Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Auction Results: Contemporary Art, June 29, 2009 @Phillips London

Phillips had its Day and Evening Contemporary Art sales in London yesterday, and except for the top lot (Richard Prince's Spiritual America IV, which did not sell), the photography performed quite well. Had this image found a buyer, the sale results for the photo lots would have been solidly within their total pre-sale estimate range; as it was however, since the Prince had such a large price tag, its failure to sell dampened the overall photo proceeds significantly.

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

Total Lots: 35
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: £885500
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: £1283500

Total Lots Sold: 29
Total Lots Bought In: 6
Buy In %: 17.14%
Total Sale Proceeds: £636275

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

Low Total Lots: 5
Low Sold: 3
Low Bought In: 2
Buy In %: 40.00%
Total Low Estimate: £19500
Total Low Sold: £13125

Mid Total Lots: 24
Mid Sold: 21
Mid Bought In: 3
Buy In %: 12.50%
Total Mid Estimate: £234000
Total Mid Sold: £257500

High Total Lots: 6
High Sold: 5
High Bought In: 1
Buy In %: 16.67%
Total High Estimate: £1030000
Total High Sold: £365650

79.31% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above the estimate range. There were four surprises in this sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate):

Lot 202, Ramin Haerizadeh, Men of Allah #1, 2007, at £8125
Lot 214, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia, New York, 1998, at £13125
Lot 222, Roni Horn, Untitled (Kitty Cat), 2000, at £31250
Lot 229, Axel Hutte, Turnagain Arm, 1999, at £18750

The top lot by High estimate (across the two sales) was lot 12, Richard Prince, Spiritual America IV, 2005, but the work did not sell, against an estimate of £400000-600000. The top outcome (using a broad definition of photography) was lot 7, Mario Merz, Senza titolo (Una somma reale è una somma di gente), 1972, at £217250.

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

Phillips De Pury & Company
Howick Place
London SW1P 1BB

Auction Results: Contemporary Art, June 25 and 26, 2009 @Sotheby's London

The London Contemporary Art season began last week, with Sotheby's up first with Evening and Day sales. The photography in the two sales performed admirably, with 22 of the 23 photo lots selling (nearly "white glove", at least for the photography lots), and the total proceeds falling well within the pre-sale estimate range for these particular lots. It was a careful and measured positive outcome.

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

Total Lots: 23
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: £1072000
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: £1567000

Total Lots Sold: 22
Total Lots Bought In: 1
Buy In %: 4.35%
Total Sale Proceeds: £1485475

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

Low Total Lots: 1
Low Sold: 1
Low Bought In: 0
Buy In %: 00.00%
Total Low Estimate: £5000
Total Low Sold: £16250

Mid Total Lots: 13
Mid Sold: 12
Mid Bought In: 1
Buy In %: 7.69%
Total Mid Estimate: £207000
Total Mid Sold: £225575

High Total Lots: 9
High Sold: 9
High Bought In: 0
Buy In %: 00.00%
Total High Estimate: £1355000
Total High Sold: £1243650

95.45% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above the estimate range. There were only two surprises in this sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate):

Lot 234, Gerhard Richter, 15.2.89, at £32450
Lot 293, Jenny Saville, Closed Contact #10, 1995, at £16250

The top lot by High estimate (across the two sales) was lot 10, Andreas Gursky, Dubai World II, which sold for £445250 against an estimate of £400000-600000.

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

34-35 New Bond Street
London W1A 2AA

Auction Results: Photography, June 17, 2009 @Bassenge

The last of the German photography sales happened two weeks ago at Bassenge, and the results were generally below the range of outcomes that have characterized the entire spring season. In this case, the buy in rate was a bit higher than average (above 45%) and the total proceeds were well under half the total High estimate.

The summary statistics are below (all results include the 16% buyer’s premium):

Total Lots: 458
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: 537890€

Total Lots Sold: 250
Total Lots Bought In: 208
Buy In %: 45.41%
Total Sale Proceeds: 223350€

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

Low Total Lots: 448
Low Sold: 247
Low Bought In: 201
Buy In %: 44.87%
Total Low Estimate: 400890€
Total Low Sold: 237974€

Mid Total Lots: 10
Mid Sold: 3
Mid Bought In: 7
Buy In %: 70.00%
Total Mid Estimate: 137000€
Total Mid Sold: 21112€

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

Only 36.80% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above the estimate range, so there was quite a bit of bottom feeding going on in this sale. That said, there were a total of twenty surprises in this sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate):

Lot 4217, Scowen & Co, Ceylon, 1870s at 2900€
Lot 4221, Johann F.W.T. Roux, Daguerrotypes,1850s at 1508€
Lot 4227, C. Nieuwenhuis, Dutch India, 1880s at 1044€
Lot 4228, Zangaki Brothers, East Africa, 1880s at 1972€
Lot 4229, Maison Bonfils, Egypt/Palestine/Lebanon, 1880s at 1508€
Lot 4278, Sebah & Joaillier, Travel Albums, 1870s at 2784€
Lot 4279, Maison Bonfils, Travel Albums, 1880s at 1740€
Lot 4285, Woodbury & Page, Studio, 1860s at 4060€
Lot 4286, Woodbury & Page, Alfurs of the Moluccan Islands, 1870s at 3016€
Lot 4310, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Water Tower, 1960s/later at 2552€
Lot 4548, August Sander, City Children, Cologne, 1930/1960s at 1508€
Lot 4557, Toni Schneiders, Country Road in Austria, 1950s at 1276€
Lot 4579, Alfred Stieglitz, Horses, 1904 at 2204€
Lot 4593, Josef Sudek, Female Nudes, 1953 at 4176€
Lot 4607, Unknown, Aerial view of Manhattan at night, 1930s at 1392€
Lot 4613, Giorgio Sommer, Vesuvius Eruption, 1906 at 1740€
Lot 4642, Alois Auer, Der polygraphische Apparatat, 1853 at 638€
Lot 4646, Jules Bernard Luys, Les Èmotions chez les sujets, 1887, at 1392€
Lot 4647, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Les Europeens, 1955 at 696€
Lot 4649, Greg Gorman, Inside Life, 1997 at 638€

The top lot, lot 4560, Sean Scully, Mérida, 2001, with an estimate of 30000€, did not sell. Lot 4510, Floris M. Neusüss, Nudogram of pregnant woman, 1967, was the top seller at 8700€.

Complete lot by lot results can be found here. I have grossed up the results in this post to reflect the addition of the buyer's premium.

Galerie Bassenge
Erdener Straße 5a
14193 Berlin-Grunewald

Monday, June 29, 2009

Photoconceptualism, 1966-1973 @Whitney

JTF (just the facts): A total of 139 images/works (it is not always clear when a group of images is one work or several, so we have counted everything), various framed and matted, and hung in the single room gallery on the mezzanine level of the museum. All of the works were created during the period 1966-1973. (Since the Whitney does not allow photography in the galleries, there are no installation shots of this exhibit.)

The following artists are included in the show, with the number of images/works displayed in parentheses:

Vito Acconci (1)
Mel Bochner (12, 1 set of notecards)
Dan Graham (2, framed together)
Michael Heizer (1)
Gordon Matta-Clark (2)
Bruce Nauman (11, 4 artist books)
Dennis Oppenheim (74, framed together)
Adrian Piper (14)
Ed Ruscha (4, 1 artist book)
Robert Smithson (8, framed together)
William Wegman (4, framed together)

Comments/Context: In the early days of photoconceptualism, as chronicled in this small but well curated show at the Whitney, the boundaries of the medium were being aggressively explored, merging traditional photography with elements of performance, language and frame breaking ideas.

Bruce Nauman gets meaningful attention in this exhibit, with a large group of his images of linguistic puns (Eating My Words, Waxing Hot, Bound to Fail etc.), 2 artists books of LA Air and Clear Sky (unbounded images of the sky), an additional book of sculpture in a gallery, and my favorite, an artist book response to Ed Ruscha's Various Small Fires and Milk called Burning Small Fires, where Nauman documents the systematic burning of each page of Ruscha's book. All of these works are witty and ironic, using new perspectives to get at unexpected and original ideas.

Mel Bochner's images of colorful shaving cream and Vaseline spread on a flat surface take on the age old issues of painting versus photography, using these mundane ephemeral materials to create transparent and opaque forms and abstract patterns. While they are of course photographs, they have a gestural quality, full of movement, almost like "brushstrokes".

A group of four artists are lined up together one wall, all using architectural motifs in one way or another as the raw material for their riffs. Ed Ruscha is represented by a group of four of his aerial parking lots, while Gordon Matta-Clark is shown cutting a gaping three dimensional hole in the interior of an abandoned building. There is a Dan Graham diptych of a house and a fast food restaurant interior, and a group of four black and white images of a door by William Wegman, taken from both inside and outside the nondescript entrance of a brick building. All of these are wholly unlike traditional architectural photography, and push at the edges of how these places can be used in making art.

Other highlights in this exhibit include Adrian Piper's dark and murky series of self portraits in a mirror, Robert Smithson's images of snow melting, and Dennis Oppenheim's huge array of small prints of an adult swinging a child around and around in circles.

While we have all been inundated with the cool detached style of conceptualism as practiced by the Becher school disciples in recent years, this kind of warm, funny, even goofy conceptualism is much less often seen these days. This exhibit is a great reminder that conceptualism doesn't have to be airless and formal to be exciting, and that little bit of cleverness applied in small doses can not only make the viewer smile, but also scratch his/her head and step back and think.

Collector’s POV: For our collection, the Matta-Clark and Ruscha works would fit best, and both remain on our going forward hit list, Matta-Clark especially. His works have not been widely available at auction, and those that have come up for sale have sold between roughly $20000 and $120000. Ruscha's parking lots tend to be sold in groups at auction, which makes finding a single great image a bit more difficult. Truth be told, I have also always been a closet fan of William Wegman's early conceptual work (pre-Weimaraners), so the series of doors shown here would also be a potential welcome addition.

One sidenote question: why wasn't Robert Cumming included in this show? He seems like an obvious candidate to join this group. Perhaps he was working in a slightly later time period, or maybe he just isn't represented in the Whitney's collection. In any case, if anyone has insights here, please put them in the comments.

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

Transit Hub:

  • Bruce Nauman wins Golden Lion at 2009 Venice Biennale (here)
  • Dan Graham, Beyond @Whitney (here)

Photoconceptualism, 1966-1973
Through September 20th

Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10021

Friday, June 26, 2009

Dutch Seen: New York Rediscovered @MCNY

JTF (just the facts): A total of 102 images, made by 13 different photographers, hung in the first floor entry and a large gallery space, divided into two halves. Except for the images by Rineke Dijkstra, all of the works were taken between 2004 and 2009, many made expressly for this exhibit. (Installation shots at right.)

The following photographers have been included in the show, with the number of works displayed in parentheses:

Morad Bouchakour (33)
Misha de Ridder (5)
Wijnanda Deroo (10)
Rineke Dijkstra (3)
Charlotte Dumas (6)
Hendrik Kerstens (5)
Arno Nollen (1)
Erwin Olaf (6)
Jaap Scheeren (6)
Danielle van Ark (6)
Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin (14)
Hellen van Meene (7)

Comments/Context: When I think about what it might mean to be Dutch in the 21st century, what I come back to time and again is the idea of tolerance. While it is certainly dangerous to generalize about an entire nation and culture, virtually all the Dutch people we know have worldly attitudes of easy going acceptance: of different ways of life, of different ethnic and racial groups, and of glorious eccentricities and quirks in people of all kinds.

This exhibit at the MCNY was organized to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Dutch in New York. Curated by Kathy Ryan of The New York Times Magazine, in conjunction with FOAM, the show consists of the work of a variety of celebrated Dutch contemporary photographers, each of whom was asked to take pictures of today's New York. Given the show's title (Dutch Seen), the central question raised by the exhibit is obvious: what do these Dutch artists see when they look at this city? While the work that was produced for the show is widely diverse, what I think they have seen on the whole is actually a reflection of themselves and their attitudes.

Many of the bodies of work on display focus on the diversity of New York, highlighting the positive qualities of a multi-ethnic world of individuals, each of whom deserves special attention. Both Arno Nollen and Morad Bouchakour have contributed portraits: Nollen favors a consistent mug shot composition, while Bouchakour uses a variety of framing techniques, but in both cases, New York is seen as a kaleidoscope of races and peoples. Hellen van Meene and Rineke Dijkstra also use portraits to capture the essence of New York, but their images dive much deeper into the unique qualities of the individuals portrayed, and use some sense of place (city streets and Coney Island beaches respectively) as a background for their intimate pictures. Erwin Olaf has constructed an elaborate staged environment depicting a turn of the century well to do American black family, making strangely dark and luminous images of shining people and fancy furnishings, asking mysterious questions about race and history in the process. And Wijnanda Deroo has expanded her view of quiet interiors to include a variety of restaurants and eating places in and around New York, from Tavern on the Green to Papaya King, with a heavy mix of down and dirty ethnic joints in between.

Several of the other photographers can be grouped together based on an affinity for the idiosyncracies of the city. Danielle van Ark's images chronicle the strange behaviours found at art openings. Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin focus on the stars of the city, with portraits of celebrities and famous people who add electricity to the mix. Dogs get special attention in Charlotte Dumas' portraits, and Jaap Scheeren's works capture the endearing zaniness of city life, with a stuffed beaver, fur coats, and a plastic fish all making appearances in his staged scenes.

The two outliers in the show are the works by Misha de Ridder and Hendrik Kerstens, but in some sense, they too bring "Dutchness" to their imagery. De Ridder is the only photographer who made landscapes for this show, capturing the wild, scraggly scrub brush and uninviting wetlands that likely awaited the Dutch settlers as they ventured ashore. Kerstens has made huge portraits of his daughter Paula (of perfect ivory skin), drawing on 17th century Dutch painting styles; the connection to New York is the time warp addition of a Yankees hat or a plastic grocery bag to the otherwise saintly images.

Overall, while the concept and theme of the show comes through uniquely in each body of work, it is not altogether surprising that as a whole, the show is quite uneven. My particular favorites were the works by Kerstens, Deroo, Olaf, and Dijkstra, but others might just as well come away with a wholly different set of preferences. In any case, the exhibit is a success in accomplishing its goal: showing us how the Dutch use their own specific cultural framework to see this spectacular city.

Collector's POV: Rineke Dijkstra is by far the most recognized of the artists in this show, and her work is now routinely found in the secondary markets, her large portraits typically fetching between $10000 and $60000 apiece. The work of Erwin Olaf is likely the next most easily found at auction, most often pricing between $2000 and $12000. From there, activity in the secondary markets drops off precipitously, with only a small number of images by any of the rest of the group being sold in the past few years. Almost all of the photographers represented in this exhibit have their own websites and I've linked to a few of them below; this may be the best way to get information about gallery representation for further follow ups.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Other reviews: Conscientious (here), The Year in Pictures (here), Brian Rose (here)
  • Hendrik Kerstens artist site (here)
  • Wijnanda Deroo artist site (here)
  • Erwin Olaf artist site (here)
  • Rineke Dijkstra - Marian Goodman Gallery site (here)
Through September 13th
1220 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10029

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Auction: Photographs, July 1, 2009 @Christie's London

Given that we have been at this photography collecting craziness for quite a few years now, we have clearly become relatively jaded as far as auction catalogs go. They thump down on our doorstep and we voraciously dig through them page by page, looking for lots that fit what we're up to. At this point, we are nearly entirely material driven; we care most about what's for sale, rather than where it is for sale (unless it is being auctioned at a house we don't know well, and then we are a bit more wary of potential kinks in the downstream process.)

This mindset assumes that all the catalogs are generally the same, which for the most part, they are. An exception to this rule is the work of the London team at Christie's, who have stepped out of the traditional format from time to time and added in "curated" sections of related images from different geographies. In the sale next week, in addition to the normal selection of lots, there are three special sections: Distinctively British, Distinctively Korean and Distinctively Japanese II (part I having occurred a few seasons ago). (Catalog cover at right.)

There are a bunch of things to like about these sections:
  • There is a short, scholarly essay, written by someone not affiliated with the auction house, providing some background and context to the work from that particular geography. As such, it is generally unbiased by the selling going on nearby and can be instructive.
  • The work in the sections is nearly all fresh contemporary work, often from photographers that are perhaps less well known to the average collector (particularly those from America). In this way, we get a snapshot of the "scene" in a given geography, and an edited group of the best of what is being produced. These groups can be thought of as samplers of what's exciting from any given locale, or lists of artists to explore outside the confines of the sale.
  • The works that have been selected almost always fall outside the normal, run of the mill imagery that tends to dominate auction catalogs. Thankfully, these aren't Chez Mondrian, or New York at Night, or Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico; we're out on the edges a bit more.

Having seen an influx of Korean work for the first time this season (reviews here and here), I am particularly interested to see many of these same artists represented in this sale. It says to me that there is a firming up of the consensus opinion about these photographers; we can expect to see more from these artists in the near future. The auction also contains many of our more recent discoveries from Japan (relatively new to us, that is), each represented by solid works.

Overall, the sale has a total of 123 lots on offer, with a total high estimate of £1365500. Here's the breakdown:

Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including £5000): 42
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): £162500

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between £5000 and £25000): 73
Total Mid Estimate: £713000

Total High Lots (high estimate above £25000): 8
Total High Estimate: £490000

The top lot by High estimate is lot 68, Andreas Gursky, Singapore Borse I, 1997, at £150000-200000.

For our particular collection, we liked the following:

Lot 3, Anderson & Low, Battersea Power Station, 1997
Lot 40, Koo Bohnchang, In the Beginning #41, 1995
Lot 55, Ryuji Miyamoto, Kobe Ekimae Building, Chuo-ku from After the Earthquake, 1995
Lot 60, Osamu Kanemura, Keihin Machine Soul, 1996
Lot 64, Naoya Hatekeyama, Lime Work #30214, 1992

The complete lot by lot catalog can be found here.

July 1st

8 King Street, St. James's
London SW1Y 6QT

The Curse of the Summer Group Show

Starting after the 4th of July, the normal gallery shows in the art world will be replaced for the most part by a dangerous mutant offspring: the summer group show. Like kudzu covering every inch of the roadside, the summer group show is an invasive species, crowding out all other offerings, creating a monoculture of culture.

The formula is simple: gather together a handful of artists already represented by the gallery, select 4 or 5 works each, and hang them in groups in the gallery space, covered by a catchy summer related title. Think of it as the pu pu platter of Americanized Chinese food: a thrown together sampler of otherwise unrelated items.

The origins of this mind numbing beast are rooted in the elemental turning of the seasons. As the months turn hotter, more local collectors vacate the city on the weekends for the beaches, and more drive-by tourists find themselves wandering lost in Chelsea. These two combine to create a meaningful slowdown in sales. The inevitable downward spiral probably all began at some point when certain artists began to complain about being given the summer slot for their solo shows, angling for a better Fall or Winter time slot when more people were likely to notice. At the same time, gallery owners probably started to connect the dots: if it’s a slow time anyway and no one wants to exhibit then, may be we can cut costs by doing some kind of group show of our existing stable? We won’t do much promotion (saving $), we won’t reframe everything (saving $), and we’ll reduce the number of hours we’re open (saving $). Genius!

The problem is that this simple set of logical decisions on an individual level has spiraled into a wasteland when adopted by the entire gallery world. From a collector’s perspective, there is literally no reason to spend any time visiting galleries in the summer, as there is, on the whole, very little of interest to see. Think of how ridiculous this statement is: “Sorry, I can’t join you for the weekend at your beach house. I need to stay in the city and see some important summer group shows.” Of course, the galleries are now on reduced "Summer Hours" and closed over the weekend anyway, but you get my point.

In a sense, the summer group show is the culprit here: the boredom created by these shows is so real that the whole system has broken down to the point that many galleries will just close their doors entirely until after Labor Day. The art world is on the way to following our education system in adopting a nine month work year.

I think the solution here is relatively straight forward. Rather than make better summer group shows (and to be fair, there are always a few well curated, thematic shows that have interesting connections and juxtapositions, rather than just a random grab bag of work), we need to abandon this crutch and go back to real thought-provoking shows.

Given the fact that the traffic and sales are somewhat lower during this period, I think the summer slot should be dedicated to first time solo shows by emerging artists, who have yet to earn a better spot on the calendar. An abundance of photographers would love to have a solo show at a gallery of substance any time of the year, even in the summer. Just think if the galleries were filled with fresh edgy work each summer; it would be like a meadow of wildflowers, rather than the weed strewn vacant lot that it is today.

The reality is that most people work for a living and can’t take two (or three) contiguous months off to enjoy the beach. So while many may decamp on the weekends, most folks are still in the city during the week, grinding it out like any other week of the year. If instead of the dead zone of summer group shows there was a vibrant scene of emerging artist shows, some excitement might just be created in those heat drenched days. Perhaps some mid week, warm weather, out on the sidewalk openings could suddenly be worth attending. Certainly the artists themselves would work to generate some interest, and given some discerning curatorial selections by gallery owners, some hot new artists might emerge.

A recent article by Charlie Finch on Artnet (here, via Edward Winkleman here) posits that it will be collectors that will need to lead the art world out of the recession. My answer as a collector is that this is almost certainly true; we as buyers need to grease the wheels of the system by prudently getting back in the game and supporting the galleries and artists that we care about. But my challenge to the gallerists out there is as follows: your summer group shows are driving real collectors away. And while I realize it is far too late to change the plan for this summer, you need to give us something to get excited about, and perhaps then we’ll pay more attention. Otherwise, we'll see you again in the Fall.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Book: Gerhard Richter, Overpainted Photographs

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2008 by Hatje Cantz (here), in conjunction with an exhibition at the Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen and the Centre de la photographie Geneve. 392 pages with 495 color images. Includes essays by Siri Hustvedt, Markus Meinzelmann, Uwe Schneede, and Botho Strauss. (Cover shot at right.)

Comments/Context: Gerhard Richter has often explored the border between painting and photography in his art, but his series of overpainted photographs has been largely overlooked until recently. This fine volume gathers together these works going back to their first appearance in the late 1980s, and discusses in depth his techniques and approaches in making these small mixed media images.

In many ways, the project is a combination of the impulse for economy/reuse with Richter's artistic vision. The process begins with a group of commerically processed 4x6 family snapshots, made by Richter himself or others while on holiday, at his home or studio, or on walks in the park. These are however the images that didn't make it into the albums; they are the duplicates, or marginal compositions, or blurry red eye rejects. The second component is the leftover oil paint, with various colors melded together, smeared on the long plastic blade that Richter uses to scrape paint across his canvases.
Richter than takes the photographs and pushes, pulls, and draws them through the surplus paint, lifting the prints to create ridges or allowing the paint to smear and drip to create spots and blobs. (No brushes are involved, although a palette knife is used from time to time.) The works are made quickly, with a large element of chance and spontaneity, full of simple gestural motion.
What emerges from this process are strange hybrid works, often spectacular in their contrasts. The most noticeable effect is that the colored swaths of paint conceal parts of the underlying photograph, leading the viewer to struggle to fill in the pieces of the figurative story, creating a sense of mystery or unknown. The abstract smears and ripples of color themselves have a beauty of their own, richly textured and swirled surfaces highlighting the "painterly" qualities of the medium. These two forces are then juxtaposed in each picture, with complementary or contradictory color schemes in the two layers creating additional visual excitement.
What is perhaps most surprising is the wide variation in outcomes that Richter can produce using different combinations of paint color and underlying photographs. There are literally hundreds of individual images in this book, and each one has its own merits. These are intimate pictures that are well suited to close inspection in book form, and the volume itself is extremely well crafted (I particularly like the understated cloth binding.) Richter is undoubtedly an important force in contemporary art, and the body of work represented here is well worth further exploration, especially for photography collectors.

Collector's POV: Gerhard Richter is represented by Marian Goodman Gallery (here) in New York. Some of his overpainted photographs have found their way into the secondary market from time to time over the past few years, ranging between $12000 and $25000 at auction. In terms of our particular collection, we need to dig through this book more carefully to see if we can uncover some images that were constructed with with floral or city scenes as the underlying motif, as they would create intriguing contrasts with our existing collection.

Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Museum Morsbroich exhibit 2008 (in German) (here)
  • 5B4 book review (here)

Book: Works of Tatsumi Orimoto

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2007 by Seigensha Art Publishing. 88 pages, with 105 color and black and white images. Includes essays by Akira Tatehata and Johannes Lothar Schroder, a detailed chronology, and various texts by the artist. (Cover shot at right.)

Comments/Context: I first came across Tatsumi Orimoto's work on a side wall of the DNA Galerie booth at Pulse earlier this spring, and I was so struck by the two images that I saw there that I went back to look for a volume on his work, eventually buying this one from a book dealer in Japan via the Internet.

Orimoto's art blends performance, found object sculpture, and photography together into a singular view of the world around him. While he might easily be bundled under the larger umbrella of Conceptual Art, his work is the polar opposite of the brainy, overly clever school of cool detachment that tends to dominate this genre. His images are filled with playfulness and humor, warmth and humanity.

While this book chronicles all of the artist's various projects going back to the 1970s and provides a complete picture of his output, the two bodies of work which stand out are the Art Mama and Bread Man series. In Art Mama, Orimoto uses his aging mother (suffering from Azheimer's and bouts of depression) as a primary subject for a variety of unexpected scenes. He has photographed her with huge cardboard shoes that make her several inches taller, with a rubber tire tube hanging around her neck, and standing in an oil drum. (Small Mama + Big Shoes, 1997, at right.) In other shots, the artist holds heavy bundles of newspapers or cloth above her head. The contrast between the tiny woman with the furrowed brow and the ridiculousness of the particular situations is powerful. Surprisingly, a potentially exploitative set-up is actually seen to be participatory; mother and son are making the pictures together, with a loving sense of trust and partnership. Orimoto has also made a series of sculptures that capture the life of his mother in other ways: a set of post office boxes filled with videos, photos and other ephemera, a time card box, an accounting ledger, and a medicine bottle filled with all of her discarded medicine packaging, all built with a sense of respect and honor.

The Bread Man series is altogether more provocative and deviant. In these performances, Orimoto ties a bunch of baguettes or bread loaves to his head, completely covering his face, and then walks around in a variety of public spaces. Of course, people don't know quite how to react to the Bread Man, so there is a mixture of unsettled staring, puzzled questions, and general hilarity. (Performance: Bread Man Son + Alzheimer Mama, Gallery Gen, Tokyo, 1996, at right.) But these games don't have a highbrow "art" feel to them; they are inclusive, and welcoming, and communicative; they knock people out of their everyday routines and get them thinking and interacting.
What I like best about Orimoto's approach is that he has found a way to merge a humanist attitude with compelling conceptual ideas, without over intellectualizing them in the process. These are thought provoking works that aren't afraid to consider the simple absurdities in the world around us.

Collector's POV: Tatsumi Orimoto is represented in Berlin by DNA Galerie (here). This was the only gallery representation I could find, so if there is a New York relationship, please put it in the comments. Orimoto's work is generally unavailable at auction; the few lots that have sold in recent years have ranged between $3000 and $8000. Unfortunately, these works don't fit into our current collecting framework at all; that said, if we were to start over and build a new collection focused entirely on contemporary photography, I would certainly add one of the Art Mama series.

Transit Hub:
  • 2001 Venice Biennale (here)
  • Reviews: Hara Museum, 2000 (here), MASP retrospective, 2008 (here)
  • Finger Dolls performance, 2009 (here)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Auction: Post-War and Contemporary Art, June 30 and July 1, 2009 @Christie's London

Christie's has the last slot in the London Contemporary Art cycle this season, with Evening and Day sales scheduled for June 30th and July 1st respectively. (Evening catalog cover at right.) Together, the two sales have a total of 28 photography lots on offer, with a total high estimate of £1174000.

As in the other previews posted today, here is the complete list of photographers represented in the sales, with the number of works available in parentheses:

John Baldessari (1)
Gregory Crewdson (2)
Tracey Emin (1)
Elger Esser (2)
Gilbert & George (1)
Robert Gober (1)
Andreas Gursky (1)
Mike Kelley (1)
Louise Lawler (1)
Sarah Lucas (1)
Florian Maier-Aichen (1)
Youssef Nabil (1)
Shirin Neshat (2)
Richard Prince (2)
Clifford Ross (1)
Thomas Ruff (1)
Thomas Struth (1)
Hiroshi Sugimoto (1)
Jeff Wall (1)
Sam Taylor-Wood (3)
Erwin Wurm (1)
Zhang Huan (1)

Here's the statistical breakdown:

Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including £5000): 0
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): NA

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between £5000 and £25000): 19
Total Mid Estimate: £269000

Total High Lots (high estimate above £25000): 9
Total High Estimate: £905000

The top lot by High estimate (across the two sales) is lot 12, Andreas Gursky, Copan, 2002, at £250000-350000.

There aren't a lot of great fits for our collection in this sale, but we did enjoy seeing the monochrome Gilbert & George from 1980 and Erwin Wurm's conceptual variations in a white space.

The complete lot by lot catalogs can be found here (Evening) and here (Day). (Day catalog cover at right.)

Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening
June 30th

Post-War and Contemporary Art Day
July 1st

8 King Street, St. James's
London SW1Y 6QT

Auction: Contemporary Art, June 29, 2009 @Phillips London

Phillips is up second in the London Contemporary Art parade, with Day and Evening sales scheduled for the 29th. (Evening catalog cover at right.) Together, the two sales have a total of 35 photography lots on offer, with a total high estimate of £1283500. As usual, Phillips has a more mixed bag of fresh material, with lesser known Arab/Iranian and Chinese photography as highlights beyond the usual suspects.

Given the small number of lots, here is the complete list of photographers represented in the sales, with the number of works available in parentheses:

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia (1)
Lalla Essaydi (2)
Adam Fuss (1)
Andreas Gursky (1)
Ramin Haerizadeh (2)
Candida Hofer (1)
Roni Horn (1)
Axel Hutte (1)
Jiang Zhi (1)
Micha Klein (1)
Ola Kolehmainen (2)
Florian Maier-Aichen (1)
Mario Merz (1)
Farhad Moshiri and Shirin Aliabadi (1)
Vik Muniz (1)
Youssef Nabil (1)
Shirin Neshat (1)
Richard Prince (2)
Marc Quinn (1)
Sam Samore (1)
Thomas Struth (1)
Hiroshi Sugimoto (2)
Larry Sultan (1)
Sam Taylor-Wood (1)
Sadegh Tirakfan (1)
Hellen Van Meene (1)
James Welling (1)
Weng Fen (1)
Zhang Peng (1)
Zhang Xiaogang (1)

Here's the breakdown:

Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including £5000): 5
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): £19500

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between £5000 and £25000): 24
Total Mid Estimate: £234000

Total High Lots (high estimate above £25000): 6
Total High Estimate: £1030000

The top lot by High estimate (across the two sales) is lot 12, Richard Prince, Spiritual America IV, 2005, at £400000-600000.
For our collection, we can imagine potentially adding lot 227, Ola Kolehmainen, Untitled (No. 14), 2005, although it is far too large for our display space. We also liked the Sugimoto theaters, the Fuss photogram and the Youssef Nabil female body.

The complete lot by lot catalogs can be found here (Evening) and here (Day). (Day catalog cover at right.)

Howick Place
London SW1P 1BB

Auction: Contemporary Art, June 25 and 26, 2009 @Sotheby's London

The London Contemporary Art sales kick into gear later this week, with Sotheby's up first with Evening and Day sales. (Evening catalog cover at right.) Together, the sales have a total of 23 photography lots on offer, with a total high estimate of £1567000. Given the small number of lots, here is the complete list of photographers represented in the sales, with the number of works available in parentheses:

Angus Fairhurst (1)
Gilbert & George (1)
Andreas Gursky (2)
David LaChapelle (2)
Louise Lawler (1)
Sigmar Polke (1)
Richard Prince (3)
Rashid Rana (2)
Bettina Rheims (1)
Gerhard Richter (1)
Thomas Ruff (1)
Jenny Saville (1)
Thomas Struth (1)
Hiroshi Sugimoto (2)
Wolfgang Tillmans (2)
Massimo Vitali (1)

Here's the breakdown:

Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including £5000): 1
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): £5000

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between £5000 and £25000): 13
Total Mid Estimate: £207000

Total High Lots (high estimate above £25000): 9
Total High Estimate: £1355000

The top lot by High estimate (across the two sales) is lot 10, Andreas Gursky, Dubai World II, at £400000-600000.

The complete lot by lot catalogs can be found here (Evening) and here (Day). (Day catalog cover at right.)

June 25th

June 26th

34-35 New Bond Street
London W1A 2AA

Monday, June 22, 2009

Harlem: Photographs of Camilo José Vergara, 1970-2009 @NYHS

JTF (just the facts): A total of 100 color photographs, hung in a single gallery with multiple pillars/dividers, in blond wood frames with white mats, against butter yellow walls. The images were taken in the period between 1970 and 2009. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: I first became aware of the work of Camilo José Vergara when I saw a few of his images included in a group show at the Getty some years ago (linked below). On the way out, I purchased his book American Ruins in the bookshop and dove a bit deeper into his project to document urban life and architecture in some of America's most troubled cities. It's a terrific volume, full of not only imagery, but ideas and text, well worth inclusion in your library.

I recently visited the current show on at the NYHS which gathers together his street pictures of Harlem, spanning nearly 40 years. The exhibit is divided into a handful of sections, by subject matter:
  • Introduction (images from 1970)
  • Storefronts
  • Transformations
  • Religion
  • Landmarks & Benchmarks
  • Graphics (wall murals, street paintings etc.)
  • Obama
  • Sculpture
  • Heart of Harlem (portraits and images of people)
When we talk about the changes in a place over time, we often use the word evolution. But this word implies a linear narrative, all moving in one direction, onward and upward. Vergara's images of Harlem portray the city as an ebb and flow of ocean tides or the swinging of a pendulum, constantly moving back and forth, exchanging optimism and pessimism as the dominant mood across the years. In a similar manner to William Christenberry's images of the same buildings taken over decades in the rural South, Vergara has revisited similar storefronts and vacant lots from time to time, finding that what was once a smoke shop is now a record store or a hair salon. At one level, his documentation of the transformations going on is anthropological, a categorization of life in the micro neighborhoods of single city blocks. At another deeper level, I think these pictures capture the spirit of the inhabitants, a natural sense of reuse and recycling, of building on top of the old to discover and enable something new.
Indeed, this whole exhibit seems to center on the idea of constant replacement, of new graffiti painted over the old, of decaying buildings being torn down to make room for new ones, of spaces that were once used for one purpose now being used for another. In some ways, Vergara's pictures document the deep roots of the community, the history of these places, the memories of what came before. Seeing a group of images of a single location over the years allows us to excavate the site, to see its changes, and step back in time over and over to get a feel for what life was like back then, so we can compare it to what has come since.
Vergara's pictures of the people of Harlem (with a nod to Helen Levitt) portray a remarkably durable and resilient bunch, people who have seen it all (the good and the bad) in the past decades, who have celebrated small triumphs and experienced hard times, but are still around to laugh and cry about it. While many of Vergara's pictures of other decaying cities have a despondent, bombed out, no solution mood, his Harlem images are full of life and activity, a sense that this place will always renew itself, drawing on its history from within, to make a path somewhere new.
Collector's POV: Camilo José Vergara is represented by Rose Gallery in Santa Monica, CA, (here), but I couldn't find any New York gallery representation for his work. (If he is represented in NY, please leave it in the comments.) There have been very few, if any, images by Vergara available in the secondary markets in the past few years, so interested collectors will need to follow up at retail.
To my eye, the time-lapse grids of changing storefronts are the most successful of the images in the show and the ones that would work best separated out from the larger narrative flow; there are quite a few pictures that really only work in the context of the exhibit and would be less successful if forced to stand alone. That said, I think the best format for this work would be the book form, where many more images could easily be sequenced to tell the more complex story of the neighborhood and its people that Vergara has so effectively captured.
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Invisible Cities (here)
  • Reviews: NY Times (here), Smithsonian magazine (here)
  • Storefront Churches exhibit at National Building Museum, 2009 (here)
  • Where We Live: Photographs of America from the Berman Collection, Getty, 2007 (here)
  • American Ruins (here)
Through July 12th

170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024

Landmarks of New York @NYHS

JTF (just the facts): A total of 80 black and white photographs, framed in black and matted, and hung against orange walls and pillars in a single gallery space. 46 different photographers are represented in the show. Each of the images was taken at the time the specific building was designated a landmark, starting in the mid 1960s. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: This exhibition was designed to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the New York City Landmarks Law. Since 1965, over 1200 individual landmarks in all 5 boroughs have been designated, covering buildings constructed between 1640 and 1967. For each building in the show, a single photograph has been selected, and the wall text includes information about the building, its importance, the architect, and the photographer.

The exhibit is divided into six time periods. I've included some of the stand out buildings from each period as examples of what's on view (there are many more beyond these in each section):

  • 1641-1848: City Hall
  • 1849-1889: Brooklyn Bridge, Metropolitan Museum, Statue of Liberty, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Central Park
  • 1889-1926: Carnegie Hall, New York Public Library, NY Stock Exchange, Flatiron Building, Grand Central, Woolworth Building, Plaza Hotel, NY Life Building
  • 1927-1937: Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center
  • 1939-1958: Parachute Jump, Seagram Building
  • 1958+: TWA Terminal, Four Seasons Restaurant, Guggenheim Museum

While I didn't recognize any of the photographers who documented the buildings for the city, these images are surprisingly well made; they are strong architectural photographs, with meticulous attention to important historical details, not cheesy postcard shots of tourist spots. As such, I found this exhibit quite a bit more thought provoking than I had expected; it isn't a tired rehashing of obvious buildings, but instead a carefully constructed historical timeline of New York's architectural history, using singular images of the landmarks as reference points. Passing by the photographs of these buildings in roughly chronological order is like seeing a flip book history of the city, with each landmark an important piece of the much larger puzzle.

Collector's POV: Since our collection is full of architectural photography and city scenes, this show was a good fit for us, especially given the generally high quality of the images on view. The exhibit was also a good reminder that these iconic buildings can still be fresh, when seen from unexpected and carefully composed angles. While the pictures here were made as historical documents, there is plenty of artistic vision embedded in them, both from the architects and the photographers. And while the Brooklyn Bridge and Empire State Building are already represented in our collection, I came away from the show with a short list of additional buildings that may be worth exploring as well.

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

Transit Hub:

  • NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (here)

Landmarks of New York
Through July 12th

New York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024

Friday, June 19, 2009

Napoleon III and Paris @Met

JTF (just the facts): A total of 39 photographs, 8 etchings/book prints/lithographs, 1 painting, and 1 sculpture, hung in three small rooms, with red and gray walls, on the second floor of the museum. The photographs are salt and albumen prints, from glass or paper negatives, taken between roughly 1850 and 1870, and framed in dark wood with antique white mats. (Installation shot at right. No photography is allowed in the exhibit, but I took this poor image before realizing that the prohibition was in effect.)

Here's a list of the artists represented in the show (with the number of works in parentheses):

Olympe Aguado (2)
Edouard Baldus (4)
Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1 sculpture)
Hippolyte-Auguste Collard (1)
Benjamin Delessert (1)
Andre-Adolphe-Eguene Disderi (2)
Louis-Emile Durandelle (1 photograph, 2 book prints in case)
Leopold Flameng (1 book print, in case)
Franck (2)
Maxime Lalanne (1)
Gustave Le Gray (4)
Alphonse Leon-Noel (2 etchings)
Alphonse Liebert (4)
Edouard Manet (1 lithograph)
Charles Marville (6)
Charles Meryon (4)
Auguste Mestral (1)
Aldolphe-Martial Potemont (1 etching, in case)
Pierre-Ambrose Richbourg (1)
Charles Soulier (2)
Charles Thurston Thompson (1)
Unknown (1 photograph, 2 stereographs in viewing cases, 1 lithograph)
Franz Xavier Winterhalter (1 painting)

Comments/Context: It's easy to forget, given our fast paced contemporary lives, that at some point along the way, most of the world's major cities had to transform themselves from gatherings of small medieval buildings with narrow alleyways and bad drainage into carefully designed urban areas with broader streets and larger, more ambitious (and often ostentatious) structures. Emperor Napoleon III spearheaded the reinvention of Paris in the 1850s and 1860s, and with the help of Baron Haussmann, created much of the underlying framework of the city we know today. This small but instructive exhibit at the Met tells the story of these changes, via photographs taken by some of the early masters of the medium.
The small exhibit is loosely divided into four sections: The Imperial Family, Old Paris, New Paris, and The Ruins of Paris. The first room is devoted to a generally forgettable group of portraits of Napoleon III and his family, in various mediums. While there are a couple of solid images by Gustave Le Gray here, this area can be mostly thought of as historical stage setting for the show that really begins in the next room.
Old Paris can be found to the right in the next gallery, documented primarily by Charles Marville among others. Empty alleys and waterways flanked by squat buildings and narrow cobblestone streets with neighborhood shops are all captured with luscious, deep tonality; these are truly beautiful photographs, regardless of the apparent simplicity of the subject matter.
Napoleon III's efforts to recreate the city were indeed thorough: they included new sewers and railways, new housing, new canals and bridges, new parks and widened thoroughfares. The images in the New Paris section along the next walls document all of these changes, with special attention to the New Opera and New Louvre. These are mostly architectural scenes, with some close ups of the underlying infrastructure (girders and the like) and the decorative details.
The Franco-Prussian War brought its share of destruction to Paris, and the last part of the exhibition chronicles these demolitions. Rubble piles that were once the Hotel De Ville or the French Ministry give a sense for the scope of the damage.
Overall, this is an effective exhibit that shows how a wide variety of talented artists, using the cumbersome technologies of the early days of photography, were taking note of the changing world around them, leaving us a valuable historic and artistic record of these amazing transformations.
Collector's POV: Much of this show was drawn from the Met's Gilman Collection (acquired in 2005) which has significant depth in early French photography. For our particular collection, one of the Marville images of old Paris (either a street scene or a lamp post) would likely fit best; several of the architectural works by Edouard Baldus would also potentially mix in quite well.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Reviews of the show: NY Times (here) WSJ Speakeasy (here) Art & Artworks (here)
Napoleon III and Paris
Through September 7th

1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10028