Friday, April 30, 2010

Olivo Barbieri, site specific_NEW YORK CITY 07 @Richardson

JTF (just the facts): A total of 7 large scale photographs, framed in white with no mat, and hung in the main gallery space. The archival pigment prints are sized 45x61 or reverse, and are available in editions of 6+2. All of the works were made in 2007. Signed monographs are available from the gallery for $75. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Given the long history of iconic New York photographs, deciding to take on the challenge of seeing famous New York landmarks in an original way takes a certain kind of artistic confidence. What more can really be said about Times Square, the Flatiron Building, or Coney Island?
Italian photographer Olivo Barbieri has been making aerial photographs of famous world cities since 2004. Using a tilt-shift lens, his bird's eye images of recognizable architecture have been transformed into real-life architectural scale models, or tabletop toy set-ups with ant-sized people. The lens provides a shallow depth of field, so much of the image is semi-blurred, leaving only a small area of sharper focus where the detail is crisp ("selective focus"); the effect is to render reality with more impressionistic flair.
Barbieri's images of New York city make many of our hackneyed subjects seem fresh once again. I particularly enjoyed the vibrant swath of green of Sheep's Meadow, where the crowd of sunbathers on towels has become a blur of blinding polka dots. The amusement park rides of Coney Island are another highlight, the playful colors and shapes restyled into a swirling mass of interconnected lines. The roof garden of the Met is likely the least known scene on display, with its pyramidal striped roof and irregular geometric hedge.
While the novelty factor is always high for me with tilt shift photography, I wonder a bit about what lies beneath the decorative fun. Perhaps the answer is that these images so radically alter our common perception of a place that we are forced to see it with new eyes, in the process discovering details and nuances that we had wholly overlooked.
Collector's POV: The works in this show are priced at either $19700 or $23700. Barbieri's photographs have very little secondary market history, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point. Another contemporary photographer who has embraced the use of a tilt-shift lens is Naoki Honjo (here).
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Feature: Metropolis Magazine, 2006 (here)
  • Review: NY Times, 2006 (here)
Olivo Barbieri, site specific_NEW YORK CITY 07
Through May 28th

Yancey Richardson Gallery
535 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011

Thursday, April 29, 2010

In Praise of Shadows: Dirk Braeckman and Bill Henson @Robert Miller

JTF (just the facts): A total of 23 large scale works, 12 by Braeckman and 11 by Henson, hung in the front room, hallways, two side galleries, and the main gallery space in the back. The works by Braeckman are gelatin silver prints mounted to aluminum, with no frames. All of the prints are 71x47 or reverse, except one smaller print, which is 47x31. The images are variously printed in editions of 3 or 5, and were made between 1994 and 2007. The works by Henson are Type C color prints, framed in dark wood but not matted. Most of the prints are 50x70 or reverse, with a couple of prints sized at 50x50 square. All of these works were made between 1990 and 2006 and come in editions of 5. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: While there is no brand new work in this pairing of Belgian photographer Dirk Braeckman and Australian photographer Bill Henson, it does offer some worthwhile contrasts in the subtle use of darkness and ambiguity. And although both artists are heavy users of shadow (hence the title of the show), they each use its properties in unique aesthetic ways, creating easily recognizable and unmistakable photographic styles.

Musical theorists use the word timbre to distinguish the difference in sound between say a piano and a trumpet, even when they are playing the same exact notes; instruments and voices have a specific, recognizable sound that can be easily and obviously distinguished by listeners (and used for effect by composers). Even though both Braeckman and Henson are using shadows in their work, the aesthetic timbre of those shadows is remarkably dissimilar; their tonality and feeling is entirely opposite.

Braeckman's pictures of anonymous rooms, abstract spaces, and faceless nudes have a tactile quality, the matte surface of the images soaking up the light, creating a silvery world of ephemeral moments. There is very little sharp contrast in use, no harsh blacks or stark whites; only a modulated spectrum of middle greys, optimized for blurred, elusive nuance. Nondescript beds, curtains, wallpaper, and bodies reflect splashes of soft reflected light - carefully composed interior details become mysterious, a rumpled bedspread is transformed into an elegant, impressionistic pattern.

Henson's images of teenagers and in-between spaces are altogether more moody and emotional. His rich shadows are thick and enveloping, his figures emerging from the opaque darkness and then receding back into the background, surrounded by the city lights in the distance. Some have likened his use of light to the chiraoscuro of Caravaggio, and this comparison seems apt; the vulnerability of his listless semi-clad subjects is enhanced by the shadows that alternately isolate and drown them. His painterly faces move back and forth between awkward and confrontational.

When hung together, the contrasting shadow styles become even more apparent: Braeckman's images seem diaphanous and delicate, while Henson's seem earthy and intrusive. While there are hits and misses on both sides of this pairing, in the end, I found a few of Henson's portraits to resonate with a challenging aura that seemed to overpower the intricacies of Braeckman's largely empty interiors. Both are seductive in their own ways, but Henson's works stuck with me longer.

Collector's POV: The works by Braeckman in this show are priced at either $10500 or $17000, with 2 images POR. The works by Henson are priced at either $30000, $34500, or $37500. While Braeckman has little or no secondary market pricing history, Henson's images have intermittently come up for sale in the past few years, pricing between $7000 and $26000. Dirk Braeckman is also represented by Zeno X Gallery in Antwerp (here); Bill Henson is also represented by Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Sydney (here).

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

Transit Hub:
  • Review: Artforum (here)
  • Dirk Braeckman artist site (here)
  • Bill Henson, Lux et Nox, 2002 (here)
Robert Miller Gallery
524 West 26th Street
New York, NY 10001

In Sook Kim, Inside Out @Gana

JTF (just the facts): A total of 14 large scale color photographs, framed in grey metal and not matted, and hung in the main gallery space on the ground floor, and in the smaller gallery upstairs. All of the works are c-prints on Diasec, made between 2004 and 2010. The works range in size from 43x63 to a whopping 181x118, and are variously available in editions of 5 or 10. A monograph on the work Saturday Night was published by Hatje Cantz in 2009 (here); it is available from the gallery for $50. There is also a thin exhibition catalog (Inside Out) that is for sale for $20. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Korean photographer In Sook Kim's first solo show in New York is a polished and sophisticated combination of meticulous architectural documentation, thoughtful staging and manipulation, and layers of rich conceptual ideas, all delivered in large scale, object quality works. It is the kind of photography that will easily cross over into the world of contemporary art, and will likely generate some buzz along the way.
All of the works in this exhibit dissect the process of seeing and looking, pulling the viewer (who is also looking remember) directly into the frame, to peer through the brightly lit glass walls and windows of modern apartment buildings, hotels, museums, and storefronts at night. The geometries of the structures provide self contained boxes and boundaries for the interior action, like carefully controlled dioramas or theaters stacked together in grids, where cool antiseptic voyeurism meets the luridness and obsessiveness of the peep show. The boundaries of public and private are mixed and unraveled; people inhabit the buildings and fill the spaces, transforming them along the way.
Kim's Saturday Night is the focal piece in this show, reaching floor to ceiling at roughly 10x15 feet. Each room in the hotel depicts a different nocturnal vignette, each drawn from actual newspaper stories and staged in candy-colored light. Boredom and loneliness compete with sexual perversion and violence; pleasure, pain, and emptiness are all on view, separated into isolated fragments. The viewer's eye travels from story to story, frantically jumping from titillation to sadness and back again.
Other works in the show focus down on an individual scene, where the ideas of viewing, watching and display are examined more closely, from inside and out. In one image, a room full of dark suited men vie to bid on a naked woman on a pedestal; in another, a similar group of men "dine" on bloody women in bondage gear (viewed through a glass window). Her series Drug Store transforms this seeing in a more metaphorical manner: heroin and cocaine become staged scenes of a delusionally slimming/beautifying mirror and the fleeting pleasures of prostitutes on display in a streetside window.

Kim was a student of Thomas Ruff's in Düsseldorf, and there is a pared down conceptual rigor that is refreshing here. Whether we see a glass box museum slowly filling with visitors or watch a sordid narrative unfold in pastel pink light, her ideas have clearly been reduced and refined to their maximum potency; the staging is tightly controlled and executed, with little in the way of superfluous distraction. The different bodies of work and projects on display explore her ideas in confident, interrelated ways, spanning the objectification of women, the meaning of our spaces, and nature of drug addiction. All in, this is one of the best debut shows I have seen in a while, combining 21st century photographic craftsmanship with strong and multi-faceted ideas.
Collector's POV: Nearly all of the works in this show are priced between $18000 and $52000, roughly based on size. The exception is the massive print of Saturday Night in the entry, which is priced at $190000. In general, these prices seem quite high for a first solo show, but the work is accomplished, her pedigree is sound, and the large glossy prints will appeal to crossover contemporary art collectors. Kim's work has not yet reached the secondary markets in any meaningful way, so it's difficult to chart any real pricing pattern. A smaller print of Saturday Night did sell at Christie's in London last year for roughly $50000. Kim is also represented by Richard Levy Gallery in New Mexico (here). While it doesn't fit into our particular collection themes, I actually think Saturday Night is going to end up being considered an important/signature piece, rewarding those risk takers who get in early.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Reviews: Daily Beast (here), New York (here)
Through May 8th
568 West 25th Street
New York, NY 10001

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Silverstein Photography Annual 2010 @Silverstein

JTF (just the facts): A group show of 10 emerging photographers, with a single photographer chosen by each of 10 local NY curators. The works are variously framed and matted, and hung in the entry gallery, the main gallery space, and the back gallery. (Installation shots at right.)
The following photographers are included in the exhibit. Details of the works on view are below:
  • Bahar Behbahani: 1 triptych (3 chromogenic prints), each print 72x48, in an edition of 6, from 2007
  • Rob Carter: 2 digital c-prints, 48x35 or 40x51, in editions of 5, from 2009
  • Juliane Eirich: 3 chromogenic prints, each 39x39, in editions of 5, from 2007-2008
  • Ben Gest: 3 archival inkjet prints, 67x40, 59x40, or 532x40, in editions of 8, from 2005 or 2006
  • Charlotte Haslund-Christensen: 3 diptychs and 1 single archival inkjet print, each individual print 20x20, in editions of 5+2AP, from 2007
  • Dana Miller: 5 chromogenic prints, each 20x24, in editions of 8+2AP, from 2006 or 2007
  • Aude Pariset: 6 three dimensional works, made from inkjet or lightjet prints mounted to various materials (wood, aluminum, leather, etc.), various sizes, in editions of 3, from 2008 or 2009
  • Radcliffe Roye: 6 chromogenic prints, each 20x24 or reverse, in editions of 10, from 2009
  • Glenn Rudolph: 3 archival inkjet prints and 1 color carbon transfer print, each 30x30, in editions of 7, from 1976, 2002, 2004, or 2008
  • Nodeth Vang: 2 digital c-prints and 3 instant film diffusion transfers, 30x24 or 4x3, in editions of 5 or 1, from 2008 or 2009
The following 10 curators selected the photographers for inclusion in the show:

  • Patrick Amsellem, Brooklyn Museum
  • Sean Corcoran, Museum of the City of New York
  • David Harper, Brooklyn Academy of Music
  • Matthew Higgs, White Columns
  • Mara Hoberman, Hunter College Art Galleries
  • Mason Klein, The Jewish Museum
  • Beatrix Reinhardt, College of Staten Island, CUNY
  • Edwin Ramoran, Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art
  • Carrie Springer, Independent Curator
  • Deborah Willis, NYU Tisch School of the Arts

Comments/Context: Since we haven't had a Silverstein Photography Annual since 2008, it would be easy to have forgotten its simple but elegant premise: choose 10 photography curators and let them each select one exciting photographer for inclusion in a group show of new/emerging work. This year's collection is a more recession-respecting local affair than prior years, with curators chosen from smaller New York metro area institutions rather than from far flung museums across the globe. These are the kind of photo curators who are likely down in the messy trenches of new photography, doing endless portfolio reviews and sifting through piles of fresh submissions, looking for new and original voices to champion; in many respects, they therefore represent a good cross section of what many institutions might be looking for (or finding of interest) right now.

Radcliffe Roye's sweaty images from Jamaican clubs were my favorites in the show, particularly the image Ballerinas, of three young women done up in short skirts and colorful makeup; the pictures have echoes of Malick Sidibe's images of the youth clubs in 1960s Mali, but with a more modern feel. The colors are eye-popping and the dancehall poses are lively and outrageous.

Bahar Behbahani's photographs really fall into the category of documents of performance art; the artist hangs upside down from an apple tree, with leaves strewn across the patio underneath, and the pictures capture the blurs of her struggle at various times during the day. While the premise is pretty straightforward, I found the work surprisingly unsettling and metaphorically memorable.

Dana Miller's images are so quiet and understated that it is easy to underestimate them in a quick pass through the gallery. Tennis balls trapped in a park fence, a grocery cart partially submerged in the water, these are not subjects that shout out from the walls. But there is a clarity and authenticity to these images, without a trace of self-conscious artifice, that makes these mundane scenes softly refreshing.

While I also found things to enjoy in Ben Gest's disaffected images of upper class boredom and Charlotte Haslund-Christensen's conceptual front and back portraits of Danish families, overall, the show itself felt a bit flat, with plenty of less remarkable work to go along with the few standouts. Intellectually, I can understand the logic for why each of these artists/bodies of work was selected, but that doesn't mean that they all pass the test of being thrilling or significant. As such, this is the kind of show that you can wander through without being jarred out of your comfort zone; all of it is good, but unfortunately not enough of it is striking or sensational.
Collector's POV: The works in the show are priced as follows:
  • Bahar Behbahani: $12000
  • Rob Carter: $5500 or $6000
  • Juliane Eirich: $3500 or $3950
  • Ben Gest: $5800 or $8800
  • Charlotte Haslund-Christensen: $1650 or $3500
  • Dana Miller: $2000 each
  • Aude Pariset: $1750, $2000, or $2200
  • Radcliffe Roye: $1500, $1800 or $2300
  • Glenn Rudolph: $3500 or $5000
  • Nodeth Vang: $1000 or $2000
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Bahar Behbahani artist site (here)
  • Rob Carter artist site (here)
  • Juliane Eirich artist site (here)
  • Ben Gest artist site (here)
  • Charlotte Haslund-Christensen artist site (here)
  • Dana Miller artist site (here)
  • Aude Pariset artist site (here)
  • Radcliffe Roye artist site (here)
  • Glenn Rudolph artist site (here)
  • Nodeth Vang artist site (unknown)
Through May 8th
535 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011

Monday, April 26, 2010

Auction Results: BRIC, April 23 and 24, 2010 @Phillips London

Phillips' BRIC themed sale took place last week in London, and while the buy-in rate for photography was over 45% and the total sale proceeds from the photo lots missed the estimate range by a wide margin, there was a silver lining of sorts: this sale delivered the highest photo proceeds for Phillips of all of its themed sales so far this year.

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

Total Lots: 147
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: £734600
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: £1067100
Total Lots Sold: 79
Total Lots Bought In: 68
Buy In %: 46.26%
Total Sale Proceeds: £504438

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

Low Total Lots: 95
Low Sold: 46
Low Bought In: 49
Buy In %: 51.58%
Total Low Estimate: £279100
Total Low Sold: £136563

Mid Total Lots: 44
Mid Sold: 31
Mid Bought In: 13
Buy In %: 29.55%
Total Mid Estimate: £478000
Total Mid Sold: £305625

High Total Lots: 8
High Sold: 2
High Bought In: 6
Buy In %: 75.00%
Total High Estimate: £310000
Total High Sold: £62250

The top lot by High estimate was lot 302, AES+F, The Bridge, 2007, at £40000-60000; it did not sell. The top outcome of the sale was lot 72, Wang Qingsong, Dormitory, 2005, at £37250. (Image at right, via Phillips.)

79.75% of the lots that sold had proceeds above or in the estimate range. There were a total of five surprises in this sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate):

Lot 86, Alex Guofeng Cao, Marilyn as Brigitte Bardot, 2009, at £5000
Lot 303, Dmitri Baldermans, Yuri Gagarin with family, 1961, at £6875
Lot 310, Boris Mikhailov, Untitled, from Case History Series, 1997-1998, at £15000
Lot 342, Sebastiao Salgado, Gold mine, Serra Pelada, Brazil (figure eight), 1985/Later, at £9375
Lot 343, Sebastiao Salgado, Gold mine, Serra Pelada, Brazil, 1996/Later, at £7500

Complete lot by lot results can be found here.

Phillips De Pury & Company
Howick Place
London SW1P 1BB

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tokihiro Sato, Trees @Tonkonow

JTF (just the facts): A total of 15 black and white images, hung in the entry hallway, main gallery space, and office area. All of the works are gelatin silver prints, made between 2008 and 2009. The prints come in three sizes: 62x51 (in editions of 3), 47x38 (in editions of 12), and 24x20 (in editions of 12). 9 of the largest size prints are on display in the show, mounted but not framed, and clipped to the walls. Also on view are 6 of the smallest size, framed in white and matted. A thin catalog of the exhibit is available from the gallery for $10. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Tokihiro Sato's images of the stately trunks of Japanese beech trees amid the undergrowth of the forest operate on several different levels, proof that there are still original ways to take on a subject as traditional as the grandeur of nature in the wild. Sato's frontal tree portraits sparkle with unexpected pinpricks of light, clusters of bright dots mysteriously hovering around the base of each tree.
For the process minded, Sato's works have plenty of technical complexity. Using an 8x10 view camera, he makes long exposures (measured in hours), intermittently moving into the frame with a mirror, aiming vectors of sunlight back at the camera lens; the result are various points of light, made by an invisible photographer.
For those with a conceptual bent, these works seem to tie back to the Land Art movement of the 1970s, or to more ephemeral examples of similar ideas from artists like Andy Goldsworthy. Sato's gestures with light are like those of a surveyor, using light to measure and define the natural space; he calls the process "photo-respiration".
And for those with a sense of whimsy, Sato's lights become fireflies and fairies, or ethereal ghosts from Latin American magical realism. The difference in luminescence between the textured grey of the trees and roots and the sharp light of the pinpricks is so strong that the lights seem to literally jump off the paper, drawing all the attention to the movement and excitement they capture.

Overall, I found these images be quietly elegant and serene without being boring or gimmicky, mixing the straight and the conceptual with a deft hand.

Collector's POV: The works in this show are priced based on size. The largest prints (62x51) are $18000 each, the middle (47x38) are $14000 each, and the smallest (24x20) are $5000 each. Sato's prints have not yet reached the mainstream secondary markets, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Profile: Japan Exposures (here)
  • Review: NY Times, 1998 (here)

Tokihiro Sato
Through May 8th

Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects
535 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pioneers of Color @Houk

JTF (just the facts): A group show of a total of 48 color works from three different photographers (William Eggleston, Joel Meyerowitz, and Stephen Shore), all framed in white and matted, and hung in the entry, the main gallery space, and the smaller back gallery. The exhibit coincides with the publication of Starburst: Color Photography in America 1970-1980 by Hatje Cantz (here) and a larger survey at the Cincinnati Art Museum. (Installation shots at right.)

Details on the included works are as follows, with the number of images on display in parentheses:
  • Stephen Shore (20): Most of the works on view are vintage chromogenic contact prints, made between 1973 and 1979. Nearly all of these prints are 8x10 or reverse (there is one that is 12x15). A few larger c-prints (20x24) have also been included, as well as a pigment print on rag paper of one of Shore's journal pages (18x14).
  • Joel Meyerowitz (20): The vintage works on display are either 20x24 dye transfers or smaller 8x10 RC prints. Recent pigment prints from the older negatives have been made in three sizes 20x24, 30x40, and 48x60, in editions of 15 or 20, 10, and 5 respectively. All of the images were taken between 1963 and 1983.
  • William Eggleston (8): Most of the works on display are 16x20 dye transfers from the Dust Bells 2 portfolio (taken between 1970 and 1974, published in 2004). Others are similar in size or slightly smaller (12x18).

Comments/Context: Even though the main thread of the 1970s color story is now well known, this vein of photography continues to be an active area for exploration and (re)discovery. Likely due to the predominance of color in today's contemporary work and the powerful influence of the early color photographers on those working today, there seems to be a consistent interest in going back to the roots of this narrative and revisiting the evolution of the major practitioners. This exhibit focuses on three of the main players (Eggleston, Shore, and Meyerowitz), while the related survey book covers a much broader selection of photographers (by the way, there was also a terrific exhibit at Julie Saul in 2008 here that collected some of these same artists).

While this show is directly making a case for Meyerowitz' rightful inclusion at the top echelon of the 1970s color establishment, I must admit that it was the Egglestons that really made me think. Placed in the side-by-side temporal context with Shore and Meyerowitz, Eggleston's images display a marked difference in photographic style. I found his approach to be significantly more radical: the compositions are skewed and off-kilter and the colors are much stronger and more saturated - I concluded that these works were less about their depicted subjects and much more about color itself. A room becomes orange, a wall is green, a car is red - the colors are purer and the aesthetic is more wholly new, an entire rethinking of photography based on how color really operates.

For Shore and Meyerowitz, these artists seemed to be using more established modes of picture making (drawn from various black and white traditions) and modifying them for the successful inclusion of color, more evolution than revolution. In these cases, the use of color transforms topographical images or motion-filled street shots in new ways; there are new compositional nuances and relationships to explore. Hotel rooms, shop fronts, clusters of people on street corners, TVs and dated furniture, clothing and patterned fabrics, they all present newfound opportunities to build color-oriented pictures. I particularly enjoyed the angles of Shore's striped rug and yellow bedspread at the Harbor View Motel, and Meyerowitz' colorful neon circles on the ceiling of a food stand at the Hartford county fair.

What I like best about this exhibit is that it has just enough depth to tease out the patterns and differences. Instead of just one or two pictures hung together sampler-style (which is often how early color is treated), this show allows for a more thoughtful and deeper comparison of contrasting approaches and experiments.

Collector's POV: The prices for the works in this show are as follows:
  • Stephen Shore: The vintage chromogenic contact prints are either $18500 or $24000. The larger c-prints are $25000, and the pigment print of Shore's journal page is $6000.
  • Joel Meyerowitz: The vintage dye transfers are either $32000 or $40000; the RC prints range between $14000 and $35000. The later prints are priced based on size, starting at $10000 for the 20x24s, moving to $16000 for the 30x40s, and ending at $24000 for the 48x60s.
  • William Eggleston: Most of the available images are priced at $20000. Several (including the red ceiling and the drink on the airplane tray table) have been marked SOLD or NFS.
These prices seem generally on the high side (this is gallery retail after all), especially when placed in the context of recent secondary market sales of roughly equivalent material.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Review: New Yorker (here)
  • Joel Meyerowitz artist site (here)
  • William Eggleston artist site (here)
Through April 24th

Edwynn Houk Gallery
745 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10151

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Auction: BRIC, April 23 and 24, 2010 @Phillips London

Phillips' parade of themed sales continues in London later this week with an auction entitled BRIC, a group of initials representing the fast growing nations of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. The catalog itself is a brick as well; it weights in at exactly 6 pounds according to our bathroom scale, and includes an astonishing 141 pages of articles and background information before getting to the lots themselves. While all this stuff is interesting to read, my conclusion is that Phillips must think that collectors are unfamiliar with or uneducated about what's on offer here, and that reading a supporting article or two will help folks get more comfortable with buying. Out of a total of 438 lots available in all mediums, 147 are photographs or photo-based art, and the Total High Estimate for the photography lots is £1067100. (Catalog cover at right, via Phillips.)

Here's the breakdown:

Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including £5000): 95
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): £279100

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between £5000 and £25000): 44
Total Mid Estimate: £478000

Total High Lots (high estimate above £25000): 8
Total High Estimate: £310000

The top lot by High estimate is lot 302, AES+F, The Bridge, 2007, at £40000-60000. (Image at right, via Phillips.)

Here is the list of photographers who are represented by three or more lots in the sale (with the number of lots in parentheses):

Sebastiao Salgado (6)
Alexander Rodchenko (5)
Vik Muniz (4)
Raghu Rai (4)
Huang Yan (3)
Yevgeni Khaldei (3)
Steve McCurry (3)
Pushpamela N and Clare Arni (3)
Caio Reisewitz (3)
Miguel Rio Branco (3)
Vaclovas Straukas (3)
Vkhutemas Workshops (3)
Wang Qingsong (3)
Zhang Peng (3)

The complete lot by lot catalog can be found here.

April 23rd and 24th

Phillips De Pury & Company
Howick Place
London SW1P 1BB

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Whitney Biennial 2010

JTF (just the facts): A large group exhibition of 55 artists, installed on four floors of the museum. (Since no photography is allowed in the galleries at the Whitney, there are unfortunately no installation shots for this show.)

The following 10 artists/photographers have photo-based work in the exhibition. Details for each are below:
  • Nina Berman: 18 pigment prints, each 10x15, made between 2006 and 2008
  • Josh Brand: 5 chromogenic prints and 1 gelatin silver print, either 8x10 or 11x14 or reverse, made between 2007 and 2009
  • James Casebere: 2 digital chromogenic prints, each 72x96, in editions of 5, made in 2009
  • Babette Mangolte: 441 vintage photographs, 2 decks of vintage photo playing cards, and 1 video, as one installation, made in 2009
  • Curtis Mann: 1 bleached chromogenic print with synthetic varnish, 65x153, made in 2009
  • Lorraine O'Grady: 4 pigment print diptychs, each individual print 47x38, in editions of 8, made in 2010
  • Emily Roysdon: 2 sets of 3 digital chromogenic prints, one with silkscreening, made in 2010
  • Stephanie Sinclair: 9 digital prints, each 17x22, made in 2005
  • Ania Soliman: 1 digital montage, variable dimensions, made between 2007 and 2009
  • Tam Tran: 6 digital prints, each 24x16, made in 2008
Comments/Context: What more is there to say about this year’s Whitney Biennial that hasn’t already been said? Virtually every major art critic in America has already weighed in on the succinctly titled 2010, and as usual, there has been a healthy mix of both supportive praise and scathing derision, peppered with lists of favorites and highlights. Many have connected the show to the momentum for change and redefinition embodied by the election of Obama, others have centered on the majority of women artists included in the exhibit, and still others have latched on to its pared down, recession-friendly curatorial approach. But none of these esteemed writers has comprehensively looked at the photography in the show and tried to consider about what the inclusion of these specific photographers and their work might mean in the larger context of the medium. So that’s what we’re going to try and do here.

Even if we go along with the PR line that this exhibit is not a survey of contemporary American art, but simply an edited sampler or cross section of the diversity of work produced in the past few years, the show clearly has the ability to set out a straw man, pick out some trends, and frame the conversation about what’s been relevant and/or important in the past two years. As such, 2010 should have some compelling things to tell us about the state of contemporary photography, and indeed, this year’s exhibit contains quite a bit of photography in various forms. Since this is not an inclusive biennial of photography, but rather a biennial of contemporary art which includes photography only on its merits, we should be able to see some patterns in where photography is being placed in the larger narrative of new art, or at least analyze how the show’s curators seem to be judging and categorizing what they have found to be new in photography. This does not of course lead to any sort of ultimate truth, but simply a snapshot of how one set of curators has tackled the problem of making sense of it all; so while there are an infinite variety of other ways to approach this same problem, I think a close look at how they seem to have structured their choices can tell us something about how the larger art world is seeing contemporary photography.

While it seems unlikely that the curators deliberately built a taxonomy of photographic approaches and placed various contemporary photographers in specific locations (they are not photo-specialists after all), the artists who were included in the show can quite easily be placed into one of four “buckets” based on their use of the medium (with a little cross pollination in some cases). I’ve provided a diagram below to make my line of thinking a bit more clear; I'll cover each group in more detail below.

The 2010 representatives of the documentary/straight approach to photography pack such an emotional wallop that they seem to be saying: make the content extreme or just go home. Stephanie Sinclair’s desperate images of Afghan women charred by self-inflicted burns are bloody and horrifying, so much so that the exhibition room was filled with gasps, “My God”s, and uncomfortable intakes of breath; the suffering and violence that is depicted is harsh and shocking, but entirely unforgettable. Nina Berman’s images of the hometown life of a disfigured soldier (including his thoroughly alienated wedding day) are similarly tragic. Both bodies of work depict the realities of war, and explore the downstream personal effects of our current day social/political choices. As the only two examples of “traditional” photography in the whole show, I was reminded of Paul Graham’s recent comments about the state of medium (here), and the ensuing discussion of the value of capturing unique moments with a camera. If these two photographers are any indication, the contemporary art world isn’t looking for subtlety in its straight photography, it’s looking for outright reaction-provoking challenge.

Four photographers included in the show fit loosely into the performance/staging category, although each is using photography in different ways to document or enable their ideas. James Casebere has made a career out of photographing tabletop constructions, and his two images here satirize a fabricated community of pastel colored houses; his timing couldn’t be better, in terms of being a biting look at the ridiculousness of the housing bubble. Tam Tran’s images depict the performances and imagination of childhood; dressed in Spiderman pajamas and a cape, her nephew uses a long stick to fight invisible evildoers, well aware of the presence of the camera. Emily Roysdon’s photographs are documents of public locations to be used in future performances. An array of chairs (alternately covered with dots and silkscreened dancers) and wood pilings of abandoned piers in the water are both spaces/stages that have been and will be transformed by theatrical action; the sense of being part of the audience is palpable. And Babette Mangolte’s installation of 1970s/1980s photographs and video is less about any specific picture and more about the process of perception and interaction with imagery; composites, variations and patterns of images are seen on a huge gridded wall, while a video overlays sounds from the flipping and shuffling of cards and the tearing of paper. The entire environment is a reflective performance about the how we experience photographs.

While neither Lorraine O’Grady nor Ania Soliman might usually be considered a “photographer”, both are using the recontextualization of appropriated photographic imagery as the basis for the art included in this show. O’Grady’s works juxtapose found images of Charles Baudelaire and Michael Jackson in varying color tones, wryly commenting on the ups and downs of celebrity. Soliman layers a wide range of found images of pineapples into a photomontage alphabet stuck directly to the wall, merging text and photographs into a hybrid historical survey reminiscent of Dada collages. With these examples, it is clear that we have moved beyond the irony of simple appropriation/mashup and on to more complicated and conceptual combinations of images with social/political overtones.

The last group of artists is thoroughly embedded in the technical processes of photography, reveling in the details of the darkroom, the chemical properties of prints, and the object quality of end product photographs. Curtis Mann's grid of photographs begins with appropriated images from the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah (and so ties him to the appropriation group described above). But Mann is more interested in the photographs as objects than in composing pictures from behind the camera: he has subsequently used bleach and varnish to selectively manipulate/destroy the original images, leaving whitewashed expanses of nothingness populated by glimpses of small details, like a cloud of dust obscuring our vision. Josh Brand has opted for making camera-less images in the darkroom, creating abstract photograms of the details of his everyday life.

In terms of sheer "memorableness", I found the work of Sinclair, Berman, Casebere, and Mann to be the most compelling and likely to lead somewhere exciting or new. Many of the others seem to be working in styles that we have seen before (in the inbred world of photography), but have yet to coalesce into wholly original lines of thinking. Taking a straight photograph, documenting a performance, appropriating an image, or mastering a process are not enough to make it in the 21st century art world; there are some forgettable photographs here I'm afraid. The photographic works I found most thought-provoking in this show were those that are built on layers of outward looking ideas and realities, that took on the larger forces in our society at this particular moment in time, rather than those that were overly self-conscious or inwardly reflective. The disruptions I saw were based in the context of the times, rather than the fabric of ourselves.

If I take the Whitney Biennial 2010 at face value, it is the straight photographers who are out on the bleeding edge of photographic art, pushing our collective consciousness, and the others who have heretofore considered themselves to be cleverly innovative and conceptually original that are being found to be lagging behind a bit. That's a wholly unexpected and surprisingly refreshing photographic conclusion, and the single best reason to go and see this show.

Collector's POV: Discovering which galleries represent the artists and photographers in this show isn't terribly easy. I've listed below those that I have been able to find; I'm hoping diligent commenters can point us all toward the rest.

  • Nina Berman: Jen Bekman (here)
  • Josh Brand: Herald St. (here)
  • James Casebere: Sean Kelly Gallery (here)
  • Babette Mangolte: Broadway 1602 (here)
  • Curtis Mann: Kavi Gupta Gallery (here)
  • Lorraine O'Grady: Alexander Gray Associates (here)
  • Emily Roysdon, Stephanie Sinclair, Ania Soliman, Tam Tran: unknown
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Reviews: New York Times (here), New York (here), Village Voice (here), Washington Post (here)
  • Feature/Curator Interview: Interview (here)
  • Nina Berman artist site (here)
  • Josh Brand artist site (unknown)
  • James Casebere artist site (here)
  • Babette Mangolte artist site (here)
  • Curtis Mann artist site (here)
  • Lorraine O'Grady artist site (here)
  • Emily Roysdon artist site (here)
  • Stephanie Sinclair artist site (here)
  • Ania Soliman artist site (unknown)
  • Tam Tran artist site (here)
Whitney Biennial 2010
Through May 30th

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

Monday, April 19, 2010

Berenice Abbott, Inside the Archive @Commerce Graphics

JTF (just the facts): A total of 97 black and white images, variously framed and matted, and densely hung throughout the main gallery area, the offices, and the entrance hallway, winding around and covering virtually every available wall space. The images themselves were made between 1925 and 1967 (most are from the 1930s), and the prints on display are a mixture of vintage and later prints, including some bigger enlargements. Sizes range from 4x3 to 40x30, with most being 10x8 or reverse. While many of the works are matted, a small group of exhibition prints mounted on masonite (with beveled edges) are also on display. Two glass cases house a variety of letters, technical notes and other ephemera, including rejection letters from the Vanderbilts and Astors for her Changing New York project. Her camera is also on display. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: When an exhibition is titled "Inside the Archive", I think it sets the expectation that the images on view will be a collection of rarities and variants, lesser known images and forgotten gems that will help fill in the background to the more prominent and likely already agreed upon narrative. This exhibit of materials from the Berenice Abbott archive is a chaotic mix of old and new, and while there are some unexpected items to see, overall, I think the show misses the chance to really dive into the depths of the secondary and tertiary imagery and expand the scholarship on her artistic process and point of view.
The show bounces around all of her most notable projects, from early Paris portraits and iconic New York scenes, to mid 1950s America and her later scientific work. Unfortunately, the exhibit lacks a coherent organizational thread - works from various time periods and projects (as well as printing sizes/styles) are often jumbled together, so that it is difficult to draw conclusions about how these particular prints add to what it is already known about Abbott. Smaller, tighter niche exhibits of archival material from any one of her projects could fill the available space and tell us something new about that particular subject and body of work; perhaps this exhibit is just trying to do too much.
This is not to say that there aren't amazing works to be seen and savored. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing some of the 1940s and 1950s exhibition prints of her famous New York images, which were displayed on intimate-sized masonite boards; they are significantly warmer than standard prints of these negatives, with a strong sepia tone. I also liked seeing the 1940s industrial prints of smoke stacks and oil refineries, as well as some excellent scientific views that I hadn't seen before. Abbott's 1950s work seems to be the most in need of a defining exhibit - a selection of images from her road trips across America are on display, but I lacked the context to try to draw deeper conclusions about their overall importance.
In general, I think this show will appeal most to die hard Abbott fans (like us) who are willing to sift through the dense walls to find some of the spectacular gems tucked in the corners. In some sense, this exhibit is a mini-retrospective (given its broad coverage of her work), but in the end, even though the prints themselves might have surprising stories to tell, the exhibit lacks the structure and editing required to successfully bring forth the new ideas that may be hiding near the surface.
Collector's POV: As is perhaps obvious, Abbott's estate is represented by Commerce Graphics. Prices in this show range from $6000 to $38000. Her work is nearly ubiquitous at auction, with dozens of prints (a mix of vintage and later) coming up for sale in any given year. Prices have typically ranged from as low as $1000 to approximately $35000, with the majority still under $5000.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • DLK COLLECTION review of 2 volume Berenice Abbott Steidl edition (here)
Berenice Abbott, Inside the Archive
Through May 28th
506 East 74th Street
New York, NY 10021

Auction Results: Photographs, April 16, 2010 @Phillips

The various owner Photographs auction at Phillips last Friday generally matched expectations, with a buy-in rate near 30% and total sale proceeds at the lower end of the range. I'd say it was a "good enough" outcome, with few in the way of meaningful surprises.

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

Total Lots: 349
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: $3155400
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: $4488100
Total Lots Sold: 245
Total Lots Bought In: 104
Buy In %: 29.80%
Total Sale Proceeds: $3470675

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

Low Total Lots: 242
Low Sold: 169
Low Bought In: 73
Buy In %: 30.17%
Total Low Estimate: $1447100
Total Low Sold: $1058500

Mid Total Lots: 93
Mid Sold: 65
Mid Bought In: 28
Buy In %: 30.11%
Total Mid Estimate: $1911000
Total Mid Sold: $1389375

High Total Lots: 14
High Sold: 11
High Bought In: 3
Buy In %: 21.43%
Total High Estimate: $1130000
Total High Sold: $1022800

The top lot by High estimate was lot 216, Edward Steichen, Wheelbarrow with Flower Pots, France, 1920, at $150000-200000; it was also the top outcome of the sale at $194500 (image at right, top, via Phillips).

90.20% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above the estimate range. There were a total of 7 surprises in this sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate):
Lot 1, Lillian Bassman, Blowing Kiss, Barbara Mullen, New York, c1958/Later, at $10625 (image at right, via Phillips)
Lot 174, Vik Muniz, Hands from Pictures of Soil, 1997, at $25000
Lot 238, Walker Evans, Display Sign, Birmingham, Alabama, 1936/Later, at $6875
Lot 256, Peter Beard, Hunting Cheetahs on the Taru Desert, Kenya, 1960/1998, at $50000
Lot 291, O. Winston Link, NW1103, Hot Shot Eastbound at the Iager Drive-In, West Virginia, 1956/1983, at $27500
Lot 297, Weegee, Twin Bed Distortion, c1950, at $6875
Lot 329, Shikanosuke Yagaki, Blinds with Sunlight, 1930s, at $10000

Complete lot by lot results can be found here.

450 West 15th Street
New York, NY 10011

Friday, April 16, 2010

2010 Guggenheim Fellows in Photography

As I was flipping through the newspaper this morning, I came across a full page ad listing all of the 2010 Guggenheim Fellows (here). Here are this year's grant winners in Photography. Many are familiar, but there are a couple who were new to me:

Shelby Lee Adams (here)
Carolyn Drake (here)
Paul Graham (here)
Monica Haller (here)
Charles Lindsay (here)
Lawrence McFarland (here)
Nic Nicosia (here)
Michael Schultz (here)

Auction Results: Photographs, April 15, 2010 @Christie's

After two successful sales that reached far beyond their total High estimates, it was somewhat inevitable that Christie's would have to regress to the mean. The various owner Photographs auction yesterday afternoon performed solidly, with a buy-in rate near 25% and total sale proceeds smack in the middle of the range. While the cover lot Strand didn't sell, enough of the rest of the top lots did find buyers to drive the results to a comfortable outcome.

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

Total Lots: 180
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: $3183000
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: $4733500
Total Lots Sold: 133
Total Lots Bought In: 48
Buy In %: 26.67%
Total Sale Proceeds: $4112563

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

Low Total Lots: 89
Low Sold: 67
Low Bought In: 22
Buy In %: 24.72%
Total Low Estimate: $552500
Total Low Sold: $490813

Mid Total Lots: 75
Mid Sold: 51
Mid Bought In: 25
Buy In %: 32.00%
Total Mid Estimate: $1601000
Total Mid Sold: $1110000

High Total Lots: 16
High Sold: 14
High Bought In: 2
Buy In %: 12.50%
Total High Estimate: $2580000
Total High Sold: $2511750
The top lot by High estimate was lot 325, Irving Penn, Woman in Moroccan Palace (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Marrakech, 1951/1983, at $300000-500000; it was also the top outcome of the sale at $446500.

85.71% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above the estimate range. There were a total of 12 surprises in this sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate):
Lot 310, George Tice, Petit's Mobil Station, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, 1974/1980, at $7500
Lot 311, O. Winston Link, Hotshot, Eastbound, Iager, West Virginia, 1946/1999, at $20000
Lot 334, W. Eugene Smith, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Lambarene, 1954, at $12000
Lot 340, Peter Beard, Orphaned Cheetah Cubs, from The End of the Game, 1968/1998, at $152500
Lot 369, Brassai, Matisse avec son Modele, 1939/1950s, at $16250
Lot 372, Man Ray, 1929 (photobook), at $27500
Lot 380, Charles Sheeler, Bucks County Barn, 1918, at $386500
Lot 390, Nan Goldin, Greer and Robert on the Bed, 1982, at $17500
Lot 425, Robert Mapplethorpe, Calla Lily, 1984, at $326500 (image at right, via Christie's)
Lot 429, Daido Moriyama, Untitled (Lips), 2007, at $40000 (image at right, top, via Christie's)
Lot 435, Harold Edgerton, Ten Dye-Transfer Photographs, 1985, at $40000
Lot 519, Bert Stern, Marilyn Monroe, from (Crucifix III), The Last Sitting, 1962, at $18750
Complete lot by lot results can be found here and here.

20 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10020