her florals and nudes are amazing (we think), and the Tuberose, from the 1920s, is one of our favorites. Here's the image (scan courtesy of the Met collection):

Given all the florals that Cunningham did, you may ask yourself why we are interested in this specific image; it is clearly a good one, but there are many that are far more unusual. The reason is that my wife and I very much enjoy this particular type of flower; it has an amazing fragrance. So we're particularly interested in adding this image to our collection, as it has a sort of sentimental value for us.

We have only ever seen one print of this image in the market, and it was a later print that we somehow let slip through our fingers (and is now at the top of our "Ones That Got Away" list). At this point, we are interested in finding any high quality print we can: signed/unsigned, vintage/later, variant cropping, etc. as long as it is in decent condition. So if you know anything about a print of this image, please post a comment directly in the blog or send us an email at, if you prefer some privacy. We'll certainly update everyone if something good happens.

If you are a collector out there searching for something in particular, we'd be happy to feature your search next time we do one of these posts (perhaps once a week if there is interest). Send us (at the same address):

  • a scan of the image you're chasing
  • as many details as you have (artist, title, negative date, size etc.)
  • how you'd like to be contacted (either via post in the blog or via email directly)

We are happy to be a blind router of information between parties to start, if privacy is of importance to either side (one collector friend likes to call this the "cone of silence"), but please be aware that we intend to get out of the way and let the parties talk between themselves as soon as possible, and that openness is what is making this process work.

We hope this idea just might work and people can get the word out about specific images they have been agonizing over for a long time. If it doesn't, we are no worse off, as there is little downside in our minds to readers knowing what we are looking for. And if, in the process, we expose people to new images they weren't aware of, then we're all getting educated along the way. If we've missed some important part of the process, by all means, let us know. Otherwise, let's see what happens.

Auction: Photographies, October 29, 2008 @Yann Le Mouel, Paris

With the New York season tailing off, we are now moving onward to the European fall season, with Yann Le Mouel (Paris) the first up. The material in this sale is heavy on European, particularly French, photographers (as to be expected), but generally, it is a broad-based sale of pieces from all over, with a significant amount of lower priced work available (many lots with a high estimate under $1000 Euros). There are a total of 322 lots up for sale, for a total high estimate of 872800 Euros.

Here's the breakdown (break points in Euros chosen to roughly match the break points used in dollars for the US sales):

Total Low Lots (high estimate up to 7500 Euros): 310
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): 546800 Euros

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between 7500 Euros and 35000 Euros): 10
Total Mid Estimate: 206000 Euros

Total High Lots (high estimate above 35000 Euros): 2
Total High Estimate: 120000 Euros

We are always struck when the European catalogues start to arrive at just how subtly different the photographic aesthetic is from the dominant American view (a large generalization I realize, but meaningful for us nevertheless). Seen over a handful of lots, it's easy to miss or gloss over; seen over hundreds of lots, across many photographers known and unknown, the difference in overall feel (or the "eye") becomes very much more pronounced.

Below are a handful of lots we find of interest:
  • Lot 57 Albert Rudomine, Nu feminin, c1925
  • Lot 78 Roger Parry, Nu, 1930
  • Lot 108 Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Liba, Mexico, 1979
  • Lot 116 Germaine Krull, Pont de Crimee, Paris, 1927/1960
  • Lot 158 Margaret Bourke-White, Aluminum Rods & Bars in Stock, 1939 (image at right)
While we have monitored sales at Yann Le Mouel over the years, we have never actually been a successful bidder/buyer, so we would certainly welcome any comments from other collectors about working with the specialists there or their experience in getting a work paid for, packed and shipped back to the US.

October 29th

Yann Le Mouel
22, Rue Chauchat
75009 Paris

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Weston Elbow Revisited

A reader posted an insightful comment on the Edward Weston, Elbow, 1935, (poor image at right, taken from the catalog) from the recent Christie's sale (original post here) and I wanted to take a moment to explore this image a bit more, as well as talk a bit about collectors working together. This print was estimated between $90000 and $120000 and did not sell.

Let's start with some background. Here is a snippet of the text from the Christie's catalog, describing this lot:

"Elbow is, then, rather a curiosity. If any other prints exist of the image, they are certainly few in number. It is not in the collection of The Center for Creative Photography and is unillustrated in the usual documentary sources. It is however a masterpiece..."

Then yesterday, in gallerist Alex Novak's E-Photo Newsletter #150, in listing a bunch of lots that passed at Christie's, Alex wrote the following:

Edward Weston's Elbow (this was a MoMA print of the month club issue that was a bit yellow at the edges and was totally overestimated)

Then last night, we had an anonymous comment from a reader here on our blog:

Alex Novak wrote that "Edward Weston's Elbow (this was a MoMA print of the month club issue..." This was incorrect, it was NOT a MoMA Print of the Month Club issue but rather an Edward Weston Print-of-the-Month-Club.

The following is from Amy Conger's authoritative catalogue on Weston's work from pp. 28-29 of the biography. "That spring [1935] he began a new venture, the 'Edward: Print-of-the-Month-Club.' Camera Craft, ran a note on it explaining that although prints by him usually cost $15 or $20, it would be possible for only $5 a month to subscribe for a year to this club ($50 if paid in advance). Each month the subscribers would receive a new print by Weston; the total edition of each print would be limited to forty, thirty-five for subscribers and five for the photographer. Weston probably got no more than eleven subscriptions. Twelve monthly EWPOMC prints were issued, although the date he actually began or the exact order in which he sent them out is unknown. Today these prints are recognizable not only because of the edition numbers written on them but also because they were consistently exquisite."

By consulting the footnotes to this text and cross-referencing with the Edward Weston Negative Log (there is a photocopy of this from the Weston Archive housed at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson), it can be deduced that this print of the elbow is from Weston's negative 208N which is of Charis in 1935, and that other EW Print-of-the-Month-Club prints of this negative are to be found in the collections of Indiana University Art Museum, MoMA, Norton Simon Museum and SFMOMA.

So, a few thoughts on this dialogue. First, Christie's doesn't seem to have done their homework on this lot as thoroughly as it might have, but was willing to engage in the usual salesmanship in favor of the print (buyer beware). Second, I too looked at this print out of the frame, and as Alex noted, it was a bit yellowed and the mount was lightly foxed. I agree with him that it was significantly overestimated, especially given the prices of other abstract nudes from this series/time period.

Finally, I want to touch on the idea of "open collecting" once again, especially in the context of this lot and what the back and forth above represents. It is our view that being open about what we are doing as we journey along the collecting road enhances our enjoyment of the process. Thus we have placed our entire collection up on the web and started this collector-focused blog. We don't believe that collecting must by nature be ruthlessly competitive (perhaps this is idealistic we realize) and that our ability to find the best material for our collection will somehow be compromised by making our activities known. In fact, we believe the opposite, that over time, being open will bring better quality material to our attention because more people will be aware of what we're interested in (an economist might call it signaling).

The world of photography is full of experts, from gallery owners and dealers, to auction house specialists, to other collectors, all of whom have detailed knowledge that can be shared and leveraged. If we can get some of them to come out of their shells just a bit and share some of their specific knowledge (even anonymously like the comment above that drove this post), we will all be better informed and make better decisions.

I am heartened to see that there are people out there who continue to do detailed detective work (even after the sale) and who bring a serious and thoughtful level of scholarship to this medium. It is our hope that this blog can be a place where all of these voices can be heard (even when they disagree), so that we can learn from and leverage this collective knowledge. At least for us, more information makes collecting more fun.

So keep the comments coming, as we will all benefit. On our side, as we post, we'll redouble our efforts to keep the level of commentary both hype free and content rich, and we'll ask a few more open ended questions, hoping to entice some answers from the lurking crowd. And if there is more to this specific Weston story, beyond where we are now, by all means, let us know.

Auction Results Fall 2008: Bloomsbury and Swann

Sales at Bloomsbury and Swann (last Friday and yesterday respectively) continued this year's New York auction season. Both sales had a significant percentage of lower end material, which had performed decently well in the previous sales at Christie's, Sotheby's and Phillips, despite the economic downturn. The results are below.

Bloomsbury Inaugural Photographs Sale

Total Lots: 145
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: $1767200
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: $2588800

Total Lots Sold: 75
Total Lots Bought In: 70
Buy In %: 48.28%
Total Sale Proceeds: $710760

These numbers are a bit skewed, given that the big trophy lot (the five volume 19th century Russian set) didn't sell, thereby zeroing out a major portion of the estimated proceeds. Given the combination of Bloomsbury's new entry into the marketplace and the financial crisis, I think you can call this sale a lukewarm success; they sold a bunch of lots, tested all their infrastructure, and established themselves as credible. The bar will be much higher next season.

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

Low Total Lots: 118
Low Sold: 59
Low Bought In: 59
Buy In %: 50.00%
Total Low Estimate: $733800
Total Low Sold: $309360

Mid Total Lots: 24
Mid Sold: 15
Mid Bought In: 9
Buy In %: 37.50%
Total Mid Estimate: $515000
Total Mid Sold: $299400

High Total Lots: 3
High Sold: 1
High Bought In: 2
Buy In %: 66.67%
Total High Estimate: $1340000
Total High Sold: $102000

As an aside, we had hoped to sneak off with the tasty Lewis Baltz image from the New Industrial Parks series (one of the best from that series we have seen at auction in several years), assuming we might be able to get a bargain, given it was Bloomsbury's first NY sale. No such luck. We were trounced, as the lot estimated $6000-8000 went for $12600 (including premium). It was one of only four lots in the entire sale to go above its high estimate.

Swann Galleries Important 19th & 20th Century Photographs

Total Lots: 390
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: $1815300
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: $2659900

Total Lots Sold: 257
Total Lots Bought In: 133
Buy In %: 34.10%
Total Sale Proceeds: $1462921

This was a solid, workmanlike performance for Swann. The range of material was broad, the buy-in percentage was respectable, and the total proceeds were decently close to the pre sale low estimate, despite the challenging external conditions.

Here's the breakdown (again using definitions from the preview post, here)

Low Total Lots: 346
Low Sold: 226
Low Bought In: 120
Buy In %: 34.68%
Total Low Estimate: $1732900
Total Low Sold: $930731

Mid Total Lots: 43
Mid Sold: 30
Mid Bought In: 13
Buy In %: 30.23%
Total Mid Estimate: $867000
Total Mid Sold: $488990

High Total Lots: 1
High Sold: 1
High Bought In: 0
Buy In %: 0.00%
Total High Estimate: $60000
Total High Sold: $43200

This sale was remarkably consistent across all categories, likely a result of generally less volatile material (price-wise).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Auction: Saturday @Phillips, New York, October 25, 2008

The latest incarnation of the Saturday @Phillips sale is coming up this weekend in New York. As a reminder, this sale is designed for beginning collectors, and juxtaposes photography, prints, toys, watches, furniture, jewelry and various other items, all carefully selected with an eye for design and style. Out of a total of 524 lots, there are 111 photographs (loosely defined) in the sale. The total high estimate for these lots is $334700, and 110 of them have a high estimate under $10000, most much lower than that.

While I'm not a fan of the laundry list as an approach for expressing insight, I think the list of photographers in this sale is pretty broad and strong, especially in the context of contemporary work:

Slim Aarons
Eve Arnold
John Baldessari
Dawoud Bey
Oliver Boberg
Daniele Buetti
Michael Comte
Gregory Crewdson
Lynn Davis
Tim Davis
Walter De Maria
Rineke Dijkstra
Elliott Erwitt
Andreas Feininger
Adam Fuss
Felix Gonzales-Torres
Dan Graham
Phillipe Halsman
Candida Hofer
Katy Grannan
Eberhard Havekost
Dana Hoey
Peter Hujar
Sarah Jones
Michael Joo
Rinko Kawauchi
Hee Jin Kang
David Lachapelle
Louise Lawler
Annie Leibovitz
Robert Mapplethorpe
Steve McCurry
Ryan McGinley
Marilyn Minter
Richard Misrach
Reinhard Mucha
Vik Muniz
Walter Niedermayr
Gabriel Orozco
Bill Owens
Jack Pierson
Paul Pfeiffer
Len Prince
Richard Prince
Marcia Resnick
Terry Richardson
Ugo Rondinone
Albert Rudomine
Thomas Ruff
Roy Schatt
Beverly Semmes
Andres Serrano
Joseph Shashkevetch
Malick Sidibe
Bert Stern
Thomas Struth
Hiroshi Sugimoto
Ed Templeton
Rirkrit Tiravanija
Mette Tronvoll
Spencer Tunick
Ruud Van Empel
Massimo Vitali
Bettina Von Zwehl
Peter Waite
Andy Warhol
Bruce Weber
Carrie Mae Weems
Shizuka Yokomizu

While most (if not all) of these images are low end examples of a particular photographer's work, I continue to wonder why Phillips doesn't focus solely on this kind of material, amped up to include the best pieces from these artists. If they could deliver on top quality material from the list above, they would seem to have an opportunity to carve out and defend an interesting portion of the auction market.
Here are a few pieces we liked, even if they may not exactly fit into our collection:
  • Lot 73 Oliver Boberg, Aussentreppe, 1998
  • Lot 250 Robert Mapplethorpe, Untitled, 1983
  • Lot 279 Vik Muniz, Gummy Bears, 2002 (our kids would go crazy for these)
  • Lot 338 Dan Graham, Untitled, 1996
Saturday @Phillips
October 25th
450 West 15th Street
New York, NY 10011

Monday, October 20, 2008

Question on Berenice Abbott Prices

A reader posted a question about the prices of the work of Berenice Abbott on last week's auction results post and I thought it made sense to answer it here, since the question begs a longer answer than just a quick comment and perhaps there are other readers out there who are interested in this topic or can add their own information to the thread.

Trying to get a feel for prices is always a tricky thing, as there is always meaningful variation in not only subject matter, but also size, print quality, and condition. We very much like Abbott's work and have a handful of her prints in our collection (see here). So we have spent some time trying to better understand the market for her work, and as such, have at least some opinions on the matter.

I think the first thing to take into account in trying to get a handle on Abbott prices is the wide variety of subjects she made pictures of, and the resulting variation in interest of specific images. Beyond the well known images of New York, she made some great portraits, some ground breaking scientific photographs, and many strong images from all across America. Within her New York genre, there are standout iconic images and quiet, simple, more documentary shots that are less remarkable, so depending on your interest, the prices are going to vary dramatically with subject matter.

A second thing to keep in mind is that Abbott made a large number of later prints of her best images in the 1970s and 1980s. These were made in editions/portfolios of 40, 60 and even 100, and generally have her Maine credit stamp on the back. A number of these later prints are nearly always available in the auction market in any given season, and would generally be priced under $5000, except perhaps for New York at Night and one or two others. Later prints of lesser known images can run as little as $1000-2000, and can be even be found on Ebay from time to time.

In our experience, vintage work is much harder to come by, and there are many more condition issues to consider. In general, at auction, we think that you will do well to find a strong Abbott vintage print for under $10000, with the famous images being priced up from there, all the way up to the $50000 range. There are, of course, lesser known New York works and works of other subject matter that will be much less, so it is hard to make a generalization about these prices. As an example, there was a vintage Murray Hill Hotel in the recent Christie's various owner sale. It was estimated $7000-9000 and sold for $7500, and it had a significant tear visible in the upper part of the image (which had been repaired but was still obvious); I imagine it would have gone higher had it been in better condition. Another tool to use as a gauge for prices is the 2002 sale at Sotheby's of Abbott vintage prints from the Museum of the City of New York. Most images in this sale went for under $10000, a few as low as $2000, and a few over $50000.

A few other Abbott resources to consider:
  • The Abbott estate is owned/managed by Commerce Graphics (website here) and can clearly be of assistance in searching for specific images.
  • There are 27 different dealers/galleries on artnet (here) that claim to have Abbott material available.
  • A great resource for prices in general is the series of annual volumes called The Photographic Art Market: Auction Prices (website here). We just got the 2007 volume a week or so ago and it's full of good data.
  • There is a terrific documentary film on Abbott called Berenice Abbott - A View of the 20th Century, published by Ishtar Films, 1992, that is well worth seeing.
  • There is a new 2 volume Abbott monograph that was recently released (we don't have it yet). You can find it on Amazon here.
It always seems a bit crass to talk so glibly about prices of a certain artist's work, when the focus should really be on the quality of the work and how it moves you. That said, collectors have to make trade offs and prices do matter in these decisions, so I think it is a natural part of collecting to get down into these details and try to puzzle through them. We certainly would welcome further comments on this topic, so we can all be more educated about Abbott's work and its value in the market. And if there is anything above that seems patently wrong or way off base (certainly possible), please do let everyone know.

As an aside, we're happy to go off on tangents like this one and answer questions/moderate discussions (to the best of our ability) on various subjects of interest to collectors, so feel free to leave them in the comments section.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Auction Results Fall 2008: Sotheby's and Phillips

Sotheby's and Phillips held their various owner sales yesterday and the day before, as the markets continued to plummet. Given these extraordinary conditions, both sales came in under their total low estimates, but to our eyes, still performed pretty well, all things considered.

Sotheby's Photographs

Total Lots: 249
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: $6637000
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: $10115000

Total Lots Sold: 170
Total Lots Bought In: 79
Buy In %: 31.73%
Total Sale Proceeds: $5666313

Sotheby's had the overall best quality material of the sales this week, and the buy-in rate differential with Christie's (31.73% versus 46.90%) reflects this difference. The increasing weakness from Low to High seen at Christie's was less pronounced here.

Here's a more detailed breakdown (Low, Mid and High as defined in the preview post, here):

Low Total Lots: 57
Low Sold: 43
Low Bought In: 14
Buy In %: 24.56%
Total Low Estimate: $490000
Total Low Sold: $330938

Mid Total Lots: 153
Mid Sold: 104
Mid Bought In: 49
Buy In %: 32.03%
Total Mid Estimate: $3545000
Total Mid Sold: $2171250

High Total Lots: 39
High Sold: 23
High Bought In: 16
Buy In %: 41.03%
Total High Estimate: $6080000
Total High Sold: $3164125

The quality effect is seen again in these numbers, especially in the High group, where the buy-in rate was lower than Christie's (but still high due to the environment) and the total proceeds were approximately double. Generally, a solid showing in these tough economic times.

Phillips Photographs

Total Lots: 227
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: $2796500
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: $4059500

Total Lots Sold: 156
Total Lots Bought In: 71
Buy In %: 31.28%
Total Sale Proceeds: $2345625

With the lowest buy-in rate so far and the proceeds closest to their pre sale low estimate, Phillips has to be grudgingly satisfied with yesterday's results. The material in this sale was much more tilted toward the low end, and surprisingly, this seems to have served it well, perhaps as buyers passed on the trophy lots and focused on lesser priced images.

Here's the breakdown (again with definitions in the preview post, here):

Low Total Lots: 108
Low Sold: 78
Low Bought in: 29
Buy In %: 26.85%
Total Low Estimate: $788500
Total Low Sold: $624500

Mid Total Lots: 111
Mid Sold: 74
Mid Bought In: 37
Buy In %: 33.33%
Total Mid Estimate: $2521000
Total Mid Sold: $1472125

High Total Lots: 8
High Sold: 4
High Bought In: 4
Buy In %: 50.00%
Total High Estimate: $750000
Total High Sold: $249000

So the Low held its own just fine, and as the prices moved into the Mid and High ranges, Phillips saw the same kinds of drop offs that Christie's and Sotheby's experienced. Perhaps this bodes well for Bloomsbury and Swann (today and early next week), who have a larger percentage of Low material up for sale.

So maybe this season isn't about a flight to quality (as it appeared at first), but a search for value using a sober and measured approach. It's the revenge of the low end!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Abelardo Morell, Pictures in Pictures @Benrubi

JTF (just the facts): 12 pigment prints and 5 gelatin silver prints, arrayed in the entry and the main gallery spaces. (See installation shot at right.) All of the images images are from 2007-2008, although some are continuations of series begun earlier.

Comments/Context: Most collectors are probably familiar with Morell's images of books and maps, and certainly of his black and white camera obscura images of rooms with outdoor scenes projected upside down on the walls. This show brings all of his various projects up to date, and boldly introduces the concept of color to this work. There are images of gold bars/money, a pair of works juxtaposing paintings and sculpture, and a group of chiche verre silver prints of continents. But the real standouts here are the new color camera obscura images.
Morell's interiors have always felt quite conceptual (for me), while leaving behind the overt trickiness of much of that type of work, and at the same time surprisingly beautiful. The images are full of contrasts, most obviously orientation (upside down and right side up) and position (inside and outside). They are also quite clearly staged, with chairs, doors, beds and other furniture placed just so to compose the picture. The addition of color in these new works amplifies the whole endeavor, making the contrasts more powerful and the images more startling. I think the image from Venice of the hotel room with the jungle wallpaper overlaid with the canal is amazing, and the layering of color is what makes it all the more chaotic and crazy (see the image in the installation shot on the right; proper thumbnails from all the images are on the website, linked below). Images of the Pantheon (right side up), the Colosseum (right side up), and Central Park (up side down) are also quite successful.

Collector's POV: Morell's work doesn't fit into our collection, but I came away very impressed with these new color camera obscura works. (The rest of the show was a bit less inspiring in contrast.) The color prints come in three sizes (20x24, 30x40, and 50x60 in varying edition sizes) and three prices ($9000, $15000, and $20000). Overall, the show is well worth a visit.
Rating: * (1 star) GOOD (rating system defined here)
Through December 6th

41 East 57th Street
13th Floor
New York, NY 10022

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Auction Results Fall 2008: Christie's

The results are in from the series of sales at Christie's earlier this week, and as expected in this financial meltdown, it was a very mixed bag. We'll look at each one in some depth and then try to draw some summary conclusions at the end.

Contemporary Photographs

Total Lots: 93
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: $1551000
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: $2352000

Total Lots Sold: 54
Total Lots Bought In: 39
Buy In %: 41.94%
Total Sale Proceeds: $1020250

Press reports on auctions always focus on the buy in rate, and at just under 42%, this sale was pretty disappointing. We think however that buy in percentage on its own is a bit misleading, as it fails to take into account the quality of the material. If a sale is full of superlative pieces and the buy in rate is high, that says one thing; if a sale is full of second rate, boring material, a high buy in rate says something quite different. This particular sale was not, in our opinion, of consistently excellent quality; in general, it was more a middle of the road group. So perhaps the takeaway is more about bringing the prices of this genre of work back to earth a bit, especially for pieces that didn't merit the run up.

Here's the further, more detailed breakdown (Low, Mid and High as defined in the previous preview post, here):

Low Total Lots: 23
Low Sold: 18
Low Bought In: 5
Buy In %: 21.74%
Total Low Estimate: $162000
Total Low Sold: $137250

Mid Total Lots: 63
Mid Sold: 34
Mid Bought In: 29
Buy In %: 46.03%
Total Mid Estimate: $1650000
Total Mid Sold: $722500

High Total Lots: 7
High Sold: 2
High Bought In: 5
Buy In %: 71.43%
Total High Estimate: $540000
Total High Sold: $160500

This data seems to indicate that as the prices went up, the sale got weaker. Peter Beard had a particularly unfortunate day, with only 1 of 7 pieces finding a buyer. I think this sale mirrored the general economic situation: assets were delevered across the board and there was a flight to quality (and away from risk).

Photographs By William Eggleston

Total Lots: 60
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: $1439000
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: $2191000

Total Lots Sold: 54
Total Lots Bought In: 6
Buy In %: 10.00%
Total Sale Proceeds: $2998250

In the face of the fierce economic headwinds, this sale did smashingly well. The proceeds were well above the high estimate and the buy in rate was low. Perhaps this is another example of the flight to quality, as Eggleston's reputation was long ago cemented and his work has durably held its value (and appreciated).

Here's the breakdown (as if it was needed) with the definitions found in the preview post, here:

Low Total Lots: 8
Low Sold: 7
Low Bought In: 1
Buy In %: 12.50%
Total Low Estimate: $63000
Total Low Sold: $63125

Mid Total Lots: 43
Mid Sold: 38
Mid Bought In: 5
Buy In %: 11.63%
Total Mid Estimate: $938000
Total Mid Sold: $1082875

High Total Lots: 9
High Sold: 9
High Bought In: 0
Buy In %: 0.00%
Total High Estimate: $1190000
Total High Sold: $1852250

Christie's had to love the 9 for 9 on the High lots, nearly doubling the High estimate for those works. Overall, a tremendous success. In a better market, it would have been a white glove sale, and the prices would have been even higher.


Total Lots: 258
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: $5175000
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: $7587000

Total Lots Sold: 137
Total Lots Bought In: 121
Buy In %: 46.90%
Total Sale Proceeds: $3424000

At nearly 47%, the buy in rate was as high in this sale as I can remember seeing in any major sale since we started collecting. There was a particularly dispiriting stretch in the afternoon where 12 straight lots failed to sell. I think this result can again be attributed to uneven quality across the sale, in the face of the increased scrutiny by buyers.

Here's the breakdown (definitions again in the preview post, here):

Low Total Lots: 63
Low Sold: 41
Low Bought In: 22
Buy In %: 34.92%
Total Low Estimate: $528000
Total Low Sold: $362125

Mid Total Lots: 158
Mid Sold: 79
Mid Bought In: 79
Buy In %: 50.00%
Total Mid Estimate: $3519000
Total Mid Sold: $1496125

High Total Lots: 37
High Sold: 17
High Bought In: 20
Buy In %: 54.05%
Total High Estimate: $3540000
Total High Sold: $1565750

As with the Contemporary Photographs sale, this sale also got weaker as the prices went up.

Across these three sales, Christie's took in $7442500, and while clearly not what they were hoping for by any means, my guess is that it can be called some kind of victory in this economic crisis. Our conclusion is that these outcomes were not hugely surprising, and were perhaps appropriate given the circumstances. Great work still sold well, and lesser work was forced to work harder to find a home.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Auction: Photographs, October 28, 2008 @Bonhams & Butterfields

The photography sales at Butterfields (now Bonhams & Butterfields with its British parent) have always been a low key, California kind of affair. There is usually a major emphasis on West Coast photographers, and lots of work at generally low/fair prices. I've always thought these sales were a bit overlooked by collectors, with a little less cut throat competition and a few more bargains.

The upcoming sale, although being held in New York, still has the old Butterfields vibe. Who else but Butterfields would put a Weston kitty on the cover? There are a total of 222 lots up for sale, for a total high estimate of $1439000. Here's the breakdown:

Total Low lots (high estimate of $10000 and lower): 202
Total Low estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): $965000

Total Mid lots (high estimate between $10000 and $50000): 19
Total Mid estimate: $384000

Total High lots (high estimate above $50000): 1
Total High estimate: $90000

Here are some lots of interest to us:
  • Lot 69 Dr. Dain Tasker, X-Ray of Amazon Lily, 1930s
  • Lot 70 Dr. Dain Tasker, X-Ray of Hanging Fuschia, 1930s (at right)
  • Lot 78 Alphonse Bernoud, Images of Flowers, c1870
  • Lot 105 Max Yavno, Garage Doors, 1947/1970s
  • Lot 132, Man Ray, Nusch Eluard, 1935/1960s

There are previews in both New York and San Francisco during October. Definitely worth checking out, especially if Butterfields isn't already on your radar.

October 28th

Bonhams & Butterfields
580 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10022

Monday, October 13, 2008

Josef Breitenbach @Gitterman

JTF (just the facts): 33 vintage images of various sizes, virtually all from the 1930s and 1940s, displayed throughout the two floors of the gallery. (See installation shot at right.) The exhibition is concurrent with the publication of a new book, Josef Breitenbach: Manifesto, by Nazraeli Press.

Comments/Context: Tom Gitterman is another contestant in the long distance race to build the next generation of dominant photography galleries. Carving out a durable niche in the market isn't easy, especially with a new gallery, but Tom has been at it now for a handful of years and things seem to be going well. Beyond being a genuinely nice guy, one of the things that separates Tom from many others is his eye for unusual, high quality work, and his willingness to try and match that work with collectors who have the same affinities. So instead of sticking to the well traveled roads of iconic photography, the key for him is to build up a large enough stable of collectors to absorb all the terrific, unexpected images he can dig up.

This show of the avant-garde work of Josef Breitenbach is a perfect example of the kind of risk taking that Tom has embarked on that would never even be considered by a larger gallery. Breitenbach is not exactly a household name, and yet the work is innovative, unusual, and in some cases, quite beautiful. The images in this show explore a wide variety of non-standard photographic techniques: toning, bleaching, solarization, photograms, multiple negatives and montage; this is not even close to straight photography. And while a few of them could be called surreal, they are warmer, more human, than most surrealist images, even when they are at their most speculative. At a time when there wasn't much color in photography, Breitenbach was experimenting with bleaching and toning to get acidic yellows, oranges, reds and browns, which he used to highlight and accent his otherwise traditional gelatin silver images. The image of Arabella, Portrait in Black and Red, c1935 (see image at right) shows how these overlays of color were used to build up work that was new, challenging, and lovely at the same time. This exhibit forces us to rethink where Breitenbach might belong, in the context of the great works by Man Ray, Brassai, and others of the same time period.

Collector's POV: Breitenbach's work doesn't really fit that well into the vision of our particular collection. There is one print of the Eiffel Tower from 1928 (see image at right) that would fit into our city genre, working well with existing Eiffel Tower images by Krull and Bing. In general, the work is priced between $6500 and $18000, and several images were already sold when I saw the show. While not every image is a winner, the show is clearly worth seeing to catch a glimpse of those handful of works where Breitenbach got his unique mix of colors and imagery just right.
Rating: * (1 star) GOOD (rating system defined here)
Through November 22nd

170 East 75th Street
New York, NY 10021

Friday, October 10, 2008

Quick Preview Roundup

I was able to do a quick round of visits to the auction previews yesterday afternoon, in advance of next week's sales at Christie's, Sotheby's, Phillips and Bloomsbury. In talking with a variety of specialists, the common theme is one of palpable nervousness about just how much the chaos in the financial markets will affect the sales. I was advised more than once that it might be a good idea to "be in the room" for these sales, as no one knows what might happen and some interesting lots may be available at unexpected prices. (Since we never go to any auctions in person, this isn't really applicable to us, but I understand the underlying point.) Here are some unscientific remarks about each preview:

Sotheby's: Sotheby's had the most action of the previews I went to. All four specialists were around, answering questions and circulating. During the time I was there, there were only a couple of other collectors (who shall remain nameless) beyond myself who were actually looking at work out of the frames, but there were a handful of others milling about, including one tour group (?). In addition to the various owner sale preview, there are a selection of images from the upcoming Jammes sale on view in an adjacent room.

Christie's: At Christie's, the various owner and Eggleston sales are jammed into rooms on the main floor, with the larger contemporary work upstairs. I was the only one looking at work out of the frames while I was there, although there were at least two other real collectors milling around. There was one specialist working each floor while I was there, although there didn't seem to be much for them to do. There is a sale of musical instruments going on concurrently, so the rooms are filled with snippets of classical music (buyers testing out the instruments).

Bloomsbury: I had not been to Bloomsbury prior to my visit; it is located on the second floor of a random building on 48th street, not far from Rockefeller Center and Christie's. This preview had some excitement, as all the specialists and staff were milling around, trying to be helpful, friendly and welcoming. It's a relatively small viewing space (about the size of a medium sized gallery), so it doesn't take long to single out the works you are there to see. Overall, I was impressed with the fresh sense of paying attention to the clients.

Phillips: I think I must have visited Phillips at an off time, as the preview was a ghost town: no specialists, virtually no staff save the guards, and very few visitors. These are cavernous spaces, so they feel very empty if you are the only one wandering around (every footfall reverberates). They have several rooms of gallery like exhibitions up at the same time as the preview (in adjacent rooms), which is a bit confusing, as it is not immediately clear what is in the sale and what is not. If this preview is representative of the mood of the marketplace given the overall financial distress, it's going to be a bloodbath next week.

It seems clear to me from these visits that there are going to be some bargains available at these sales, and those with some liquidity will be able to take advantage of the situation. That said, whether collectors (ourselves included) will feel confident enough to open their wallets at all (even with these opportunities available) is, I think, still very uncertain.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Making It Real, Photomontage Before Photoshop @De Lellis

JTF (just the facts): A total of 41 images, of varying sizes and from various, mostly lesser known photographers, running from the mid 1860s up through the 1950s, displayed throughout the gallery. (See installation shot at right.) The show is a mixture of albumen and gelatin silver prints, some with hand coloring. Prices range from $1200 to $9500.

Comments/Context: Just when digital photographers have convinced themselves that their post capture manipulation is something new and startling, this smart show comes along to remind them that this kind of work has been going on since the early days of the medium. While truth has been a dominant mode for photography from the beginning, there seems to always have been an undercurrent of artists and designers who were interested in depicting the allegorical, the fantastic, or the staged.

In the mid 1800s, artists were plagued by the slow speed of the available materials; the exposure times were just too long for a staged scene of 20 people to come out without blurring. So they took to the darkroom and used multiple negatives to construct their scenes, and so doing, began the thread of montage and manipulation. There is an amazing image in the exhibit by Spencer y Cia (Untitled, c1870, see at right) which constructs an edge to edge image out of hundreds of individual shots of women's heads.

Staring in the 1920s, the combined influences of advertising and surrealism come together for a flowering of montaged images that will seem more familiar to most viewers. Most are constructed our of two or three negatives melded together to tell a story, evoke an emotion or sell a product. The historical backdrop for later artists (like Jerry Uelsmann, who took montage in new directions) is clear.
Collector's POV: We actually like multiple exposure images, and think they work particularly well in depicting the movement and energy of cities. We have a few in our collection by Harry Callahan (here and here) and Peter Keetman (here), all from the late 1940s/early 1950s. From our view point and in this context, the best picture in the show was Edward Quigley's multiple of the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 1942 (see at right). While there were not many other images that were a direct fit for us, this show is well worth seeing, if only to remind you that the careful and thoughtful manipulation of photography has been around a very long time.
Rating: * (1 star) GOOD (rating system defined here)
Making It Real, Photomontage Before Photoshop
Through November 1st

1045 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10075