Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Conversation with Robert Frank @NGA

Modern Art Notes has an anecdotal summary of a public conversation last Friday between Robert Frank and National Gallery of Art photography curator Sarah Greenough, as part of the 50th anniversary exhibition of The Americans at the NGA. Find part 1 here and part 2 here. The exhibition website can be found here.

Hopefully, New Yorkers will get a similar opportunity to hear Frank when the show comes to the Met in September (here).

Auction: Vintage & Contemporary Photography, April 18, 2009 @Heritage

Heritage Auction Galleries of Dallas, TX, entered the photography auction market last December with its inaugural sale, and is following up that effort with a solid offering this spring. In a time when consignments are scarce, it is quite surprising to see a new entrant deliver a big catalog with 293 lots of decent work. Lorraine Davis is leading the photography department at Heritage, and it appears that they are taking dead aim at Swann Galleries and the lower end of what Sotheby's and Christie's used to take, scooping up a broad and eclectic mix of lower end lots.

The sale itself has some intriguing blocks of images: 47 lots of dance pictures by Barbara Morgan, 63 lots of Central European modernity (including several Kicken portfolios), 3 NASA multi-panel panoramas, and several strong works by Robert Frank. While there is virtually no 19th century material, and the contemporary work is pretty thin, the sale has plenty of 20th century imagery worth digging through.

Heritage has a few quirks in its process worth mentioning. First, the catalog doesn't have estimate ranges. Instead, "Minimum Bid" amounts are listed. These amount to the reserve price, and are often much lower than the normal price range for a specific image, sometimes set at zero (as an example, there are two Ed Ruscha images, recent prints of 1960s negatives, with a Gagosian provenance, with minimum bids of zero; it seems pretty unlikely that these will sell for fifty bucks each). While estimates are available from the department, there isn't any public signalling about where the images "ought" to sell. On the positive side, there isn't any subterfuge about the reserve, and no chandelier bids on behalf of the seller; if you bid the minimum and there are no other bids, you win. On the negative side, the buyer must do more homework to get comfortable about his/her bidding strategy (which he/she would likely have done anyway in most cases), assuming that the end price for many lots will have little or no relationship to the minimum bid price quoted.

The second quirk has to do with shipping. Heritage doesn't do its own shipping; all they do is connect a buyer with a list of third party shippers (the local UPS store etc.). Buyers have to contact the third party shipper, make arrangements/payment directly, and have the lot released from Heritage to the shipper for packing etc. From my perspective, this is a MAJOR negative. While most times this will work adequately, this set-up introduces the potential for significant additional hassle and screw ups, for which Heritage takes no responsibility. We will have to do meaningful extra work to bird dog the process, which we have no interest in doing. As such, we will certainly bid on less lots at Heritage until this changes. Only those lots which we are extremely interested in will merit this potential headache.

Given the lack of estimates, our usual statistical analysis can't be done as easily. As such, we've made a simple change: an $8000 minimum bid price will be the break point between Low and Mid (somewhat equivalent to our usual $10000 high estimate break point). The highest minimum price is $20000, which isn't close enough to our normal $50000 break point for High lots, so there are no High lots in this sale by these definitions. There are a total of 293 lots of offer, with a total minimum bid price of $648500. Here's the adjusted breakdown:

Total Low lots (minimum bid below $8000): 275
Total Low estimate (sum of minimum bids): $467500

Total Mid lots (minimum bid between $8000 and $40000): 18
Total Mid estimate: $181000

Total High lots (minimum bid above $40000): 0
Total High estimate: NA

For our particular collection, we liked the Margaret Bourke-White transmitting towers (lots 75024 and 75025), the Aaron Siskind wrought iron railing (lot 75026), the Ludwig Windstosser scaffolding (lot 75217), the Albert Renger-Patzsch tubes (lot 75230), and the Ernst Fuhrmann flowers (lots 75270 and 75276).

The lot by lot catalog can be found here.

3500 Maple Avenue
17th Floor
Dallas, TX 75219

Auction Results: Photographs, New York, March 30, 2009 @Sotheby's

Sotheby's opened the spring 2009 auction season for photographs yesterday, after a busy week here in New York with the AIPAD show in town. The results for this sale were basically in line with the general trend since last Fall (when the economic crisis began to significantly impact the art markets), including the sales this past February: total proceeds well under the total Low estimate, with buy-in rates in the 30s and 40s. The major difference from the recent past is the sharp reduction in the total number of lots consigned this spring, and a general erosion in quality of material, together leading to the lower total proceeds numbers. The summary statistics are below:

Total Lots: 186
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: $3042000
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: $4488000

Total Lots Sold: 118
Total Lots Bought In: 68
Buy In %: 36.56%
Total Sale Proceeds: $2384690

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

Low Total Lots: 55
Low Sold: 38
Low Bought In: 17
Buy In %: 30.91%
Total Low Estimate: $425000
Total Low Sold: $233440

Mid Total Lots: 114
Mid Sold: 68
Mid Bought In: 46
Buy In %: 40.35%
Total Mid Estimate: $2163000
Total Mid Sold: $1060000

High Total Lots: 17
High Sold: 12
High Bought In: 5
Buy In %: 29.41%
Total High Estimate: $1900000
Total High Sold: $1091250

76.27% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above the estimate range. There was only one surprise (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate) in this sale: lot 173, Newly Occupied Tract Houses, Colorado Springs, 1968 by Robert Adams at $20000.

Complete lot by lot results can be found here.

1334 York Avenue at 72nd St
New York, NY 10021

Monday, March 30, 2009

AIPAD 2009 Booth Summary, Part 2

This review is the second post of our two part summary of the booths at AIPAD 2009, held at the Armory in New York this past week. Part one of the review is here, and you should likely start there for more context and background on the how and why of the format and approach we are using, if you haven't read it already. Since the show closed on Sunday, all of our comments will now be in the past tense; follow up on any of the images will need to go directly to the galleries or dealers (websites provided in parentheses when available).

Hans P. Kraus, Jr. (here): Hans Kraus had his usual assortment of top quality 19th century material on display, with a few images leaking over into the early 20th century. There were excellent portraits by Julia Margaret Cameron, Clarence White, and Gertrude Kasebier, as well as a pair by Edward Steichen. There was also an amazing Fox Talbot ladder scene. For our collection, the two Fox Talbot floral photoengravings from 1858 (Compound Leaf and Truncated Fern below, priced at $40000 and $25000 respectively) were the best fit. You had to really get up close to see the extreme detail captured in the prints.

Richard Moore Photographs (here): This booth contained a solid Walker Evans filling station from 1935 (1950s print), an Imogen Cunningham Triangles, and 2 Frank Eugene nudes among others and a pair of bins. The best picture was the Paul Strand below, Window Near Livarot, Calvados, France, 1950, a signed and dated print, priced at $40000.

Throckmorton Fine Art (here): Flor Garduno, Marilyn Bridges, and Edward Weston all got wall space (among many others) in the Throckmorton booth. I enjoyed seeing the Manuel Alvarez Bravo smokestacks from 1929 which I had not seen before ($5000, but already sold), but my favorite was the Tina Modotti Cactus from 1929 (below, priced at $75000) tucked around the corner on a small wall.

Stephen Daiter Gallery (here): Daiter had mix of artists, with multiple works by Andre Kertesz, Barbara Crane, Ken Josephson, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Aaron Siskind, and Paul D'Amato on display. We continue to look for superior New York abstracted images by Kertesz for our collection, and this image below is a fine early one (Rooftop, New York, October 31, 1943, priced at $18000).

Robert Mann Gallery (here): Robert Mann was in a front and center location, with multiple interior and exterior walls covered with pictures. There were saturated color works by Jeff Brouws, Chip Hooper waves, striking color portraits by Res, and a bunch of black and white work (Joe Deal, Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, Alfred Steiglitz (Camera Work gravures), and Michael Kenna all represented by a few prints each). Our favorite was the Siskind below, Untitled, 1950.

Stepher Bulger Gallery (here): Bulger had a solid mix of Kertesz work among other items in a varied display: a distortion, some color Polaroids, and an interesting portrait of collector Andre Jammes on the table stand. Most memorable however were the works by Allison Rossiter (Untitled Lament, Kodak Velox f4, expires October 1940, 2008, below, priced at $2800 and already sold). Rossiter takes old, expired photographic papers (some as old as 1915 or so), and then uses developer in a painterly way to create unique abstract forms, including any random chance artifacts resulting from the aging of the medium.

Vintage Works (here): Vintage Works always has its signature room of bins for browsing, and this show was no different, with a small anteroom in the booth dedicated to bins; there were also some excellent Southworth & Hawes daguerreotypes hiding in this room. On the exterior walls, there was a dense mix of images, including work by Dorothy Norman, Josef Sudek, Ilse Bing, Andre Kertesz, Aaron Siskind, and Francois Kollar (among many others). Our favorite, which we have seen several times over the years, was the vintage Steichen Maypole, from 1932, a multiple image (below, with "price on request").

Galerie Johannes Faber (here): Johannes Faber had a tightly edited group of well selected pictures on display. Josef Sudek, Rudolph Koppitz (portraits), Frantisek Drtikol (nudes), Edward Steichen (fashion) and Drahomir Ruzicka were all represented by strong images. There were also three excellent Paul Wolff still lifes. The best image in the booth was the small, crisp Karl Struss flower from 1930 (below, $8500). Struss didn't make many flowers, so this print also has the advantage of being a scarce commodity.

Rick Wester Fine Art (here): Rick Wester went with a booth dominated by 5 big beautiful Irving Penn images, in a mix of platinum and silver. There were also two Meghan Boody color works on one exterior wall, and a large black and white Mapplethorpe calla lily on another. The other walls held a mix of work; the small Callahan multiple image dye transfer from Provincetown, 1979 (below, priced at $18000) caught our eye the most.

Deborah Bell Photographs (here): Deborah Bell's booth was a mix of her gallery artists, with Marcia Resnick, Mariana Cook, and Susan Paulsen getting much of the wall space. There was also a selection of terrific works by Louis Faurer, and a Blumenfeld and Kertesz or two thrown into the mix for good measure. The most memorable however were the Gerard Petrus Fieret 1960s images mounted together on one page (there were two sets of four, each set priced at $7500).

Hemphill Fine Arts (here): I never seem to tire of Hiroshi Sugimoto's long exposure movie screen images; they always seem fresh and exciting. Hemphill had 5 of these strong images (3 drive ins and 2 interior theaters; one of the drive-ins below) and they held their own well against a barrage of colorful floor to ceiling dots by Colby Caldwell on an adjacent wall. Other booth highlights included some William Christenberry images in a box, and works by Tanya Marcuse.

Serge Plantureux (here): Serge Plantureux had an eclectic mix of mainly 19th century material on view, with Marville, O'Sullivan and Renard all represented. There were also a group of Karl Struss images, as well as some Rodchenko portraits and crowd scenes. I like the small Wright Morris contact prints hanging on an outside wall best (one of the images below, sold as a group).

Sepia International (here): Sepia had a dense wall of work, with a mix of artists including Linda Connor, Koichiro Kurita, and some contemporary tintypes by Michelle Kloehn. I continue to be interested by the work of Raghubir Singh, and there was a busy image displayed on the exterior booth wall that I enjoyed (a posthumous estate print, below, priced at $9500).

Michael Shapiro Photographs (no website): Shapiro was showing Margaret Bourke-White, Lotte Jacobi, Minor White, and Mark Citret among others. The Ruth Bernhard Oval Nude, 1962 (1970's print, priced at $12000) would fit into our collection well, although I'd get rid of the oval mat.

Keith De Lellis Gallery (here): Keith De Lellis has been going for a higher volume approach for his booths of late, and this booth was again packed with work, floor to ceiling. There was an entire exterior wall of boxing images, and inside there were solid works by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Doris Ulmann, Weegee, Mole & Thomas, and Eugene De Salignac (cyanotypes from the recent show). Paul Wolff's Crosses of Steel, 1936 was my favorite (below, priced at $3500) and would fit well with other city scenes we own.

Henry Feldstein (no website): Henry Feldstein's booth was mostly images by Weegee, and I particularly enjoyed the multiple image of Times Square from the 1950s (below, priced at $3500). There was also work by Les Krims, Brassai, and Andre Kertesz, among others, on view.

Bonni Benrubi Gallery (here): This booth was a mixed bag of gallery artists for the most part, with images by Abelardo Morell, Matthew Pillsbury, LeRoy Grannis, and Laura McPhee all getting significant wall space. I most enjoyed the Steichen foxgloves from 1926 (below, priced at $65000), hiding low on one wall.

Catherine Edelman Gallery (here): Catherine Edelman was showing mostly newer contemporary work from artists like Tom Baril (color still lifes), Julie Blackmon, Joel-Peter Witkin, Robin Bowman, and Shelby Lee Adams. The staged images by German photographer Achim Lippoth (below, Class of 1954, #4, 2006, priced at $4650) add an undercurrent of something unsettling to childhood cliches.

Yancey Richardson Gallery (here): Yancey Richardson's booth was a full mix of gallery artists, with Sharon Core, Alex Prager, Hellen Van Meene, Masao Yamamoto, Andrew Moore, Andrew Hilliard, Lisa Kerezi, Hiroh Kikai, Laura Letinsky, and Ken Josephson all on view. I always enjoy seeing the Kikai portraits, and the new Laura Letinsky (hung in the back alcove) takes her table top still lifes in a more minimalist, all-white direction. For our collection, the Ken Josephson below (Chicago, 1962, priced at $3500) was still the best, even though we had seen it before at the Armory.

Alan Klotz Gallery (here): Alan Klotz' booth was dominated by the works of Carolyn Marks Blackwood. Most of these images were color pictures of shattered and broken ice shards, with a pair of larger water reflection images hung in the middle (below, priced at $5500 each). There were also two large color images of refineries by Tetsugo Hyakutake, and additional prints by Sudek and Christenberry, among others.

Lee Marks Fine Art (here): While Mariana Cook's portrait of the Obamas was likely the most recognizable work in this booth, Nan Goldin, Jen Davis, and Lucinda Devlin (wind turbines and electric towers) were all on the walls as well. For our collection, I liked the Andrew Borowiec Under the Memorial Bridge, The Flats, 2002, the best (below, priced at $1500).

Robert Koch Gallery (here): Two large Amy Stein color images covered an entire exterior wall at Robert Koch, with a mixture of smaller, more European work hung inside. Drtikol, Henri, Koudelka, Ehm, and Sudek were all represented, along with one bin of prints for browsing. The Kertesz below, Macdougal Alley, Washington Square, 1950, would fit well with other Kertesz city images we own.

William Schaeffer Photographs (no website): There were a total of 6 bins for browsing at William Schaeffer, so you had to work a bit to see everything. On the walls were 19th century images by Adolphe Braun, Carleton Watkins, and Eugene Cuvelier, as well as 20th century gems by Walker Evans and Margaret Bourke-White. I enjoyed most the Giorgio Sommer sill life from the Napoli Museum from the 1870s (below).

Charles Hartman Fine Art (here): Charles Hartman was showing works by Issei Suda, Daido Moriyama, Aaron Siskind, and a group of Ansel Adams prints. There was also a color image by Corey Arnold of an ice covered ship. The Arthur Siegel abstract photogram from 1946 (below, priced at $6500) was the most memorable.

Galerie Daniel Blau (here): Daniel Blau was the only gallery we visited which refused to allow any pictures to be taken, so it wins the prize of the last slot in this booth summary. There were 19th century images on display by Paul-Emile Miot, Emile Gsell, and Fratelli Alinari, with a pair of NASA Orbiter images thrown in for good measure.

With 20 booths covered in Part 1, and another 25 reviewed here in Part 2, I think we canvassed the fair in enough depth to give other collectors who couldn't make it to the show a feel for what was on display. As always, if you think we missed something important, that's what the Comments section is for.

Friday, March 27, 2009

AIPAD 2009 Booth Summary, Part 1

Our in-depth summary of the photography at AIPAD 2009 begins today. Below you'll find booth by booth coverage of a wide range of different galleries (in no particular order). We'll start with about 20 galleries today, and finish up with another large group on Monday.

I had originally planned to try to give a report on each and every exhibitor, but this turned out to require more time than was available. So while these summaries do not cover every single booth, I think they do capture most of the high points (with sincere apologies to those who were omitted). In most cases, we'll discuss the major artists represented in each booth, often focusing on specific works (with prices). For each booth, we've taken a picture of the most memorable work or works we saw in the display. This may not have been the most expensive or best known image; it was simply the one that we found most enticing. I have also provided links to every gallery, so you can follow up as appropriate.

Let's get started...

Weston Gallery (here): The Weston Gallery from Carmel, CA, has the single best image in the entire fair for me, an exquisite Edward Weston nude of Bertha from 1927 (below), priced at a whopping $425000. The booth also contains a few images we have seen before, either buy-ins from the auction of the Weston collection or at the gallery over the years. These include the Alma Lavenson waterlily, the Margaret Bourke-White trumpets, and a pair of Robert Mapplethorpe black and white flowers. There is also a selection of Ansel Adams prints, and a corner display of 19th century work.

Halsted Gallery (here): Wendy and Tom Halsted have a solid group of pictures on display, including Edward Weston vintage and later prints (Cole prints), Imogen Cunningham vintage and later prints, and a plenty of Ruth Bernhard, Wynn Bullock, and Andre Kertesz images. In addition to the wall display, there are three bins with more prints. While there is an excellent Edward Weston portrait of Karl Struss, our favorite picture in the booth is a Minor White flower, already sold for a reasonable $4800 (below).

Lee Gallery (here): I spent a good deal of time with our friends at the Lee Gallery, going through all of the work they brought down from Massachusetts. There are many top quality images on display, including 3 Edward Steichen prints from his days as a photojournalist in WWII, a beautiful vintage Weston pepper, and rare works by Charles Negre, Gustave Le Gray, J.B. Greene, and Karl Struss. There are also 4 bins of additional prints to dig through. Michael Lee (shown below) helped me look through some of boxes of work not on the walls, where we found an excellent late 1920's vintage Walker Evans image of New York, and my personal favorite (below), a vintage Edward Weston nude of Charis from 1934 (priced at $20,000). They have many treasures to see, so their booth is well worth a visit.

Cohen Amador Gallery (here): I very much enjoyed spending time with Paul Amador in his booth of well selected work. There is one wall of Gabriele Basilico city images (1 large and 4 smaller), another of work by Taiji Matsue (1 large and 2 medium), and then a mixed wall with a superior Osamu Kanemura from Spider's Strategy among others. The exterior of his booth has a group of Olaf Otto Becker color icebergs. While the Kanemura would be the best for our collection, the Asako Narahashi (Jounanjiga, 2003 #3, below, priced at $5000) was also a standout, especially after Amador explained that this print was clearly printed by the artist herself, given the uneven marks from the negative holder around the edges.

Howard Greenberg Gallery (here): As always, there are amazing images to see at Howard Greenberg's booth, my favorites being the three Frantisek Drtikol nudes hung together (below, priced between $90000 and $100000 each). Other highlights include a wall of 10 Minor White images, a large group of Jerry Thompson portraits, a pair of Arbus prints, 3 Martin Munkacsi images, and the vintage Steichen Gloria Swanson that we saw at the Armory tucked in the back.

Gitterman Gallery (here): In talking with other dealers during the show, I would often ask what they had seen that they found of interest. I had three separate dealers (unprompted) remind me of what a terrific eye for work Tom Gitterman has. Tom's booth includes an array of Siskind divers, a pair of excellent Callahan prints (dark but clear), and a group of mixed work on one wall, including a city scene by Fred Zinneman, a nude by Franz Roh, and the image below, a Josef Breitenbach nude (priced at $15000). There are also 2 bins of additional images for browsing.

Paul Hertzmann (here): I always enjoy catching up with Paul and Susan, as we don't see them as often as we might like, and they always have superior work of the kind right in our collecting sweet spot. (As an aside, I believe their pricing to be among the most fair in the business.) Susan showed me a gorgeous 8x10 Johan Hagemeyer calla lily from one of the boxes (priced at $24000), and other gems include an Edward Weston nude of Charis at Oceano ($150000), an Osamu Shihara nude from the 1930s, and my favorite in the booth, an unexpected Callahan from 1950 (below). There are also a group of bins with many more works to review, so plan to spend some time browsing here.

Edwynn Houk Gallery (here): Dominating Edwynn Houk's booth is a huge new Vik Muniz of Princess Diana (below), made out of puzzle pieces. I hadn't ever seen a Muniz made out of puzzle pieces, so I didn't immediately recognize it as his work (there is also a second smaller Muniz tucked around the corner). The rest of the booth is a selection of work by gallery artists: Lynn Davis, Lalla Essaydi, Robert Polidori, Sally Mann, Disfarmer, Joel Meyerowitz, and three Brandt nudes from the estate, among others.

Danziger Projects (here): James Danziger has also gone for the mixed bag approach, with a busy booth full of work by his gallery artists. There is an excellent Tanyth Berkeley full body portrait of Grace out front, and three superb Seydou Keita portraits inside. There is the requisite Obama image (now famous due to Danziger's sharp detective work), as well as a soft Julia Margaret Cameron portrait hung high on a shelf (and easy to miss). For our collection, we very much enjoyed the Chuck Close hydrangea image (below); unfortunately it is being sold as part of a set of three images (a calla and a sunflower are the other two, priced at $25000 for all three) and not available on its own.

Silverstein Photography (here): Bruce Silverstein's booth is an echo of his recent booth at the Armory, with a representative sample of gallery artists and work drawn from recent shows. Frank Paulin, Shinichi Maruyama, Todd Hido, and Maria Antoinetta Mameli all get wall space, and our favorite is the selection of Aaron Siskind building facades (below). In the back room, there are a mix of images, including a Brandt nude and an eye catching Marvin Newman print of a manhole cover.

HackelBury Fine Art (here): The large aloe image below is by South African artist Stephen Inggs (priced at £2950), and it was our favorite in the HackelBury booth. There are also two excellent images by Doug and Mike Starn (one of trees, the other a snowflake) on the outside walls of the booth, some images by Calmen & Bech of waterlilies, and a extra big Sidibé Nuit de Noel back in the hidden alcove.

Barry Singer Gallery (here): There's a lot going on the Singer booth, and Gretchen Singer helped me to go through it all. There is a terrific Bourke-White industrial image which we have admired for a while now, an unusual Callahan facade, a shadowy Lou Stoumen nude, and a group of strong E.O. Hoppe industrial landscapes, not to mention plenty of W. Eugene Smith works, and 4 bins to dig through. Most notable (among many) goes to the Arthur Siegel abstract photogram hanging on the outside wall (priced at $10000).

Joseph Bellows Gallery (here): Joe Bellows has many tempting images for our particular collection in his booth. There is a strong Tasker calla lily X-ray, a Cunningham Magnolia Bud, and the Bevan Davies city images from the 1970s (below) that we have been circling around for at least a year. Carol Lee Brosseau had also selected some other top quality florals from their inventory for us to review (one by Kurt Baasch, a handful of others by George Schumacher), all of which would fit perfectly well with our collection.

Steven Kasher Gallery (here): While the work in Steve Kasher's booth falls mostly outside our collecting genres (he has mostly images of people), I've recently met Steve and enjoyed talking with him about photography. He has some excellent dark Daido Moriyama images in his booth, as well as solid works by Albert Mayles and Elaine Mayes. The image below is by Billy Name, who was part of the Warhol entourage in the 1970s (priced at $6500); there are group of Name's images chronicling life at the Factory on display, and this was the closest we could come to a floral (UPDATE: this image has since been sold).

Andrew Smith Gallery (here): This booth is a one artist, mini retrospective of the work of Paul Caponigro, including a wall full of new works depicting crumpled aluminum foil (below). There are also still lifes, sunflowers, monoliths, landscapes, and examples of all of his most famous works, densely covering the red walls. There are also 3 bins with overflow work. If you are a Caponigro fan, this will be a treat.

Scheinbaum & Russek (here): The Scheinbaum & Russek booth is a mixed bag affair, with a pair of positive and negative Alvarez Bravo images of a striped mattress, a Kertesz distortion, some Eliot Porter color landscapes, and a Minor White peeling paint. While the Siskind seaweed image mounted to wood ($38000) is likely the most unexpected and rare picture in the booth, we also liked the simple Callahan flower below ($13500).

Robert Miller Gallery (here): Robert Miller went for a more minimalist approach to the group exhibit, showing a more tightly edited group, rather than a chaotic yard sale. There is an excellent Niedermayr diptych on the outside of the booth, and images by Mapplethorpe, Arbus, Outerbridge, and Jeff Wall among others inside. A group of Walker Evans African still lifes was a surprise, as was the series below, a group of dark amorphous Sigmar Polke images from the late 1970s.

Robert Klein Gallery (here): The Man Ray Portrait of Dora Maar from 1935 (below) was another of the standout images from the show for me. Klein's booth has a deep mix of Arbus, Brassai, Horst, Callahan, William Klein, and Herb Ritts. There are also two Brandt nudes (later prints however) which are strong; I especially enjoyed the belly button.

Scott Nichols Gallery (here): Scott Nichols has a crowded booth with lots of pictures on the walls and 4 bins of additional images to review. There are several good nudes (Penn, Bernhard, Cunningham), as well as a Salgado Churchgate Station and a solid Wright Morris barn. The highlight is a William Garnett image of a train crossing the desert from 1975 ($18000). Make sure to find this picture tucked down on the bottom row, as it is a captivating image up close.

Czech Center of Photography (here): The Czech Center always has a wide variety of work in its fair booths. There are of course Josef Sudek, Frantisek Drtikol, Karel Ludwig, and Miroslav Hak, but also many, many others who you likely don't recognize but merit attention. I particularly enjoyed this simple photogram from 1918 by Jan Bohm, found on the outside wall ($2800).

This concludes Part I of the AIPAD 2009 summary. I'll be at the show this afternoon gathering the details for Part II on Monday.

UPDATE: Part II is now available, and can be found here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

There and Not There at the AIPAD Preview Gala

Last night, I spent a couple of hours wandering around the AIPAD Preview gala party, focusing mostly on the people and less on the pictures (which we will dig into further today and tomorrow). Courtesy of a friendly gallery, I had a blue Benefactor/Patron ticket to the event, which allowed me first entry into the hall at the Armory.

I arrived about 5:30 to find a generally small and sedate crowd. Unlike the caricatures of past art fairs as something akin to Wal-Mart at midnight on the day after Thanksgiving, there was no life threatening stampede to get to the art and no knife fights between collectors over prized prints. It was all very civilized; even the bar was satisfyingly empty (shot at right; 2 hours later, this same bar was 10 people deep and overrun.)

My evening was primarily spent socializing with dealers and gallery owners, especially those from out of town who I don't see face to face as often. While there were plenty of collectors around, I noticed a few glaring absences of major players I would have expected to see (perhaps they will visit at some other time). I saw quite a few auction house specialists and staff, met some museum curators I didn't know, and got introduced to a couple of old guard players who have been around the world of photography for decades. I also very much enjoyed seeing NY Times photographer Bill Cunningham at work in the crowd. Since things didn't really fill up until after 7:00, the early part of the evening was very low key. As an aside, try and get a look at the small, handheld AIPAD calendar given to the gallery owners; it has some hilarious images of dealers' faces superimposed on 19th century images.

Walking around the booths, there were of course many of the familiar names we would expect to see at AIPAD. What was a surprise were the many absences of top galleries that we like to visit, at least a dozen significant players missing by our informal count. Here's who I didn't see: Kicken Berlin, Priska Pasquer, Pace/MacGill, Laurence Miller, Etherton, Fraenkel, Yossi Milo, Luisotti, Rose, Michael Hoppen, Fahey Klein, and Staley-Wise. The scuttle in the crowd was that there were quite a few last minute cancellations. Filling in were several non-AIPAD member galleries and dealers, some rare book vendors (with unexpected glass cases and shelves in their booths), and a few other randoms (AXA, George Eastman House).

The other notable absence was the lack of top tier contemporary photography. This is less surprising, as most of the big names in contemporary photography have migrated to large and famous contemporary art dealers, away from the photography specialist galleries that are the bread and butter of AIPAD. So while there is plenty of excellent vintage work and a solid showing of established contemporary work, there are no images by any of the following that we noticed: no Gursky, Sherman, Prince, Becher, Struth, Ruff, Hofer, Dijkstra, Tillmans, Soth, Van Empel, Crewdson, Beecroft, Esser, or Lutter. I did see a group of Sugimoto theaters, but that was it for him as well I believe. So if contemporary photography is your focus, you'll have to work a bit harder and explore more varied work from the next level down.

These caveats aside, there was still plenty to see and I got tied up in conversation most of the night. In one booth, I saw a gallery friend grab three little hamburger appetizers off a tray and I harassed her about hoarding her dinner. In the end, she was smart; I got distracted talking with people and didn't get much to eat.

I'll be back at the show later today with my game face on, gathering more systematic information for detailed booth reports (which will start tomorrow).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

All AIPAD, All the Time

Tonight, we will be attending the opening gala and benefit preview for the MoMA photography department at the AIPAD Photography Show in New York. AIPAD is likely the one event on the photography calendar in the US that feels like it should be required attendance for photography collectors large and small. It is the best chance (beyond other potentially closer to home regional shows) to see a wide variety of high quality photography all in one place. With a few notable exceptions, the best of what is available in the market will be at this show.

Our plan is to visit the show tonight, as well as on Thursday and Friday, and to do our best to deliver a comprehensive report of what we find on view. Since there are over 70 top notch galleries presenting, this will take us several posts over the next few days (likely continuing into next week) to cover everything adequately (so many pictures, so little time). Bear with us as we work through each booth, reviewing what's being displayed, selecting highlights, and reporting what dealers had to say. Postings will be intermittent, but dense with information once they're actually up and available.

And by all means, if you will be attending tonight or later this week, make sure to stop us from our obsessive looking and say hello. I'm the tall one with the notebook.

Park Avenue Armory at 67th Street

Show Hours

Thursday, March 26 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Friday, March 27 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, March 28 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Sunday, March 29 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.


$25 daily
$40 for the run-of-show (includes catalogue)
$10 student daily admission

Book: Frank Thiel, A Berlin Decade, 1995-2005

JTF (just the facts): Published by Galeria Helga de Alvear, Sean Kelly Gallery, Galerie Krinzinger, and Hatje Cantz Verlag in 2006. 260 pages, with 131 color plates and assorted other images. With essays by Robert Hobbs and David Moos. (Cover at right.)

Comments/Context: German photographer Frank Thiel was an unknown for us prior to seeing his work for the first time at the recent Armory show. We were impressed by several of the large scale photographs we saw there, and bought this book to get ourselves up to speed on his larger body of work.

Most people know the highlights of recent German history: the falling of the Wall, the reunification of East and West, and the movement of the capital from Bonn to Berlin. What is perhaps less well known to outsiders and foreigners is that the reunification of the city (and country) led to a massive construction effort, both demolition of the old and building of the new. In joining the two cities once again, the entire fabric of the urban geography has been recently remade.

Thiel has spent the past decade documenting the architectural transformations going on his city, making wall sized images of both wide angle and close up views of destruction and construction. His pictures are full of cranes, scaffolding, bucket trucks, and temporary curtains. What he has chosen to pull out of these scenes of activity are the geometric patterns that lie beneath the perfect facades, often only visible during the building process. There are grids of rebar, intersecting lines of pipes, walls of tile, and repetitions of windows and concrete framing. Many of these pictures are extremely precise, meticulously aligned abstracted images of form and space. Thiel has also focused his eye on the deterioration and decay found in many of the older buildings. A series of peeling paint images recall Aaron Siskind and Minor White, but on a larger scale and infused with a spectrum of soft pastel colors.

What I found surprising in these images is that they are not particularly harsh or critical of the transformations being documented, as one might expect in our current age of skepticism and environmental awareness. Instead, these works have a little of the old 1920s/1930s romance in them, a more positive view of the efforts of man to make awe inspiring buildings; many of the close ups are in fact quite beautiful. Even the destruction shots have an underlying sense of optimism, a feeling that this new world could somehow be an improvement on the old.

Collector's POV: Thiel is represented in New York by Sean Kelly Gallery (here). A show of new photographs will be on display at the gallery starting in May (and we will surely make a visit).

There have been so many pictures made recently of the construction boom all over the world, as a collector, it is often hard not to get confused about which images belong to whom. And while a few of these pictures have echoes of Andreas Gursky in them, most have an authentic and recognizably different point of view (much less cool and detached, even though these are straight pictures), even though the subject matter may be similar. Thiel's work would fit very well into our collection, resonating with other city and industrial scenes we already own. The problem is that his work is universally way too large for our old Colonial home (low ceilings and small walls); we don't have much use for a mural sized image that won't fit through the doors. That said, I have very much enjoyed seeing more of Thiel's work and look forward to seeing a larger group of his pictures hung together later this spring.

Book: Don Thompson, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark

JTF (just the facts): Subtitled The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art. Published in 2008 by Palgrave Macmillan. 268 pages, with 18 color images in a center section. (Cover shot at right.)

Comments/Context: I recently decided to go back and read some of the "general interest" books written about the contemporary art market during its frothy height a year or so ago, prior to current the economic crisis. I was curious to see whether they had become dated almost immediately and how relevant they still were. These books are not about photography per se (in this particular case, photography is largely ignored) but given photography's increasing importance in the world of contemporary art, there are broad insights from these books that can be applied to the smaller niche of photography.

This book comes from the Freakonomics and Tipping Point school of recent nonfiction, where an economist peers into a small, self contained ecosystem and applies rational economic thought to the activity going on, often producing entertaining, cocktail party ready insights. In this book, Don Thompson takes aim at the mystifying machinations of the art world. Given a business bent (he teaches in the MBA program at York University in Toronto), Thompson resonates with a skeptical marketing driven explanation for the behavior of the art world, and highlights the importance of branding and hierarchy for all the various interconnected players.

In the diagram below, I have tried to synthesise the insights of this book down into a quick, visual form that can be more easily discussed (this picture is of my own design and not part of the book in any way).

The argument being put forth is as follows. Artists, whether they like it or not, are sorted into a powerful hierarchy by the collective forces of the art world, and their careers are based on their trajectory up (and down) this ladder. The vast majority of artists (95%+) never make it out of the Invisible category. Of the ones that jump up into the Emerging category, it takes years of solid output and savvy marketing to graduate to the Established level, and again, most never make it and fall back down to Invisible over time. Moving up the ladder further to Important or Master takes a lifetime of work and successful branding.

In general, collectors are portrayed as insecure wealthy people who are looking for signals of quality from the other players in the contemporary market (context); they can't decide for themselves what is good, so they use "brand" as a proxy for quality, and follow the herd. Therefore, an artist's brand (rather than the work itself) becomes the driving force in the market (Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons as prime examples of this hype and celebrity driven approach).

Thompson goes on to place all of the other art market players (galleries/dealers, auction houses, museums, collectors, etc.) in this same branded hierarchy, all contributing to and influencing where an artist sits at any given time. Some explanation of the roles:
  • Larry Gagosian is put forth as the ultimate "branded" dealer. His brand is so strong that it raises the prices of his artists meaningfully, by effective replacing the artist's brand with his own. Collectors (and museums) see his stamp of approval and feel confident they are getting the highest quality. All dealers and galleries array themselves against the above artist hierarchy, some focusing only on the recognized masters, some grooming established artists, others searching out and exposing emerging artists to the outside world. All are trying to create their own brands that define their value in the food chain, to help make collectors feel more comfortable. Art fairs are the ultimate meat (and money) market, where the brands of the galleries collide.
  • Sotheby's and Christie's are seen as "branded" auction houses, where purchases at the high profile evening sales bring cache. The entire spectacle of the auction is designed to raise prices, but collectors use the events as ways to impress each other and draw on the brands of the houses (I bought this at Sotheby's or Christie's; it is therefore good). Again, a house like Phillips De Pury has placed itself in a different place on the hierarchy by selling the work of many more emerging artists.
  • Even big time collectors become "branded", thereby increasing their power in the market. Charles Saatchi, Steve Cohen, and Eli Broad are just three names (among many, many others) that drive the market. If a gallery can "place" a work in one of these collections, it raises the value of the artist's brand. These collectors becomes arbiters of taste for other collectors (and museums) and get first choice ("access") to new output; their selections are followed and repeated, driving prices up. Collectors too align themselves in different places in the hierarchy; many collectors who once chased the trophy lots (perhaps in search of recognition, fame or a quick speculative flip) move on to search for the best emerging work. If they have a good "eye", their brand value as collectors increases.
  • Museum brands are also vitally important to the underlying artist brand. A retrospective at the MoMA, Met or Tate Modern cements an artist's place in the hierarchy. A museum's stamp of legitimacy (whether via exhibit or a place in the permanent collection) does wonders for making collectors feel comfortable and for driving prices up (the lack of these hallmarks is also a sure signal of an artist either unknown or on the decline). While museum curators are for the most part independent thinkers, Thompson argues that the power of the branded galleries to influence the process of selecting which artists get what attention is too strong to underestimate.
  • Critics are deemed to have only a small contributing influence in this mix, generally drowned out by the more powerful influences of galleries, museums and collectors.

Thompson then lays across this playing field the subject of prices for individual works, which are influenced (up and down) by the behaviors of all these players and strengths of their relative brands, all contributing to the location of the artist in the hierarchy (with the assumption that price and location are related). Psychology, momentum, scarcity, and adjacent reference points all come together to set current prices, which often seem to have little relation to any definition of "value" or "quality".

This book is full of statistical tidbits and surprising numbers, trying to quantify what is inherently a subjective enterprise, and many of these are unexpected and insightful. It also does a good job of making more transparent the complex economic relationships between various players (going into detail on auction house guarantees, dealer/artist contracts, etc.). Overall, while the market has changed meaningfully due to the changing economic conditions, the book's main points are still relevant and persuasive.

Collector's POV: As collectors ourselves, I found much of Thompson's analysis to be generally on the mark, even if I do think that collectors at the top end of the contemporary market are not necessarily representative of the behavior of all the collectors down the food chain (like us) - as an example, I don't think people who collect emerging work are as influenced by others as those at the top; by definition, they are trying to make their own way and find their own winners. That said, this book certainly made me think about how brands influence our own activity as collectors, and to what extent those brands change the way we view the photographs we ultimately add to our collection. We like to think we make our decisions based on our own personal vision of the best of what is available. How much of that world view has been spun by great marketing all around us? That's a hard question, worth pondering.