Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cartier-Bresson Attendance at MoMA

According to an article by Erica Orden in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (here), it's been a great year for attendance at the MoMA. Buried in the chart at right (via the WSJ website), you'll see that the Henri Cartier-Bresson retrospective brought in a total of 412379 visitors. It was the only show of photography to make the short list.

Over four hundred thousand people got me thinking. It was certainly crowded when I visited the show, but what do those big numbers really mean (and how are they really counted)? So I made a few quick calculations.

The exhibit was open from April 11th through June 28th. Given that the museum is closed on Tuesdays, that makes for a total of 68 visitor days. So roughly 6064 people visited the HCB show every day it was open. Given the museum is open on average 7 hours a day (10:30AM to 5:30PM, we'll gloss over the later hours on Fridays), this means there were roughly 866 visitors to the show every hour. This translates to approximately 14.4 visitors entering every minute, or about one new HCB visitor every 4.2 seconds, all day, every day. Pretty mind boggling stuff. I would have never guessed that there was so much demand to see Cartier-Bresson. Even with many people seeing the show more than once, this is a huge number of people (both locals and tourists I realize) interested in vintage photography.

For pure curiosity, I'd be interested to compare these statistics with those from the recent Frank show at the Met, which was also overrun with visitors. (I can't think of any other blockbuster photo-only shows in NY in the last year that would have attracted a comparable number.) If anyone knows the total attendance figures for that show, please let me know and we can do an interesting side by side comparison.

Photography Collectors in the 2010 ARTnews 200

Every year, ARTnews publishes its list of the largest, most active art collectors in the world (here, magazine cover at right, via ARTnews), complete with their geographic location(s), how they came into their money, and the general categories of their often varied collections. Given our photography focus, we're always interested to see which photography collectors are on the annual list.

Compared to the 2009 list, not much has changed. Eight of the 2010 collectors who have the word "photography" in their bio were on the list last year:

Cristina and Thomas W. Bechtler-Lanfranconi
Joop van Caldenborgh
Danielle and David Ganek
Ydessa Hendeles
Martin Z. Margulies
Lisa S. and John A. Pritzker
Aby J. Rosen
Chara Schreyer
Of the other 2009 listed "photography" collectors, Sheikh Saud bin Mohammad bin Ali al-Thani is still very much on the active list, but photography is no longer part of his diverse bio. Leonora and Jimmy Belilty are not included at all in 2010.
Two new "photography" names have been included in 2010:
Ella Fontanals Cisneros
Thomas H. Lee and Ann Tenenbaum
This short photo-focused list is a little deceiving, in that more than 85% of the names on the complete list of 200 collectors have "modern" or "contemporary" art in their bios, so many of them could (and likely do) collect some photography as a subset of their larger efforts, likely at the top end of the contemporary market that crosses over from traditional vintage photography.
Overall, my takeaway from this year's list is that the world of focused photography collecting remains relatively small, and that the largest, most powerful collectors remain fairly constant/consistent from year to year; most people don't change their collecting passions overnight, especially coming out of an economic downturn. This kind of list is however a strong reminder that the major challenge for the community as a whole is how to entice more and more significant contemporary collectors to pay more attention to photography; this is the "low hanging fruit" in terms of potential growth.
By the way, if your name is on the list above and we don't already know that you are visiting this site from time to time, please do drop us a line to say hello.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Auction: Italia, June 30, 2010 @Phillips London

Another installment in Phillips' themed sale series takes place in London later this week with an auction entitled Italia. It's generally a mixed bag of Italian artists, with an additional group of other artists using Italy or Italians as subject matter. Out of a total of 235 lots available in all mediums, 73 are photographs, with a Total High Estimate for photography of £631100. (Catalog cover at right, via Phillips.)

Here's the breakdown:

Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including £5000): 32
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): £110600

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between £5000 and £25000): 37
Total Mid Estimate: £355500

Total High Lots (high estimate above £25000): 4
Total High Estimate: £165000

The top lot by High estimate is lot 120, David LaChapelle, Statue, Los Angeles, 2007, at £50000-70000. (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):

Piergiorgio Branzi (5)
Mario Giacomelli (4)
William Klein (3)
Enzo Sellerio (3)

The complete lot by lot catalog can be found here.

June 30th

Phillips De Pury & Company
Howick Place
London SW1P 1BB

Auctions: Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening and Day Sales, June 30 and July 1, 2010 @Christie's King Street

Christie's is up third in the early summer London season, with its Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening and Day sales at King Street later this week. The top lots include Gursky (with yet another chance to top the $1 million dollar mark), Sugimoto, Gilbert & George, and Eliasson. Overall, there are 45 photography lots on offer across the two sales, with a Total High Estimate of £2986000.

Here's the 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): 21
Total Mid Estimate: £286000

Total High Lots (high estimate above £25000): 24
Total High Estimate: £2700000

The top lot by High estimate is lot 47, Andreas Gursky, Pyongyang II, 2007, at £900000-1200000. (Image at right, top, via Christie's.)

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

Hiroshi Sugimoto (5)
Gregory Crewdson (3)
Douglas Gordon (3)
Vik Muniz (3)
Shirin Neshat (3)
Thomas Ruff (3)

The complete lot by lot catalogs can be found here (Evening) and here (Day).

Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction
June 30th

Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Auction
July 1st

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

Valérie Belin, Recent Works @Sikkema Jenkins

JTF (just the facts): A total of 7 large scale black and white and color works, generally framed in black with no mat, and hung in the back two galleries. The images on view are a mix of pigment and c-prints, ranging in size from 49x39 to 71x71. All of the works were made between 2006 and 2008. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: The work of French photographer Valérie Belin seems to be popping up all over the place recently. A group of her color model portraits was included in Dress Codes at the ICP last year, and one of her black and white mannequin heads is now on display in the Pictures by Women show at MoMA. This small exhibit provides a sampler of her most recent work, covering four different projects, all from the past few years.
If there is a common theme to Belin's photography, it appears to be the exploration of the edge between the artificial and the real. In the past, she has made images of body builders and ballroom dancers, shop mannequins and Michael Jackson impersonators, all touching on the human impulse to manufacture identity. This concept is explored further in this show via three recent black and white images of Lido dancers, each wearing an outlandish and ornate costume (complete with leather, fur, or sequins), and punctuated by an identical plastic smile. These women look like stylized characters from a science fiction novel, simultaneously beautiful and altogether weird and unsettling in their perfection.

Belin has also considered the idea of artificiality in the context of the traditional still life. Two massive color images of fruit baskets dominate the first room of the show. These over-saturated pictures were paired with still lifes by Manet in a recent exhibition at the Musée d'Orsay (linked below). In Belin's compositions, the explosion of fruit has become so controlled that it has been transformed into luscious, comical kitsch; real fruits look like decorative imitations, displayed for maximum visual effect. While there are echoes of Baroque still life allegories of prosperity and abundance in these works (there is also a direct link to Roger Fenton's dense, exotic piles of fruit), her images are wonderfully over-the-top, bold and vibrant exaggerations of the importance of surface beauty. A black and white floral still life hangs on the back side of one wall, a dark and shadowy foil to the colorful chaos of the fruit baskets. The artful bouquet hovers in the air disembodied from any context, reminiscent of the delicate 19th century still lifes of Adolphe Braun, but somehow more puzzling and aggressive.

While I might have preferred to dig into any one of these projects more deeply by seeing a wider selection of images from the same series, this one-of-each style exhibit did successfully highlight a variety of her recent ideas. Having not seen a collection of her work in person before, I came away impressed by both the deceptive depth of her thinking and the quality of her execution. There is evidence of an original artistic voice coming into maturity here, building momentum with each successive project.
Collector's POV: The works in this exhibit range in price from $20000 to $34000. Belin's work does not have a deep history at auction; only a few of her works have come into the mainstream secondary markets in the past few years. Prices for these works have fallen between $5000 and $9000, but since the sample size is so small, they may not be entirely representative of the actual market reality. I do think that one of Belin's fruit baskets would hold an entire wall with startling ease.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Exhibits: Musée d'Orsay, 2008 (here), Peabody Essex, 2009 (here)
  • Review: Time Out (here)
  • Feature: Guardian (here)
Through July 2nd

53o West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011

Monday, June 28, 2010

Auction: Jeanloup Sieff Photographies, Collection Gert Elfering, June 30, 2010 @Christie's Paris

Before the summer season fully kicks in, Christie's has one last single owner/single photographer sale scheduled for later this week in Paris. The sale contains a selection of works by the French photographer Jeanloup Sieff, taken from the broad collection of Gert Elfering. The auction mixes nudes, fashion photography, portraits, and other subjects. While most of the works were made in the 1960s, the sale spans much of Sieff's long career. Overall, there are a total of 67 lots on offer, with a Total High Estimate of 461000€. (Catalog cover at right, via Christie's.)

Here's the statistical breakdown:

Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including 7500€): 54
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): 293000€

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between 7500€ and 35000€): 13
Total Mid Estimate: 168000€

Total High Lots (high estimate above 35000€): 0
Total High Estimate: NA
The top lot by High estimate is tied between four lots, all estimated at 10000-15000€:
  • Lot 9, Jeanloup Sieff, Hommage à Seurat (variant), New York, 1965
  • Lot 12, Jeanloup Sieff, Yves Saint Laurent, Paris, 1974
  • Lot 16, Jeanloup Sieff, Grès #160, Harper's Bazaar, 1964 (image at right, via Christie's)
  • Lot 67, Jeanloup Sieff, Corset, New York, 1962
The complete lot by lot catalog can be found here. The eCatalogue is located here.

Jeanloup Sieff Photographies, Collection Gert Elfering
June 30th

9 Avenue Matignon
75008 Paris

Vera Lutter, Venice I @Richardson

JTF (just the facts): A total of 6 black and white images, framed in white with no mat, and hung in the small Project Gallery at the back. All of the prints are selenium toned gelatin silver prints, each 25x21, from 2007. The works have been grouped together as a portfolio, entitled Venice I, with a case and a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Vera Lutter has consistently produced images of different sizes in working with her now familiar and easily recognizable camera obscura process. Most of her images are extremely large scale (often diptychs or triptychs, almost mural sized), made in shipping containers or large rooms, capturing wide vistas of layered cities and dense industrial zones. A handful of her other works are more intimate, capturing details and more closely cropped views of these same places. This show is made up of a portfolio of these smaller pictures from her recent visits to Venice, where Lutter's conceptual aesthetic has taken the warm romance of famous city and turned it into a ghostly parade of Italian architecture.

While there are a number of towers, colonnades and ornate domes on display here, reversed out with bright white doors and windows and an inky black sky, I found the ethereal images of canal boats, gondolas, and dock areas to be the most striking. Wooden posts stick up out of the water like matchsticks, and the boats float in an indistinct haze on the tactile surface of the slowly moving water. The gondolas are so blurred they are like an airy memory, delicate and wispy, just an inexact hint of their real selves.

What I like best about Lutter's approach here is her ability to make us see her subjects with new eyes. Indeed, what could be more overworked and cliche than the canals and towers of Venice. And yet, in her images, Venice is an otherworldly place, drained of its wondrous life, vacant of its bustling throngs, threatening to dissolve into nothingness or transform itself into something far darker. This town overrun by tourists suddenly has a witchy spirit, something a bit mysterious and chilling.

Collector's POV: The six images of Venice in this show are being sold together as a single portfolio for $35000. Lutter is represented in New York by Gagosian Gallery (here). Her work has become generally available in the secondary markets in recent years, ranging in price between $7000 and $85000, mostly dependent on size. We own one of her smaller images of the Pepsi-Cola sign (here).

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

Transit Hub:
  • Exhibit: Gagosian Beverly Hills, 2009 (here)
  • Review: LA Times Culture Monster (here)
Vera Lutter, Venice I
Through July 9th

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

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Auctions: Contemporary Art Evening and Day Sales, June 29 and 30, 2010 @Phillips London

Phillips is up second next week with its pair of Contemporary Art Evening and Day Sales in London. Gilbert & George, Thomas Ruff and Olafur Eliasson provide the top five lots. Overall, there are a total of 46 lots of photography available across the two sales, with a Total High Estimate of £1208000.

Here's the statistical breakdown:

Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including £5000): 4
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): £17000

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between £5000 and £25000): 25
Total Mid Estimate: £356000

Total High Lots (high estimate above £25000): 17
Total High Estimate: £835000

The top lot by High estimate is lot 21, Gilbert & George, Damned Buddleia, 1980, at £150000-200000. (Image at right, top, via Phillips.)

Here is the list of the photographers who are represented by more than one lot in the two sales (with the number of lots in parentheses):

Thomas Ruff (4)
Elger Esser (2)
Gilbert & George (2)
Candida Höfer (2)
Roni Horn (2)
Hélio Oiticica (2)
Hiroshi Sugimoto (2)

The complete lot by lot catalogs can be found here (Evening) and here (Day).

Contemporary Art Evening Sale
June 29th

Contemporary Art Day Sale
June 30th

Phillips De Pury & Company
Howick Place
London SW1P 1BB

Auctions: Contemporary Art Evening and Day Auctions, June 28 and 29, 2010 @Sotheby's London

As we head into the hot summer season here in the Northeast, there are a handful of last minute contemporary art and photography sales to tempt collectors before they tune out until September. Sotheby's has a pair of Contemporary Art Evening and Day sales early next week in London, with a small selection of photography on offer. There are a total of 25 lots available across the two sales, with a Total High Estimate of £1407000. (Catalog covers at right, via Sotheby's.)

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): £0

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between £5000 and £25000): 16
Total Mid Estimate: £222000

Total High Lots (high estimate above £25000): 9
Total High Estimate: £1185000

The top lot by High estimate is lot 14, Andreas Gursky, Stateville, Illinois, 2002, at £500000-700000.

Here is a list of the photographers who are represented by more than one lot in the two sales (with the number of lots in parentheses):

Roni Horn (3)
Hiroshi Sugimoto (3)
David LaChapelle (2)
Sam Taylor-Wood (2)

The complete lot by lot catalogs can be found here (Evening) and here (Day).

June 28th
June 29th

34-35 New Bond Street
London W1A 2AA

Rodney Graham, Music and Dance @303

JTF (just the facts): A total of 5 large scale color works hung in the single room gallery space. Each of the works is one or more chromogenic transparencies displayed in painted aluminum lightboxes. (Installation shots at right, via 303 website.)

The image details are as follows:
  • Lighthouse Keeper with Lighthouse Model, 1955, diptych, each 113x72, in an edition of 4, from 2010
  • Good Hand Bad Hand, diptych, each 35x29, in an edition of 6, from 2010
  • Three Musicians (Members of the Early Music group "Renaissance Fare" Performing Matteo of Perugia's Le Greygnour Bien at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, Late September, 1977), triptych, each 142x62, in an edition of 4, from 2006
  • Dance!!!!!, diptych, 107x138 overall, in an edition of 4, from 2008
  • Dead Flowers in My Studio, single image, 52x41, in an edition of 5, from 2009
Comments/Context: Rodney Graham's recent lightbox works are infused with a clever playfulness that is built up in layers of self-referencing, sometimes circular logic. As an actor is his own carefully staged scenes, Graham is often the central character in an elaborate and cinematic reenactment, his witty performances referencing art history and music with a subtle sense of wry comedy and underlying ridiculousness.

In Three Musicians, Graham portrays an earnest 1970's era musician, playing a period recorder in a Renaissance ensemble, complete with long hair and historically accurate costumes. The over-serious pretentiousness of this group is palpable (and quite amusing as a result), and the layers of time (a recreation of a recreation of the original) sharpen the satire. In other works, Graham is a solitary lighthouse keeper, warming his feet in the stove while reading about lighthouses (his scale model lighthouse project displayed in the background), a poker player in a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses giving away his "tell", and a sweaty suited man in a top hat forced to dance by jig while being shot at by drunk cowboys in a Wild West saloon. Each vignette is a self-contained almost allegorical narrative, rich in implied humor and irony.

Given the complex stage sets and the presentation in large lightboxes, it would be hard not to draw a connection to the work of fellow Canadian Jeff Wall. I think it is also possible to see conceptual parallels to some of Cindy Sherman's work. By using photography, Graham has given his scenes a sense of hyper-reality or "truth", even though it is clear that they are operating on many levels. But what I saw most in this handful of pictures was an echo of the compositional and story-telling conventions of the masters of painting, of packing dense layers of ideas and allusions into a single controlled frame. When he gets it right, Graham's whimsy can't help but make you smile.

Collector's POV: The works in this show are priced between $100000 and $400000. Graham's photographs have come up for auction from time to time in recent years, with prices ranging from roughly $5000 to $170000. A parallel exhibition of Graham's work is on display this summer in London at Lisson Gallery (here).

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

Transit Hub:
  • Interview: Art in America, 2010 (here)
  • Exhibitions: MACBA, 2010 (here), ICA Philadelphia, 2005 (here)
  • Reviews: NY Times, 2005 (here)
Through July 2nd

547 West 21st Street
New York, NY 10011

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Auction Results: Photographs from the Polaroid Collection, June 21 and 22, 2010 @Sotheby's

The Polaroid sale earlier this week at Sotheby's turned out to be the feeding frenzy we all imagined it might be. In the evening portion of the sale, all 99 lots sold in a perfect "white glove" outing. The following day, the momentum continued through three more sessions, with an overall Buy-In rate just over a paltry 10% and Total Sale Proceeds that topped the estimate range by a wide margin. New auction records were set for both Ansel Adams ($722500) and Lucas Samaras ($194500).

Nine lots were withdrawn prior to the beginning of the sale, and so I have stripped them out of the analysis, as though they had never been offered. The revised summary statistics are below (all results include the buyer’s premium):

Total Lots: 473
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: $6974800
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: $10661200
Total Lots Sold: 420
Total Lots Bought In: 53
Buy In %: 11.21%
Total Sale Proceeds: $12467622

Here is the breakdown (using the Low, Mid, and High definitions from the preview post, here). As you can see, the sale was strong across all price points:

Low Total Lots: 288
Low Sold: 256
Low Bought In: 32
Buy In %: 11.11%
Total Low Estimate: $1930700
Total Low Sold: $2422372

Mid Total Lots: 158
Mid Sold: 138
Mid Bought In: 20
Buy In %: 12.66%
Total Mid Estimate: $3890000
Total Mid Sold: $4610250

High Total Lots: 27
High Sold: 26
High Bought In: 1
Buy In %: 3.70%
Total High Estimate: $4840500
Total High Sold: $5435000
The top photography lot by High estimate was tied between three lots, all by Ansel Adams: lot 94, Ansel Adams, Moonrise, Hernandez, Mexico, 1941/1950s or 1960s, lot 97, Ansel Adams, Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada, From Lone Pine, California, 1944/1950s or 1960s, and lot 100, Ansel Adams, Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, 1938/1950s or 1960s, each at $300000-500000. The top outcome of the sale was the Clearing Winter Storm mural at $722500 (image at right, bottom, via Sotheby's); the Moonrise mural went for $518500 and the Winter Sunrise mural brought in $482500.

Interestingly, only 67.62% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above the estimate range, so there were clearly plenty of lesser known lots that didn't exactly fly off the shelves. Particularly for Adams, we may have seen the market struggle a bit to absorb all the work being offered. On the flip side, there were an astounding 77 "surprises" in this sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate), with 35 of these bringing in more than triple the high estimate. These explosive lots are listed below:
Lot 1, William Wegman, Avalanche, 1982, at $30000
Lot 2, Lucas Samaras, Untitled (Self-Portrait with Hands), 1990, at $56250
Lot 3, Chuck Close, 9 Part Self-Portrait, 1987, at $290500 (image at right, middle, via Sotheby's)
Lot 5, Robert Rauschenberg, Japanese Sky I (from the Bleachers series), 1988, at $242500
Lot 6, David Hockney, Imogen+Hermiane, Pembroke Studios, London, 30th July, 1982, at $194500
Lot 13, Robert Frank, New York, 1972, at $46875
Lot 24, Lucas Samaras, Ultra-Large (Hands), 1983, at $194500 (image at right, top, via Sotheby's)
Lot 25, Lucas Samaras, Ultra-Large (Self-Portrait), 1983, at $122500
Lot 29, David Levinthal, Selected studies from Modern Romance, 1983-1985, at $23750
Lot 31, Lucas Samaras, Panorama, 1983-1986, at $62500
Lot 33, Robert Heinecken, Lessons in Posing Subjects, 1981-1982, at $98500
Lot 49, Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger, 1979, at $25000
Lot 51, Andy Warhol, Farrah Fawcett, 1979, at $43750
Lot 52, Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait (Grimace), 1979, at $146500
Lot 53, Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait (Eyes Closed), 1979, at $254500
Lot 76, Imogen Cunningham, Unmade Bed, 1957/1960, at $146500
Lot 78, Minor White, Barns (Two Barns, Dansville, New York), 1954/1957, at $53125
Lot 83, William Garnett, Plowed Field, Arvin, Calif (Vertical Aerial 500 ft.), 1952/1957, at $50000
Lot 84, William Garnett, Nude Dune, Death Valley, Calif (Vertical Aerial about 500 ft.) (Sand Dune #1), 1953/1957, at $37500
Lot 115, Peter Beard, Selected Images, 1988/1993, at $31250
Lot 124, Lucas Samaras, Photo-Transformation, 1973, at $31250
Lot 130, Robert Mapplethorpe, Untitled (Spanish Woman), early 1970s, $12500
Lot 134, Joyce Tenneson, Suzanne (In Chair), 1986, at $28125
Lot 141, David Levinthal, Selected images from American Beauties, 1989, at $16250
Lot 173, Lucas Samaras, Selected Still Life Studies, 1978-1979, at $31250
Lot 177, David Levinthal, Selected images from Wild West, 1986-1987, at $17500
Lot 185, David Levinthal, Selected images from American Beauties, 1989-1990, at $34375
Lot 195, Robert Rauschenberg, North Carolina (from the Bleachers series), 1991, at $116500
Lot 210, Luigi Ghirri, From Still Life (3-D Glasses), 1980, at $34375
Lot 292, Various Photographers, Selected Portraits of Ansel Adams, 1960s, at $20000
Lot 336, Ansel Adams, Aspens, Northern New Mexico, 1958, at $46875
Lot 366, Laura Gilpin, The Rio Grande Yields its Surplus to the Sea, 1947/1957, at $28125
Lot 390, Minor White, Peeled Paint, Rochester, New York, 1959, at $43750
Lot 457, Walker Evans, Junked Cars, Connecticut, 1973-1974, at $6875
Lot 485, Ansel Adams, Sentinel Rock, Yosemite, 1981, at $31250

Complete lot by lot results can be found here.

1334 York Avenue
New York, NY 10021

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Provocateurs of Japanese Photography @Cullen

JTF (just the facts): A group show of 7 Japanese photographers, including films, books, and photographs, variously framed and matted, and hung in the single room gallery space. The show includes a total of 17 photographic pieces (some made up of multiple images), 1 group of 5 videos, and 5 books/ephemera in a glass case in the center of the gallery. (Installation shots at right.)

The following artists have been included in the exhibit; the number of works on display and their details are provided as background:
  • Nobuyoshi Araki: 2 black and white works framed in black and matted; 1 diptych, 25x36 framed together as a single piece, from 1989, and 1 single image, 20x24, from 2004-2005.
  • Tomoko Sawada: 2 works; 1 large c-print mounted on Plexi, 40x40, in an edition of 10, from 2007, and 1 group of 20 c-prints, framed together as one piece, in an edition of 30, from 2007.
  • Ryoko Suzuki: 4 c-prints, framed in black with no mat, each 20x24, in editions of 10, from 1999/2001.
  • Shuji Terayama: 2 Lamdba digital prints, framed in black and matted, each 14x17, in editions of 20, from 1976-1978, printed in 2009; also 1 video screen showing 5 films from 1964-1977; in the glass case, there is 1 book and a group of postcards (from a set of 20)
  • Katsumi Watanabe: 4 gelatin silver prints, framed in grey and matted, each 12x10, from 1966-1972. In the glass case, there are two books.
  • Miwa Yanagi: 4 c-prints hung together as one work, framed in black and matted, 32x24 overall, in an edition of 20.
  • Kohei Yoshiyuki: 2 gelatin silver prints, framed in white and matted, each 16x20, in editions of 10, from 1971/1979. In the glass case, there are 2 books.
Comments/Context: This small group show has a simple but intriguing construct: take a handful of works from a selection of well known Japanese photographers from the 1970s/1980s era (all men in this case) and juxtapose these pictures with another sample of Japanese photography from contemporary times (all women in this case) to see how "provocative" artistic approaches and subject matter have evolved over the decades.

The 1970s works on display all address the issues of conservatism and conformity as they are rigidly imposed by Japanese society, and how certain individuals challenge these tacit codes of conduct by deviating from the conventional norms, oftentimes in ways that seem perverse to the masses. Yoshiyuki voyeuristically captures illicit liaisons in the park at night, Watanabe chronicles the lives of gang members and drag queens in Kabukicho, and Araki documents his bondage fetishes for women.

The more recent work touches on many of these same themes, but with a more feminist perspective. Yanagi examines women's roles and traditional occupations in her Elevator Girls (leaving a pool of blood behind in this instance), Suzuki harshly binds herself with ropes soaked in her own blood and covers her face with waxy silicone, and Sawada takes on a dizzying array of freakishly girly personas. In all three, the element of performance and role playing comes through clearly, where the women are trapped (mockingly or seriously) in established behaviors imposed by society. Having recently seen the big Pictures by Women show at the MoMA, any one of these three photographers would have fit into that exhibit seamlessly.

Taken together, the show does a nice back and forth between the two groups of artists, surveying the many responses both men and women have employed to fight the sometimes stifling brittleness of Japanese society, showing how different artists have reacted against these ties, exposed thier flaws, and tried to break free from the uniformity.

Collector's POV: The works in this show are priced as follows:
  • Nobuyoshi Araki: the diptych is $11500, the single print is $7000
  • Tomoko Sawada: the large piece is $5200, the smaller array is $4500
  • Ryoko Suzuki: $1500 each
  • Shuji Terayama: the prints are $2500 each; the book is $750; the postcard set is $80; I didn't get prices for the films
  • Katsume Watanabe: either $4500 or $6500 each; I didn't get prices for the books
  • Miwa Yanagi: $20000 as one piece
  • Kohei Yoshiyuki: $9975 each; the books are $300 or $350 each

Of these artists, only Araki and Yanagi have any kind of consistent secondary market history. Araki's works are often available at auction, usually pricing between $1000 and $5000, though there have been some individual works as high as $45000; multi image collections/arrays have reached much higher. Yanagi's prints have been more scarce and have ranged in price between $4000 and $18000.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Ryoko Suzuki artist site (here)
  • Miwa Yanagi artist page (here)
Provocateurs of Japanese Photography
Films, Books, and Photographs
Through June 30th
Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts
526 West 26th Street
New York, NY 10001

Auction: Film, June 24, 2010 @Phillips

Phillips continues its 2010 series of themed sales later this week with a selection of works entitled "Film". The sale includes mostly shots from film sets and celebrity portraits, with a heavy dose of Marilyn Monroe. Out of a total of 190 lots on offer, there are 128 lots of photography mixed in, with a total High estimate for photography of $564400. (Catalog cover at right, via Phillips.)

Here's the statistical breakdown:

Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including $10000): 123
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): $485400

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between $10000 and $50000): 5
Total Mid Estimate: $79000

Total High Lots (high estimate above $50000): 0
Total High Estimate: NA
The top lot by High estimate is lot 108, Youssef Nabil, Rossy De Palma, Madrid, 20o2, at $18000-22000. (Image at right, via Phillips.)

The following is the list of the photographers represented by three or more lots in this sale:
Ernst Haas (8)
Dennis Hopper (6)
Lawrence Schiller (6)
Ruth Orkin (5)
Gregory Crewdson (4)
Burt Glinn (4)
Horst P. Horst (4)
Bert Stern (4)
Firooz Zahedi (4)
Claude Gassian (3)
Allan Grant (3)
Yousuf Karsh (3)
Benn Mitchell (3)

The complete lot by lot catalog can be found here.

June 24th

Phillips De Pury & Company
450 West 15th Street
New York, NY 10011

Monday, June 21, 2010

Lynn Geesaman @Richardson

JTF (just the facts): A total of 11 large scale color works, framed in black and matted, and hung in the main gallery space. All of the works are square format chromogenic prints, made between 2007 and 2009. The prints come in two sizes: 28x28, in editions of 15, and 38x38, in editions of 6; there are 9 small prints and 2 large prints in the show. The images were taken in various gardens in France, England, and the US (Kentucky and Louisiana). (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: I've always thought that Lynn Geesaman's photographs were about the simple poetry of tranquil gardens. Her works have a dreamy, almost hallucinatory, feel to them, a shimmering painterly effect that softens the formality of long rows of trees, perfectly pruned hedges, or unusual botanical specimens. Her pictures capture a world of hazy beauty, a delicate mix of Atget and throw back Pictorialism.
What I found surprising in this show is that for the first time I saw a conceptual edge in her pictures, a move beyond the decorative to something more challenging and subtly ironic. Shaped trees and carefully orchestrated vistas have been enhanced by brilliant exaggerated colors: bright orange, deep red, vibrant green and smashing pink. The dissonance isn't overpowering, but somehow the rules of landscape photography seem to have been broken; the gardens have become more stylized and fabricated, the human hand controlling the natural world seems more obvious, the blurry romance a little more sinister. The most unexpected picture in the show is one from the Hampton Court Gardens in England, where a cluster of perfect conical evergreens sits in front of a jumble of tall scaffolding covered in red cloth. This is the first image I have ever seen by Geesaman that so overtly contrasts the natural and the artificial; it still glistens with glimmery light, but we're a long way from artful reflections in still ponds. Seeing this image entirely changed my mindset, and when I circled back to see the other pictures once again, I was suddenly much more attuned to the ways in which the view was being manipulated, both by the garden designer and the photographer.
I have always been intrigued by the unique diffusion process that creates Geesaman's signature hazy effect, but these new works forced me to look beyond the obvious beauty of the idealized gardens and to see how the artist was adding a nuance of commentary underneath that I had entirely missed before. I'm sure many viewers will still be enthralled by the easy loveliness of these pictures and will continue to enjoy them at face value. But I think the unlikely conceptual skepticism and the tiniest hint of absurdity give these pictures another richer level of meaning that takes them away from the conventional and toward something quite a bit more thought provoking.
Collector's POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The smaller 28x28 prints are $4250 (including the frame). The larger 38x38 prints are $6700 (including the frame). Geesaman's work does not have much auction history, so determining a secondary market price window is difficult. As such, gallery retail is likely the best option for interested collectors at this point.
Luckily, Geesaman's work is represented by quite a few galleries around the US. In addition to Yancey Richardson in New York, her representatives include Robert Koch in San Francisco (here), Catherine Edelman in Chicago (here), Thomas Barry in Minneapolis (here), Scheinbaum & Russek in Santa Fe (here), and Jackson in Atlanta (here).
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Book: Gardenscapes, 2003 (here)
Lynn Geesaman
Through July 9th
535 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011

Friday, June 18, 2010

Auction Results: Photographie, June 16, 2010 @Van Ham

The results from the various owner photography sale at Van Ham in Cologne were generally uneventful. 32 lots were withdrawn from the auction, so I've recalculated the statistical measurements on the reduced totals, as if the missing lots had never been on offer in the first place. Vintage August Sander portraits were the best performers in the sale. Overall, the Total Sale Proceeds missed the estimate by a decent margin. (Van Ham does not provide an estimate range in most cases, just a single estimate number, so this figure is used as the High estimate in our calculations).

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

Total Lots: 259
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: 445750€
Total Lots Sold: 180
Total Lots Bought In: 79
Buy In %: 30.50%
Total Sale Proceeds: 364338€

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

Low Total Lots: 252
Low Sold: 177
Low Bought In: 75
Buy In %: 29.76%
Total Low Estimate: 365750€
Total Low Sold: 309963€

Mid Total Lots: 7
Mid Sold: 3
Mid Bought In: 4
Buy In %: 57.14%
Total Mid Estimate: 80000€
Total Mid Sold: 54375€

High Total Lots: 0
High Sold: NA
High Bought In: NA
Buy In %: NA
Total High Estimate: 0€
Total High Sold: NA
The top lot by High estimate was lot 17, Erwin Blumenfeld, Blumenfeld Color (portfolio), 1984, at 18000-20000€; it did not sell. The top outcome of the sale was lot 126, August Sander, Sänger u. Schauspieler, 1928, at 52500€. (Image at right, top, via Van Ham.)
83.89% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above the estimate. There were a total of 11 surprises in the sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate):
Lot 84, Karim Saab, Foto Anschlag, 1988, at 7500€
Lot 86, Erich Kukies, Der Verkauf einer Seele bringt in keinem Fall genug, 2009, at 3625€
Lot 88, Georges Leuzinger, Rio de Janiero, 1865, at 6625€
Lot 95, Richard Petersen, Dresden 1945/Blick vom Rathausturm, 1945, at 3000€
Lot 101, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Das Bäumchen, 1929, at 32500€ (Image at right, bottom, via Van Ham.)
Lot 107, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Waldschlag, 1957, at 3750€
Lot 125, August Sander, Der Hausarzt, 1906, at 6250€
Lot 126, August Sander, Sänger u. Schauspieler, 1928, at 52500€
Lot 127, August Sander, Junglehrer, 1928, at 13750€
Lot 130, August Sander, Winkeladvokat, 1952, at 35000€
Lot 260, Hilmar Pabel, Dresden, 1949, at 1625€

Complete lot by lot results can be found here.

Van Ham Kunstauktionen
Schönhauser Straße 10 - 16
D - 50968 Köln

Auction Results: Signature Fine Art Photography, June 9, 2010 @Heritage

Thanks to the Robert Mapplethorpe Calla Lily at right, the overall results of the recent Heritage various owner photographs sale in Dallas came out much better than they otherwise might have. Heritage continues to suffer from a large percentage of its lots (roughly two thirds in this case) selling below their estimate range. But with the help of the Mapplethorpe more than tripling its high estimate, the Total Sale Proceeds came in close to the bottom of the range.

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

Total Lots: 202
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: $500000
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: $732400
Total Lots Sold: 137
Total Lots Bought In: 65
Buy In %: 32.18%
Total Sale Proceeds: $490237

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

Low Total Lots: 190
Low Sold: 138
Low Bought In: 62
Buy In %: 32.63%
Total Low Estimate: $420400
Total Low Sold: $167322

Mid Total Lots: 11
Mid Sold: 8
Mid Bought In: 3
Buy In %: 27.27%
Total Mid Estimate: $262000
Total Mid Sold: $278103

High Total Lots: 1
High Sold: 1
High Bought In: 0
Buy In %: 0.00%
Total High Estimate: $50000
Total High Sold: $44813

The top lot by High estimate was lot 74167, Herb Ritts, Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood, 1989, at $30000-50000; it sold for $44813. The top outcome of the sale was lot 74132, Robert Mapplethorpe, Calla Lily, 1984, at $131450. (Image at right, top, via Heritage.)

A disappointing 62.77% of the lots that sold had proceeds below their estimate. There were a total of three surprises in this sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate):

Lot 74091, George Hurrell, Shannon Tweed, 1995, at $1135
Lot 74132, Robert Mapplethorpe, Calla Lily, 1984, at $131450
Lot 74146, Helmut Newton, Another World... of dressing, 1983, at $3107

Complete lot by lot results can be found here.

Heritage Auctions
Design District Annex
1518 Slocum Street
Dallas, TX 75207

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Book: Phillip Toledano, Days With My Father

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2010 by PQ Blackwell (here) and Chronicle Books (here). 92 pages, with 45 color images. (Cover shot at right, via Amazon.)

Comments/Context: Phillip Toledano's Days With My Father is one of those rare photo projects that is perfectly suited to book form, where the sum of the parts ends up being significantly more than the individual pieces taken on their own. The combination of the images, the text, and the layout together creates something altogether more powerful than this humble volume might suggest on the surface.

In many ways, this is a classic story: a father at the end of his life, and a son trying to ask the questions that never got asked in all the preceding years. It's a tale of the mysteries and challenges of aging, the search for connection, the exposing of real selves, and the moments of tenderness and love that come full circle when the roles are reversed and the child takes care of the parent.

All of the images in this small book were taken in the father's sparse apartment, furnished with a single green upholstered chair, a few scattered tables, some gauzy curtains, and a bathroom with a tub and mirror. It's a small, bare space, simple and functional. Toledano's father is seen living his last days in this place, looking out windows, reading the paper, taking a bath, writing notes to himself, and telling stories. Most of the images are portraits, capturing the subtleties in the father's range of emotions, on both the good days and bad. There are parallels here to similar family projects by Larry Sultan, Doug DuBois, and Mitch Epstein (among many others I'm sure), but with an even more taut resonance and delicate intimacy.

Toledano's accompanying text is nearly as good as the pictures. It is unadorned and honest, eloquent in its openness and revealing in its common truths. While the pictures would have successfully stood on their own, the addition of the narrative makes the images even more moving and poignant, without becoming melodramatic or overdone. The sequencing adds highs and lows to the personal story, the emotional rollercoaster of discovering long hidden details, of moments of genuine laughter, and of the intense sorrow and helpless emptiness of seeing the parent slowly deteriorate and finally die.

In a world of staged and fabricated emotions, those on display here are sincere and authentic, and all the more real and memorable as a result. It isn't often that a group of pictures so expressively captures the universal heart-breaking moments of transition in our lives. While the word "page-turner" is usually reserved for fast-paced thrillers, I found this photography book to be as engrossing and enveloping as any mystery; once you get started, you won't be able to put it down.

Collector’s POV: I first came across the works from this series at a group show at Hous Projects earlier this winter. At that time, digital c-prints, 12x16, in editions of 6, were priced at $1700 each. I don't believe Toledano has permanent gallery representation in New York, so interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via his website.

Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Days With My Father site (here)
  • Reviews: Conscientious (here), Shape+Colour (here)
  • Feature: Photo Booth (here)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography @MoMA

JTF (just the facts): A historical group show, containing 211 works from 106 photographers, spanning the period from 1850 to the present. The exhibit is roughly organized in chronological order, filling all six rooms in the Steichen galleries on the third floor of the museum. All of the works on display were made by women and come from the museum's permanent collection. The exhibit was curated by Roxana Marcoci, Sarah Meister, and Eva Respini.

The following photographers have been included in the show, with the number of works on view in parentheses:
Room 1

Frances Benjamin Johnston (8)
Gertrude Käsebier (8, including works in a glass case)
Julia Margaret Cameron (3)
Anne Brigman (2)
Anna Atkins (1)
Clementina, Lady Hawarden (1)
Laura Gilpin (1)
Margarethe Mather (1)
Eva Watson-Schütze (1)

Room 2

Tina Modotti (5)
Imogen Cunningham (3)
Germaine Krull (3)
Margaret Bourke-White (2)
Lucia Moholy (2)
Leni Riefenstahl (2)
Berenice Abbott (1)
Gertrude Arndt (1)
Ilse Bing (1)
Marianne Breslauer (1)
Gertrude Leroy Brown (1)
Claude Cahun (1)
Maya Deren (1)
Florence Henri (1)
Hannah Höch (1)
Lotte Jacobi (1)
Helen Levitt (1)
Dora Maar (1)
Lee Miller (1)
Toshiko Okanoue (1)
Kate Stenitz (1)
Grete Stern (1)

Room 3

Dorothea Lange (17)
Helen Levitt (14)
Berenice Abbott (3)
Louise Dahl-Wolfe (2)
Lisette Model (2)
Rogi André (1)
Emmy Andriesse (1)
Claudia Andujar (1)
Esther Bubley (1)
Trude Fleischmann (1)
Barbara Morgan (1)
Marion Post Wolcott (1)

Room 4

Diane Arbus (8)
Melissa Shook (8)
Bernd & Hilla Becher (1 group of 9)
Lois Conner (2)
Jan Groover (2)
Deborah Fleming Caffery (1)
Judy Dater (1)
Jay Defeo (1)
Mary Beth Edeleson (1)
VALIE EXPORT (1 group of 6)
Martine Frank (1)
Nancy Hellebrand (1)
Miyako Ishiuchi (1)
Yayoi Kusama (1)
Marketa Luskacova (1)
Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe (1)
Gabriele & Helmut Nothhelfer (1)
Adrian Piper (1 group of 6)
Sylvia Plachy (1)
Lucia Radochonska (1)
Martha Rosler (1)
Zofia Rydet (1)
Carolee Schneeman (1)
Ming Smith (1)

Room 5

Nan Goldin (10)
Barbara Kruger (1, plus 3 in glass case)
Rosalind Solomon (4)
Mary Frey (2)
Tina Barney (1)
Lynda Benglis (1, in glass case)
Gay Block (1)
Gran Fury (1, in glass case)
Guerilla Girls (1, in glass case)
Rachel Harrison (1)
Louise Lawler (1)
Sherrie Levine (1)
Sally Mann (1)
Margaret Moulton (1)
Anne Noggle (1)
Howardena Pindell (1)
Sheron Rupp (1)
Gundula Schulze-Eldowy (1)
Cindy Sherman (1)
Laurie Simmons (1)
Sage Sohier (1)
Anne Turyn (1)
Bertien Van Manen (1)
JoAnn Verburg (1)
Hannah Wilke (1 in glass case)

Room 6

Judith Joy Ross (10)
Valérie Belin (1)
Tanyth Berkeley (1)
Elinor Carucci (1)
Rineke Dijkstra (1 group of 11)
Katy Grannan (1)
Roni Horn (1 group of 4)
An-My Le (1)
Annette Messager (1 group installation)
Karin Appollonia Müller (1)
Barbara Probst (1 diptych)
Collier Schorr (1)
Berni Searle (1)
Cindy Sherman (1)
Lorna Simpson (1 group installation)
Kiki Smith (1)
Carrie Mae Weems (1 group of 14)
Comments/Context: One way to think about the history of photography is to imagine it is a massive, monolithic database of imagery that can be searched and sorted using a variety of keywords. Exhibitions can be drawn from the database using slices of like works, often grouped by geography, time period, photographic process, subject matter, or movement, or some combination thereof (1920s German portraiture or 1970s American color etc.). While the ideas may be abstract, we have all come to accept these characteristics as valid identifiers, in terms of using them to understand trends in the evolution of the medium.
What we really have here is a new twist on the annual refreshing of the permanent collection display. Starting from the unfocused list of all photographs ever made, this show uses three filters to generate its contents: photographs in the museum's permanent collection, photographs made by women, and then, for the most part, photographs made of women (primarily female portraits). In general, the other subject matter types (landscapes, nudes, still lifes, city scenes, abstracts, process exercises etc) have been stripped out.
I must admit up front that when I heard about this show, my first reaction was that it was a pretty thin and unimaginative premise for a show that would be on display at the MoMA for over 10 months. In all of our years of collecting, we have never once selected a work based on the gender of its maker, nor have we paid any attention to religious beliefs, race, sexual orientation, or other social modifiers when evaluating the merits of the work at hand - these characteristics just don't seem to have any bearing on or relevance to our choices. We have plenty of images by women photographers from all periods in our collection, but they are there not first and foremost because they were made by women, but because the pictures moved us in some meaningful way. So let's just say that I came into this exhibit with a healthy dose of skepticism that such a thematic construct could be particularly enlightening. I'm happy to report that the show delivers more than I expected in terms of ideas, and that there are some unusual conclusions to be drawn from this somewhat obvious intellectual exercise.

The show is organized chronologically, and the first room contains images representative of the entire 19th century and Pictorialism, beginning with an Anna Atkins fern cyanotype and anchored by portraits by Julia Margaret Cameron and images of motherhood by Gertrude Käsebier. (Julia Margaret Cameron, Untitled, 1867, at right above, second from top.) All of these works are rooted in the traditional and allegorical roles of women, with family and soft-focus femininity the main subjects.
The second room is devoted to between the wars Modernism and the avant-garde. Many of the images on display are head shot portraits, but with a much more modern or Surreal aesthetic - short hair, challenging looks, and distortions. Works by Tina Modotti are the cornerstone of this section, a potent reminder of the political awakening that was taking place at that time. There are plenty of great abstracted images on view: Bourke-White's blast furnaces, Henri's windmills, and Krull's rail tracks and city scenes. (Margaret Bourke-White, Blast Furnaces, Ford Motor Company, c1930, and Florence Henri, Windmill Composition, No. 76, 1929, at right above, fourth and third from the top respectively.) While there are many unknown names here as well, I think a strong case has been made for the important influence of women photographers during this period. I only wish the Cunninghams that were chosen had been more memorable.
The next room, which ostensibly traces the period between roughly 1940 and 1965, is shockingly weak. Aside from the tremendous works by Dorothea Lange, it is as though this entire period is empty of standout women photographers - beyond the addition of Lisette Model, the two-decade hole is so large that you could drive a truck through it. (Dorothea Lange, Child and Her Mother, Wapato, Yakima Valley, Washington, 1939, at right above, fifth from the top). The Lange works on display are all of women, which seems a bit misleading to me, in that I'm not sure we can defend a particular focus on women in her work - there are just as many great works of men and children as there are of women, Migrant Mother notwithstanding. One whole wall in this room is devoted to the work of Helen Levitt, which is altogether appropriate; what is surprising is that it is her 1970s/1980s color work rather than her earlier and better known black and white images. The only logic I can come up with for why these works have been placed here is that stylistically, they flow better with this time period, even though they were made decades later, or perhaps the early works didn't have enough women in them. In any case, the color works are to be savored for their warmth and humor; I particularly enjoyed the snowcone seller, the telephone pole and the tilted phone booth all in one chaotic frame. (Helen Levitt, New York, 1977/2005, at right above, sixth from the top.)

The dead zone in this show continues all the way until Diane Arbus and Hilla Becher in the later 1960s, found in room 4. In this room, we start to see the real flowering of feminism, of women artists taking on subjects that are important to women with candor and directness, as well as a stronger overlay of conceptual artistic thinking. It is clear that the 1970s was the time when a distinct female point of view become readily apparent in photography. I particularly enjoyed the Carolee Schneeman grid of fragmented faces as well as the more subtle Jan Groovers hidden on the back of a dividing wall. (Jan Groover, Untitled, 1981, and Carolee Schneeman, Portrait Partials, 1970, at right above, eighth and seventh from the top respectively.) While there is a well known color Cindy Sherman from the early 1980s in this room, I was left dumbfounded as to why a classic black and white late 1970s Sherman film still was not included; it seems like such an obvious choice, given the tremendous influence of this series in the history of photography.

In the fifth room, which covers the last two decades of the 20th century, the women photographers really start to gain momentum, taking leadership positions in the forefront of the medium and in contemporary art more broadly. The bench is much deeper here, with Sherman, Kruger, Simmons, Levine, Lawler, and many others all in top form. The focus on women's issues is tighter and the collective voice is much more challenging and sarcastic. A group of images by Nan Goldin covers an entire wall and fills the room with harsh emotional intensity. The subtly scathing works of Mary Frey were a discovery for me; I particularly enjoyed a staged bedroom scene with the caption "Her routine was predictable. Somehow he found this reassuring." (Mary Frey, Untitled from Real Life Dreams, 1984-1987, at right above, ninth from the top.) Again, there are lots of portraits of women, examining women's lives with more caustic skepticism.
The last room of the show covers some of the same ground, while bringing us up to the present. The divided gallery is dominated by large pieces and multi-image series. In many ways, the current works seem like a further extrapolation on many of the same ideas, identities and types, just on a larger and riskier scale; the overall direction is however more diffuse and less obvious. I think the toughness and sheer strength of Carrie Mae Weems' installation blows everything else away in this room. (Carrie Mae Weems, Selection from From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried, 1995, at right.) That said, Rineke Dijkstra's series of portraits of the same girl over time (echoing at least in concept Nicholas Nixon's The Brown Sisters) is a surprisingly evocative coming of age story, complete with a baby at the end. I also found Valérie Belin's humongous, too-perfect head shot portrait of a mannequin delightfully disturbing. (Valérie Belin, Untitiled 03010905, 2003, at right below.) My only remaining questions were: where are Catherine Opie and Shirin Neshat? How could they have been omitted from this narrative? (I could probably make a case for Candida Höfer as well, although her lack of "women-focused" subject matter likely pushed her to the cutting room floor.) Overall, I found the last gallery much less coherent that I might have hoped; I think MoMA missed a chance to designate with some force who has been important in women's photography in the past 10 years.
Underneath it all, this is a routine rehanging of the permanent collection of photography. And yet, this exhibit seems less like an alternate history of photography, and more of a history of women's ideas about themselves, as embodied by changes in photographic output. If the distribution of the sexes in the galleries is any signpost as to who will find this show of particular interest, then women are undeniably drawn to this story; in nearly every room I was in, the ratio of women visitors to men visitors ran between 2 to 1 and 3 to 1.
This show is full of choices and challenges, barriers and emotions, with much more narrative than I ever would have expected. What I found most memorable about this show was the perhaps obvious idea that in the early 1970s we saw an explosion of innovation by women photographers, a flowering of self-examination that is still occurring and reverberating decades later. I also came away with the tentative conclusion that Diane Arbus was even more of a historical linchpin than I had given her credit for; given what I saw in this show, she emerges out of a long dry spell to create groundbreaking and iconic pictures. It appears there really was no other woman of her stature at that time until Cindy Sherman arrives on the scene several years later.
Make no mistake, this is an uneven show, with great works hung next to more forgettable pictures, and a spotty distribution of master photographers across time. But overall, the exhibit does uncover intriguing trends in the history of photography that can only be found when seen though the filter of gender. As such, I think its scholarly merits lie not so much in the specific works on view, but in the overarching waves of ideas that the chronological groupings expose.
Collector's POV: This kind of a broad museum survey isn't a great place for a discussion of gallery/auction prices or market dynamics. So we've highlighted a few favorites, but dispensed with the usual discussion of pricing trends.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Reviews: NY Times (here), New Yorker (here), FT (here)
  • Book: Modern Women: Women Artists at the Museum of Modern Art (here)
Through March 21, 2011

11 West 53rd Street
New York, NY 10019