Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Auction: Photographs, May 8, 2013 @Phillips London

The spring auction season in London gets going next week, starting with Phillips' various owner Photographs sale Wednesday. It's a broad, primarily mid-range sale, with few major anchor pieces or unexpected treasures. Overall, there are a total of 123 lots of photography available in the sale, with a Total High Estimate of £1676500.

Here's the statistical breakdown:

Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including £5000): 49
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): £182500

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between £5000 and £25000): 59
Total Mid Estimate: £714000

Total High Lots (high estimate above £25000): 15
Total High Estimate: £780000

The top photography lot by High estimate is lot 32, Nobuyoshi Araki, 77 works, n.d., estimated at £100000-120000. (Image at right, top, via Phillips.)

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

Robert Mapplethorpe (7)
Henri Cartier-Bresson (4)
Horst P. Horst (4)
David LaChapelle (4)

Other lots of interest include lot 39, Germaine Krull, Selected images, 1923-1927, estimated at £10000-15000 (image at right, middle), and lot 97, Adam Fuss, Untitled, 2006, estimated at £15000-20000 (image at right, bottom, both via Phillips).

The complete lot by lot catalog can be found here.

May 8th

Howick Place
London SW1P 1BB

Hannah Starkey, In the Company of Mothers @Bonakdar

JTF (just the facts): A total of 8 large scale color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung in the two gallery rooms on the second floor. All of the prints are c-prints, made in 2012 and 2013. Each work is sized 48x65 and is available in an edition of 5+2AP. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Hannah Starkey's photographs have always turned on the elusiveness of narrative, placing young women in a variety of modern settings and capturing the traces of subtle moods and introspective emotions running beneath their everyday lives. In her newest pictures, her women return to their urban locales, but with children added to the mix, they now take on the implied role of mother/protector. Starkey's use of slowed down, cinematic observation is the same, but the tiny gestures between mother and child bring a layer of tenderness and connection to the uncertain situations.
In Starkey's previous works, she often used elements of setting and props (windows, mirrors, sunglasses etc.) to signal different potential frames of mind, running the gamut from gloomy boredom to self-assured confidence. In these pictures, the paired interaction with the child provides the emotional catalyst. Women cradle young children, hold them in their arms, stand protectively nearby, drape an arm over a nearby shoulder, or merely keep an eye on a wandering kid while trudging along in the snow with too many shopping bags. This particular batch of images is also particularly strong in terms of formal composition - criss-cross girders and a crane with ladders tower over a mother and child, while a bright blue and orange wall provides a backdrop for both a clash of scarf and beads and a gentle touch. Muted visual trickery is often at work as well, with a mother reaching out to the sky of a painted brick mural and a mother/daughter team seen through the reflected distortions of aquarium glass.
Starkey's mothers don't seem to lead messy chaotic lives - they appear remarkably calm and in control given the pressures of the job. It's clear that these narratives are centered on the nuanced emotional states of the mothers (not the children), and with just a few carefully placed clues and details, we are able to spin up all kinds of potential storylines for these women. Starkey's subjects are facing the universal challenges of modern urban parenting, but their individual paths and choices are left deftly open-ended.
Collector's POV: Each of the prints in the show is priced at £12000. Starkey's work has only recently begun to appear in the secondary markets, primarily in the London sales; prices have ranged from roughly $2000 to $7000.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Interview: Telegraph, 2011 (here)

Hannah Starkey, In the Company of Mothers
Through May 25th

Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
521 West 21st Street
New York, NY 10011

Monday, April 29, 2013

Auction: Photographs, May 7, 2013 @Bonhams New York

Bonhams has a various owner Photographs sale coming up next week in New York, with a broad selection of mostly lower priced 20th century black and white works. Overall, there are 135 photographs on offer, with a total High estimate of $1204500.

Here's the statistical breakdown:

Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including $10000): 113
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): $633500

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between $10000 and $50000): 20
Total Mid Estimate: $396000

Total High Lots (high estimate above $50000): 2
Total High Estimate: $175000

The top lot by High estimate is lot 27, Edward Weston, Fiftieth Anniversary Portfolio, 1902-1952, c1952, estimated at $60000-90000.

Below is the list of photographers represented by 4 or more lots in the sale (with the number of lots in parentheses):

Ansel Adams (11)
Ruth Bernhard (8)
Sebastiao Salgado (8)
Manuel Alvarez Bravo (6)
Brett Weston (5)
Harry Callahan (4)
Robert Doisneau (4)
Andre Kertesz (4)
O. Winston Link (4)

Other items of interest include lot 107, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut, 1998, estimated at $65000-85000 (image at right, top, via Bonhams), lot 109 John Coplans, Self-Portrait (Front Hand III), 1987, estimated at $5000-7000 (image at right, middle, via Bonhams), and lot 105, Garry Winogrand, Park Avenue, 1959/late 1970s, estimated at $20000-30000 (image at right, bottom, via Bonhams).

The complete lot by lot catalog can be found here.

May 7th

580 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10022

Charles Fréger, Wilder Mann @Milo and @Hermès

JTF (just the facts): A pair of exhibits at separate locations, both showing examples from the same body of work. There are a total of 55 color photographs on view (27 at Milo and 28 at Hermès), framed in brown wood and variously matted (the large and medium prints are unmatted, the small prints are matted). All of the works are inkjet/archival pigment prints, made between 2010-2011. The prints come in three sizes: 57x43 and 40x33 (together in editions of 5+2AP), and 18x15 (in editions of 8+2AP or 2+2AP). A monograph of this body of work was recently published by Dewi Lewis (here). (Installation shots at right - the top two images are at Yossi Milo, the bottom two at Hermès.)

Comments/Context: Charles Fréger has built his photographic career on documenting human subcultures with an almost anthropological rigor. Water polo players, majorettes, sumo wrestlers, Chinese opera singers, French legionnaires, they've all been immersed in his close, analytical scrutiny. In his newest project, Fréger wanders the forgotten paths of tribal Europe, covering 19 countries and capturing the mythic beast costumes of pagan festivals and folk rituals. His portraits rediscover an enduring primal connection to animals and seasons, seen through the systematic deadpan gaze of August Sander or the Bechers.

Set against grassy hillsides, rocky mountains, or snowy meadows, Fréger's subjects stand like menacing statues, seemingly formed from the raw materials of the surrounding natural world. Fur, bones, racks of horns, evergreen boughs, woven straw, and clumps of hair are put together with beads, bells, sack cloth, streamers and other decorations, creating Earthy gods and goddesses born of traditional beliefs. In some cases, the resulting larger than life figures resemble a bear, a deer, or some other vaguely recognizable but stylized part-animal. In others, the bulky creatures seem to represent some aspect of man's relationship to the land or simply the trees and fields given a quasi-human form. The costumes are indeed wild (as the title of the show implies) and often scary, evoking respect for the rough, often uncontrollable power of the natural world. Together, they form a kind of typology of disappearing culture, as solstice myths and seasonal holidays are crowded out by the pace of modern life. Seen in Fréger's structured style, the portraits show off both the quirks of geographical regions and the universality of the underlying impulses.

One of the questions that Fréger's work raises for me is a more general one of how we are to critically judge what we might call "contemporary anthropological" photography, especially when it consistently opts for a straightforward, head-on visual style. Like Fréger, Phyllis Galembo has made similar kinds of pictures of the ritual costumes of Haiti and West Africa, while Katarzyna Majak has tracked down and photographed the traditional female healers of Poland (to name just two that have a seemingly direct link to Fréger's chosen subject matter here). In a certain way, nearly any kind of human subculture might potentially reveal interesting eccentricities, patterns and truths when examined in such a manner, but I think it's the in-between ideas and discoveries about ourselves that make the larger bodies of work durably memorable. As such, Fréger's images are less about frightening masks and furry beasts, and more about an elemental human wildness which refuses to be smoothed over by modernity. Across wide disparities of land and culture, our fundamental connection to the rhythms of the natural world is remarkably strong.

Collector's POV: The works in these shows are priced in as follows. At Yossi Milo, the 57x43 prints are $10500, the 40x33 prints are $5500, and the 18x15 prints are either $1400 or $1600 and are sold in groups of 4 or more. The works on view at Hermès have no posted prices. Fréger's work has not yet reached the secondary markets with any regularity, so gallery retail is likely the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Features/Reviews: National Geographic (here), NY Times Lens (here), Slate Behold (here), Guardian (here)
  • Interview: Artlog (here)
Charles Fréger, Wilder Mann
Through May 18th (Milo)
Through June 8th (Hermès)

Yossi Milo Gallery
245 Tenth Avenue
New York, NY 10001

The Gallery at Hermès
691 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10065

Friday, April 26, 2013

Michele Abeles, English for Secretaries @47 Canal

JTF (just the facts): A total of 7 black and white and color works (including 1 triptych), framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made in 2013. Sizes for individual prints/panels range from 32x24 to 47x34 (or reverse), and all of the works are available in editions of 5. While the majority of the photographs on view are displayed in a standard manner, one work includes an oil paint drawing on the protective outer glass and another is covered in dark brown plexiglas. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: The works in Michele Abeles' new show pick up right where she left off with her contributions to the New Photography 2012 exhibit at the MoMA (review here). So much so that there are direct visual connections between the recent pieces and those from a year ago - reused image fragments and common motifs (a rose, a palm leaf, a rock, some Japanese text, a Spanish language newspaper, colored tints), sent back through the artistic blender and reborn in new iterations and incarnations.  It's as if the conversation never actually stopped - it just continued to shift and morph over time, reprising some old themes/ideas and adding in plenty of new ones.
Abeles has said that her works consider how we view imagery on computer screens, and it's clear that her crowded, overlapped compositions imply a sense of interrupt-driven, tangent-following distraction. Her juxtapositions swirl and recur, flattened into one continuous plane of imagery that can be peeled back layer by layer. New elements in these works include a while subway tile-like graphic overlay, stenciled letters, transparent bubbles, strands of looping silver chain, gradient color blocks, and the ultimate cliché of the Internet, the kitty picture. These images and effects stutter and repeat in mash-ups that seem like snapshots in fluid, screen-mediated, image-saturated time.
Abeles has also introduced two new effects in this recent body of work. One of her compositions is covered in almost opaque dark brown plexigas, making it hard to decipher the images underneath. At first, I found this annoying illegible, but after a moment or two, I found the frustration to be quite thoughtful, as though someone had turned the volume down on my image feed and I was being forced to strain (i.e pay closer attention) to hear it. Another work brings the hand of the artist back to the center of focus, overlaying a hand painted female figure on top of a chaotic juxtaposed concoction. This introduces a jarring contrast of tactile, gestural imperfection to the slick, computer-filtered environment, opening up an avenue for bringing personal, physical intervention back into her mix.
In a few cases, I found the ideas Abeles is wrestling with more compelling than their end results, but it's clear that she's exploring some new territory here, trying to come to terms with the compressing weight of imagery around us and how is it affecting the ways in which we process those inputs. Her work feels something like an opportunistic Internet organism, ever adapting, mutating and recombining.
Collector's POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The individual prints were priced at $4500 or $5300, while the triptych was $15000. I use the past tense in this case, as I was told that there was nothing available at this point. Abeles' photographs have not yet reached the secondary markets, so gallery retail remains the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • MoMA New Photography 2012 (here)
Through May 19th
47 Canal Street
New York, NY 10002

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Checklist: 4/25/13

Current New York Photography Shows
New reviews added this week in red.
(Rating: Artist/Title: Venue: Closing Date: link to review)


ONE STAR: Chuck Close: Eykyn Maclean: May 24: review
ONE STAR: After Photoshop: Met: May 27: review
TWO STARS: William Eggleston: Met: July 28: review


ONE STAR: William Klein: Howard Greenberg: April 27: review
ONE STAR: David (Chim) Seymour: ICP: May 5: review
THREE STARS: Roman Vishniac: ICP: May 5: review
THREE STARS: Bill Brandt: MoMA: August 12: review


TWO STARS: Thomas Ruff: David Zwirner: April 27: review
TWO STARS: Gordon Matta-Clark: David Zwirner: May 4: review
ONE STAR: Daido Moriyama: Steven Kasher: May 4: review
ONE STAR: Peter Piller: Andrew Kreps: May 18: review

SoHo/Lower East Side/Downtown

ONE STAR: Chuck Kelton/Eric William Carroll: Bosi Contemporary: April 28: review
ONE STAR: Paul McDonough: Sasha Wolf: May 5: review
ONE STAR: Hano Otten: Janet Borden: May 10: review

Elsewhere Nearby

No reviews at this time.

Forward Auction Calendar
New auctions added this week in red.
(Sale Date: Sale Title: Auction House: link to catalog)

May 7: Photographs: Bonhams (New York): catalog
May 8: Photographs: Phillips (London): catalog
May 15: Photographs: Christie's (London): catalog

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Auction Results: Fine Photographs & Photobooks, April 18, 2013 @Swann

Last Thursday was seemingly a good day for 19th century Chinese photography, given the results at Swann's various owner photographs and photobooks sale that day. While the rest of the sale muddled along, the Chinese lots (both by known photographers and vernacular) performed exceedingly well, with many doubling their high estimates. Overall, the Buy-in rate hovered over 33% and the Total Sale Proceeds fell under the aggregate pre-sale low estimate.

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

Total Lots: 301
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: $1272700
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: $1884050
Total Lots Sold: 199
Total Lots Bought In: 102
Buy In %: 33.89%
Total Sale Proceeds: $1191594

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

Low Total Lots: 269
Low Sold: 178
Low Bought In: 91
Buy In %: 33.83%
Total Low Estimate: $1260050
Total Low Sold: $823554

Mid Total Lots: 32
Mid Sold: 21
Mid Bought In: 11
Buy In %: 34.38%
Total Mid Estimate: $624000
Total Mid Sold: $368040

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 tied between two lots: lot 24, Southworth & Hawes, Daguerreotype of blue-eyed woman, c1850, estimated at $30000-45000, and lot 79, Edward Weston, Charis (nude), 1935, estimated at $35000-45000. The Southworth & Hawes did not sell and the Weston was the top outcome of the sale at $50400.

Only 66.33% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above the estimate range, but there were a total of 12 surprises in this sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate):

Lot 6, Felice Beato, folio of 7 photographs, 1860, estimated at $5000-7500, sold at $19200
Lot 8, Felice Beato, 4 part panorama of Odin Bay, 1862, estimated at $4000-6000, sold at $18000 (image at right, bottom, via Swann)
Lot 9, (Canton, China), suite of 9 photographs, 1870s, estimated at $1500-2500, sold at $6720
Lot 15, (China), 45 small formal photographs, 1867-1870s, estimated at $1000-1500, sold at $6960
Lot 16, (China), album containing 39 photographs, 1881, estimated at $2500-3500, sold at $24000
Lot 18, (China and Japan), portfolio of 50 photographs, 1890s, estimated at $3000-4500, sold at $18000
Lot 20, (Asia and the Americas), 180 carte-de-viste portraits, 1870s, estimated at $2500-3500, sold at $16800
Lot 21, (Asia), album containing 44 photographs, 1880s, estimated at $4000-6000, sold at $20400
Lot 38, Eadweard Muybridge, 2 plates from Animal Locomotion, 1887, estimated at $1800-2200, sold at $5520
Lot 110, W. Eugene Smith, Saipan, 1945, estimated at $9000-12000, sold at $26400 (image at right, top, via Swann)
Lot 224, George Platt Lynes, 100 photographs from the New York City Ballet, 1938-1951, estimated at $2500-3500, sold at $36000
Lot 277, Eliot Porter, Maple and Birch Trunks, New Hampshire, 1956/1980s, estimated at $1800-2200, sold at $4560

Complete lot by lot results can be found linked from here.

Swann Galleries
104 East 25th Street
New York, NY 10010

Chuck Close Photo Maquettes @Eykyn Maclean

JTF (just the facts): A total of 26 black and white and color works, framed in white/blond wood and unmatted, and hung in the front and back galleries and the connecting hallway space. The show also includes 1 silkscreen, 1 woodcut, 1 etching, and several studio photographs of the artist at work on specific paintings. The unique photo maquettes are either gelatin silver, black and white Polaroid, or color Polaroid prints, often mounted to foamcore and covered with tape, ink, graphite and other materials. The final works range in size from roughly 6x5 to 40x30, and were made between 1975 and 2012. In general, the maquettes are single images, although there is one set of 4 maquettes hung as a group. No photography is allowed in the galleries, so the installation shots at right are courtesy Eykyn Maclean; the artworks themselves are ©Chuck Close, courtesy Pace Gallery. A catalog of the exhibit is available from the gallery for $40.
Comments/Context: This tightly controlled retrospective of Chuck Close's intermediate photo maquettes is a crash course in artistic decision making. The works are the physical remains of his systematic process, the evidence of in-between steps and conceptual iterations along the way to the creation of his larger paintings. Seeing four decades of this richly physical raw material hung together highlights the evolving "how" of Close's work and gives clues to the changing nature of his artistic eye.

Aside from the precise detail afforded by his 24x20 Polaroid camera, Close's photographic portraits aren't particularly memorable, even when they capture the faces of famous artists or his own. Straight-on head shots against blank backgrounds are the norm, with slight variations in the turn of a head, a full profile, the angle of the light, or the color the backdrop the only tweaks to his consistent approach. Masking tape is used to crop in from the edge of the image, in some cases allowing the subject a little space to breathe, while in others, the frame squeezes in with claustrophobic snugness.

But the real interest in these maquettes lies in the grid lines. Starting in the mid 1970s, Close overlaid the source photographs with graphpaper-like pencil-thin grids, cutting the facial imagery into discrete boxes, each an individual fragment of visual information. His grids began as rigidly horizontal and vertical patterns, like a screen door, and over the early years, he experimented with different square sizes and spacings, generating varying sized image elements that could then be executed in sharp detail or more abstract blurs (like fingerprints or pigment marks). Seen up close, the decisions he had to make about where grid lines intersected in relation to the features of his subjects are fascinating (i.e. does the pupil of an eye fall in the center of the square or is it split between two squares? and how does that decision impact other joints and edges in the rest of the composition?). By the mid 1980s, Close turned the axis and introduced angled lines that rotate the squares into diamonds. Again, he iteratively tuned the spacing of the grids into smaller and larger elements, and placed line intersections at exact points, allowing the individual elements to be built into larger adjacent forms or forcing them into new shatter systems. The result is an approach that is at once elegantly simple in its conception, but that allows for nearly infinite complexity in its application.

Taken together, the maquettes prove that Close's career long study of analog pixelization has been extremely rigorous and thoughtful. In an age when photographic pixelization has become so commonplace, these works show that Close was way ahead of his time in terms of carefully puzzling over the problems of (and opportunities in) image fragmentation, taking foundation ideas from Pointillism and Impressionism and reconsidering them in a more machined manner. In the end, what's exciting is that there is still more conceptual exploring to do in this area - hang one of these maquettes next to a massive Thomas Ruff JPEG and there will be plenty of common thinking to be observed.

Collector's POV: The individual maquettes in this show are priced at either $85000 or $125000, with the set of 4 maquettes of Keith priced at $225000. Several of the works are NFS. Close's photographs have become more consistently available in the secondary markets in recent years, with prices ranging between roughly $2000 (works in large editions) and $300000 (generally large multi-part works).

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

Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Features/Reviews: Elle (here), Interview (here), Huffington Post (here)
Through May 24th
23 East 67th Street
New York, NY 10065

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Peter Piller, Umschläge @Kreps

JTF (just the facts): A total of 25 color and 12 black and white photographs, variously framed/unframed, and hung in the divided gallery space. The color works are archival pigment prints mounted on alu-dibond, framed in white and unmatted, and made in 2011/2012. Each print is sized 25x33 and is available in an edition of 6. (The color works look like diptychs, but they are printed as single images.) The black and white works consist of 2 sets of 6 archival pigment prints, unframed and pinned directly to the wall, and made in 2011. The individual prints are also sized 25x33, and the sets are available in editions of 6. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: In recent years, the mining of archival visual material has grown into its own subgenre of contemporary photography. Drawing on the appropriation and recontextualization techniques of the Pictures Generation artists, newer names are unearthing photographs from any number of eclectic and forgotten sources and repurposing them in ever evolving forms of expression. The advent of high quality digital scanning seems to have catalyzed a flowering of experimentation and reinterpretation.

Peter Piller has been working with found images for more than 20 years at this point, and this show brings together two new bodies of work that play with unlikely juxtaposition. The first project pairs the front and back covers of an East German military magazine, each work a kitchy diptych of weaponry and a pin-up girl, with the original text covered by brightly colored geometric shapes. Modest, good looking young women pose in skirts and bikinis, exuding a subtle kind of chaste glamour, flanked by fighter jets, missile launchers, and amphibious trucks. The combinations are surprisingly varied, covering a wide range of military machinery and tactics: frogmen, winter skiing, rock climbers, rifle sharpshooters, water bridges, rubber rafts, and parachutes, each joined with an enticing 1970s era beauty. The works are like caricatures of male desire/interest, made all the more ridiculous by their original reality. They feel like a more restrained form of Robert Heinecken's magazine interventions, or a conceptual sibling of Anne Collier's recent work.

The second project puts together black and white post card images of destroyed World War I battlefields with cropped images of crashing waves taken from a 1920s geography textbook. Both have a sense of implicit violence, of power and force either poised for action or already unleashed. To my eye, the scarred landscapes somehow make the waves look more menacing, while at the same time, their grandeur makes the flattened, pockmarked wastelands look like the height of human folly. Piller has deftly matched these two groups of images, finding just the right balance without letting one dominate the other; the result is a satisfying back and forth rhythm.

At least in these two bodies of work, Piller's brand of archive mining seems rooted in a particular national history rather than a more universal, postmodern global reality. Part of what makes his pairings interesting is their German backstory, their context as much a part of what the images represent as the pictures themselves. Reconsidering that underlying identity or inherent point of view gives the works some edge, making his visual juxtapositions that much richer and more complex.
Collector's POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The individual color prints are priced at €3500 each, while the sets of 6 black and white prints are priced at €15000 each. Piller's work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Features/Reviews: NY Times (here), Gallerist NY (here), Daily Beast (here)
Through May 18th
525 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011

Monday, April 22, 2013

Bill Brandt: Shadow & Light @MoMA

JTF (just the facts): A total of 156 black and white photographs, variously displayed in white, grey, and black frames with mats, and hung against white walls with grey horizontal stripes in three interconnected gallery spaces on the third floor of the museum. The works on view are generally vintage prints, taken between 1929 and 1978. The exhibit was curated by Sarah Hermanson Meister with assistance from Drew Sawyer. A catalog was published by MoMA in conjunction with the exhibition (here). (Installation shots at right.)

The show is divided into six named sections, with a short introductory prelude. For each section, the number of prints on view has been tallied, along with relevant dates for the images. Books and magazine spreads shown in cases have also been listed.

4 gelatin silver prints, 1929, 1930, 1933
1 case containing 9 album pages, 1920s-1930s

London in the Thirties
36 gelatin silver prints, 1932-1939

Northern England
12 gelatin silver prints, 1937

World War II
22 gelatin silver prints, 1939-1945
7 cases containing 11 magazine spreads, 1939-1945

25 gelatin silver prints, 1946-1978

13 gelatin silver prints, 1945-1963
1 case containing 8 magazine spreads and 2 books, 1942-1961

44 gelatin silver prints, 1945-1959

Comments/Context: When a photographer starts to have labels like "the most important British photographer of the 20th century" affixed to his name, it might be safe to assume that the story of his art and life would be well understood, that it could be summed up in a pithy sentence or two designed for easy recitation. But of all our modern masters, Bill Brandt remains the most stubbornly elusive. Whether we are looking at the trajectory of his life or the evolution of his photography, the facts just don't seem to fall neatly into place. This robust and scholarly retrospective does an admirable job of trying to make sense of it all, diving into the forgotten details and uncovering important missing links, but in the end, Brandt resists easy interpretation, remaining ever evasive and ambiguous, an artistic shape shifter quietly slipping through our fingers.

While most exhibition introductions feel like throwaways, this one sets the stage particularly adeptly. Four early prints from the late 1920s and early 1930s show Brandt searching for his own vision, trying on the styles and subject matter of Kertesz, Brassai, Man Ray, and Abbott, with a little rich Eastern European darkness here and a little distorted Surreal camera angle there. The albums of early snapshots displayed underneath find Brandt examining British life with an unexpected mix of outsider perspective (he was German by birth after all) and upper class insider access. Together, this smart prelude conceptually brings together the many influences of his early years and loosely predicts some of what would come later.

The first major section of the exhibit combines images from Brandt's first real claim to fame, his 1936 book The English at Home, and its speedy follow up, A Night in London, from 1938. The pictures capture a broad spectrum of British life, from parlourmaids and bar customers to top-hatted aristocrats and grimy miners, and from street kids and theatregoers to intellectuals and illicit lovers. But there is much more going on in these pictures than straight documentation; each photograph has an undercurrent of almost anthropological curiosity, an eye for the dark oddness of the everyday. Fancy men in morning suits and ladies in hats cluster atop a carriage for a better view of the hunt, while blank-eyed children stand frozen in a forest of weary birthday party balloons. A fish market porter balances a tuna on his head, while a young girl prances in the street saucily showing off a bit of leg. A raceday barker stands in a pose of crucifixion, while a policeman guards a gloomy brick alley. Back and forth, Brandt mixes high and low with unexpected deftness, highlighting the muted eccentricities of both with equal success. In his hands, even little details, like a display of opera hats and an elegant white egret in a grassy manicured garden, seem at once entirely ordinary and surprisingly weird.

Many of Brandt's 1930s images are steeped in deep darkness, full of shadows and hollows and printed with an eye for middle range greys. Brandt's photographs of the depressed coal mining and industrial towns of Northern England follow in this stylistic path, capturing sooty smokestacks, rainswept cobblestones, and dirty children with heavy visual weight. His images of the London blackout and the bombed out buildings of World War II are equally pensive and moody. Crowds sleep on top of each other in improvised air-raid shelters in tube stations, while moonlight darkly illuminates rubble piles in front of the looming dome of St. Paul's. As the years passed, it was almost as if the novelty of being British had started to wear off, and a more morose tone took its place.

I think the biggest revelation this exhibit has to offer is the examination of the middle years of Brandt's career in the context of magazines. The many spreads from Lilliput, Picture Post and others show Brandt on assignment, his images reproduced in thematic groups in small hand held (mostly vertical) formats. For me, this background material helped to fill in an underlying logic for how and why Brandt transitioned from his early work to the landscapes, portraits, and other subjects that seem less obviously connected. His 1940s landscapes have a rough, elemental wildness, from sheep grazing near the stones of Avebury to the dramatic wind-blown grasses of Top Withens. Forests and rolling hills are reduced to expanses of darkness, while paths and rivers burn with bright whiteness against the encroaching land. Brandt's commissioned portraits from the same period (and later) settle into a similarly serious mood: Norman Douglas glowers from his writing desk and Francis Bacon looks lost in a brooding reverie while walking along a grey park path. The shifting moods of these images point to a increasingly psychological approach to photography, with Brandt layering swaths of dark, personal emotion on top of whatever was in front of his camera.

When we finally get to Brandt's superlative nudes (in the final room), there is the sense that his full creative voice has come though, and that a further evolution of his artistic thinking continued to take place as he dove deeper into the subject matter. While a stupendous room of Brandt nudes should be enough to please anyone, my one quibble with this otherwise extraordinary exhibit is that I wish the nudes had been arranged more chronologically, rather than mixed together on the walls (salon style in one case). Then it would have been easier to see the minute transitions that took place from the late 1940s Victorian interior nudes, to the more distorted close-up interior nudes of the mid 1950s, to the rocky beach nudes of the late 1950s, and on to the sometimes scary and disturbed 1970s nudes (which have been omitted here), and the amazingly intense, close-up eye portraits of the early 1960s (shown in the previous portrait section) would have had a more time-specific context. The result of this hanging choice is that the nudes seem like an indivisible whole, a theme and variation story of body parts, fragmented forms, and elegant distortions, when in fact I think there is more sequential evolution going on (from more narrative infused, psychologically rich nudes on chairs and in dark rooms all the way to full abstractions over the course of more than a decade). There is so much to explore in these nudes, and I just wish the organization of this particular section had been more strictly rigorous, so Brandt's churning, changing brilliance could have been more step-by-step visible.

One topic that is touched on in this show and expanded on with more force in the accompanying catalog is a discussion of Brandt's printing techniques. As the years pass in this exhibit (and as you walk through the sections of the show), Brandt's palette very visibly moves from an enveloping thick blackness to a grainier, more exaggerated high contrast extremity of black and white; it's impossible to miss if you sweep your eyes across the rooms. If you look closely at Brandt's prints, they are heavily retouched, covered in ink blots, scrapes, highlights, and scrawls that enhance the visual effect. I always used to chalk this up to Brandt being a poor or messy printer, who required all kinds of post-production modifications to make his prints even workable. I have now come to see Brandt's tuning as something more consciously and controllingly artistic, a physical process of reinterpreting the negative again and again. Three prints of his famous nude with her elbow bent (unhelpfully entitled London, but iconic nonetheless) show how he was experimenting with size and contrast over the decades, moving between curved, nuanced depth and rough flatness. Lee Ann Daffner's text in the catalog is truly fascinating, showing thumbnails of each additive and reductive technique, a kind of parade of obsessive hidden craftsmanship.

What I find exhilarating about this exhibit is that even with all the obvious smartness poured in here, and all the new things to be learned, Brandt emerges with his elusiveness intact. I still walk away unsure of where exactly he stands. For me, this is part of his enduring draw; his photographs are mercurial, and volatile, and ultimately unknowable, even when I feel like I've found my way in.

Collector's POV: Given this is a museum show, there are of course no posted prices. Brandt's work is readily available in the secondary markets, with dozens of prints on offer each year. Recent prices have ranged from $2000 for lesser known works and later prints to more than $90000 for vintage prints of his most iconic images. The Brandt estate is represented in New York by Edwynn Houk Gallery (here).

Rating: *** (three stars) EXCELLENT (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Estate site (here)
  • Features/Reviews: NY Times (here), Boston Globe (here), TimeOut New York (here), New Yorker (here), Time LightBox (here)

Bill Brandt: Shadow & Light
Through August 12th

Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
New York, NY 10019

Friday, April 19, 2013

Hanno Otten, Boulevard @Borden

JTF (just the facts): A total of 24 color photographs, variously framed and matted, and hung in the divided gallery space. 15 of the works are unique chromogenic color photograms, sized between 16x12 and 20x87. The other 9 works are chromogenic color prints, sized either 16x12 or 77x52; these prints are available in editions of 3. The images were made between 2001 and 2013. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: When we talk about color in photography, we are rarely discussing it in truly scientific terms. We throw around words like hue, and saturation, and lightness as handy descriptors for the color of the sunset, or a truck, or a pattered dress we are seeing, all without really acknowledging their specific definitions in the space of academic color theory. But from the moment you walk into Hanno Otten's new show, it is obvious that his interest in color is something entirely more systematic than we are generally accustomed to. Bright abstract color erupts from the walls, perfect for springtime, but deeply rooted in an intellectual study of the properties of colored light.

The earliest works on view (from roughly a decade ago) are built up from overlapped layers of strips and rectangles, where transparent blocks hover over vertical stripes, creating changing combinations of additive color. While photograms have traditionally included an element of chance, Otten's works feel rigorously precise - there are edges that are misaligned and touching, but these help explain the color transitions going on. These works then evolve into more blocked compositions that look a little like stained glass windows or harlequin patterns. There is more a sense of angle in these images, of parallelograms interlocking into slightly misaligned flatness. Other works from the same period play with bold layers of loose concentric circles that telescope inward with shimmering energy, like the poster from Hitchcock's Vertigo.

Otten's most recent works step out of the darkroom and reconsider the layered color of one of his own large abstract paintings. Starting with scans of the entire surface, he has then cropped the photographs down to smaller up-close fragments, in effect reprocessing the color washed across the canvas. The end result is compositions that are less hard edged and strict, that softly shift from one colored horizontal band to the next.

These works place Otten in direct dialogue with Jessica Eaton, Walead Beshty, and even Gerhard Richter's recent digital pattern making. They are each testing the limits of photographic color, paring down to Albers-like purity and then lifting the constraints to allow for new experimentation.

Collector's POV: The works in this show range in price from $3000 to $15000, generally based on size and whether the image is unique or editioned. Otten's work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Features/Reviews: New Yorker (here)

Hanno Otten, Boulevard
Through May 10th

Janet Borden, Inc.
560 Broadway
New York, NY 10012

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Checklist: 4/18/13

Current New York Photography Shows
New reviews added this week in red.
(Rating: Artist/Title: Venue: Closing Date: link to review)


ONE STAR: After Photoshop: Met: May 27: review
TWO STARS: William Eggleston: Met: July 28: review


ONE STAR: Peter Hujar: Pace/MacGill: April 20: review
TWO STARS: The Shaping of New Visions: MoMA: April 21: review
ONE STAR: William Klein: Howard Greenberg: April 27: review
ONE STAR: David (Chim) Seymour: ICP: May 5: review
THREE STARS: Roman Vishniac: ICP: May 5: review


TWO STARS: Luigi Ghirri: Matthew Marks: April 20: review
THREE STARS: Enrique Metinides: Aperture: April 20: review
TWO STARS: Thomas Ruff: David Zwirner: April 27: review
TWO STARS: Gordon Matta-Clark: David Zwirner: May 4: review
ONE STAR: Daido Moriyama: Steven Kasher: May 4: review

SoHo/Lower East Side/Downtown

ONE STAR: Chuck Kelton/Eric William Carroll: Bosi Contemporary: April 28: review
ONE STAR: Paul McDonough: Sasha Wolf: May 5: review

Elsewhere Nearby

No reviews at this time.

Forward Auction Calendar
New auctions added this week in red.
(Sale Date: Sale Title: Auction House: link to catalog)

April 18: Fine Photographs & Photobooks: Swann (New York): catalog
May 7: Photographs: Bonhams (New York): catalog
May 8: Photographs: Phillips (London): catalog
May 15: Photographs: Christie's (London): catalog

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Paul McDonough: Sight Seeing @Wolf

JTF (just the facts): A total of 18 black and white photographs, framed in black and matted, and hung in the long single room gallery space. All of the prints are modern gelatin silver prints, made from negatives taken between 1971 and 1982. The prints are sized 16x20 and come in editions of 15. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: When we think of 1970s West coast photography, Paul McDonough isn't a name that we might normally come up with right away. But the New York photographer spent time in California and Oregon during that fertile period, making outsider pictures that combine his street-savvy awareness for the serendipity of converging people with the easy going, laid back warmth of life out West. They're street photographs, only in this case, the street is a beach, a sun-baked parking lot, or a paved boardwalk.

McDonough's image of the swirling mass of bodies around a Santa Monica beach camper is the kind of complex composition that has its roots in New York city chaos. Swimsuited men and women perch on top of the RV, stand in the doorway, climb on the back, catch rays nearby, and generally wander around, a half dozen mini-vignettes and tiny gestures captured in one single all-over frame. Other photographs zero in on knots and tangles of young people, hanging around cars and checking each other out, the indirect interactions of guys and girls falling into time worn patterns of looking and not looking. But the crisply observed local details are what creates the atmosphere: short shorts, plaid bell bottoms, beater convertibles, rusty El Caminos, bikinis, old school roller skates, wavy, sun-bleached Farrah Fawcett hair, and warm afternoon light. Again and again, McDonough's timing is quietly and casually perfect: a blown chewing gum bubble underneath a spraying fountain, a escalating line up of children on the ladder of a playground slide, and the separation of skateboarders on a gas station blacktop all coalesce at exactly the right moment. He has captured a relaxed world where pulling your car right up on the beach isn't out of the ordinary and where sunbathing on a grocery store curb amid the abandoned shopping carts seems entirely natural, and he makes it look so effortless that we might think taking these kind of pictures is somehow easy, which of course, it's not.

All in, this show broadens our view of McDonough, exposing a side of his work that we hadn't seen before. Step by step, exhibit by exhibit, we're working our way forward in time, his archive proving richer and more varied with every successive discovery.

Collector's POV: The works on view are priced at $3000 each. McDonough's work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail is likely the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Features/Reviews: New Yorker (here), Hyperallergic (here)

Paul McDonough: Sight Seeing
Through May 5th

Sasha Wolf Gallery
70 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Gordon Matta-Clark, Above and Below @Zwirner

JTF (just the facts): A total of 10 photographic works, 26 pencil/ink drawings, 4 films, and 1 sculpture, variously framed and matted, and hung/shown against white walls in the large, two room divided space. Counting the photographs is a bit tricky as many have multiple images printed together as a single work, or come in groups that make up a single work. There are 6 works that are printed on a single sheet, 1 diptych, 1 triptych, 1 set of 4 images, and 1 set of 6 images. All of the photographic prints are either chromogenic prints, silver dye bleach prints, or gelatin silver prints, taken between 1974 and 1977. Individual sizes range from 36x27 to 92x20, with many at 40x30 (or reverse); edition sizes are generally 3, when noted. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: This smart show chronicles the late works of Gordon Matta-Clark, documenting each separate project via a combination of films, photographs, drawings, and other ephemera. The different mediums show us alternate sides of Matta-Clark's artistic thinking, from his whimsical and imaginative preliminary drawings to collaged multi-perspective photographs showing particular angles and views of his in-process and completed architectural interventions. His films layer in a sense of time and motion, of open-ended exploration and discovery rather than predetermined creation. Taken together, there is a richness of context here that brings the projects alive.

Photographically, Matta-Clark's works start as straightforward documentation of cut-throughs, holes, and multiple levels of demolished walls and construction debris, with an eye for the iterations and changes that came with each successive removal. The images are then collaged together, mixing sizes and vantage points to create a kind of spatial rhythm, moving outward through a conical oculus or downward through descending squares, often with an unexpected see-through vista. The pictures feature interlocking arced geometries that become more complex and abstract when seen from specific spots, the larger logic of his precise interventions finally coming into view when surrounded by smaller strips of contact sheet style pictures.

A second group of works play with vertical descent, moving from the street down through successive layers of tunnels and understructures, stairs and sub-basements. Laid out as stacks of images, the works provide a kind of visual core sample, diving down from a landmark like the Opera in Paris to the subterranean catacombs and forgotten caverns below. Two films capture these performance-like explorations, one in Paris and one in New York, following subways, sewer systems, and other dark, murky pathways underneath the two cities. This verticality takes a different form in Matta-Clark's film City Slivers, where city traffic and urban architecture are cut into thin strips, moving and changing within the confines of the narrow band of vision. It's a jittery, tight view of New York, full of cuts, reflections, and cramped tallness.

I certainly came away from this exhibit with a deeper sense for Matta-Clark's sophisticated visualization talents. The gathered works point to seeing built environments with a strong sense for their underlying structure, to getting beyond the superficial and manipulating the patterns underneath to get at the purity of their abstract geometries. The mix of brainy conceptual thinking and rough and ready physicality keeps the projects from becoming too clever; the dust and rubble adds a layer of authenticity to his crisp rationality. His eyes slash through walls and floors like lasers, seeing a elegance of form hiding within, waiting to be released.

Collector's POV: The photographic works in this show are priced between $150000 and $1500000 (the set of 6 images). Matta-Clark's works have not come up at auction with any regularity I recent years; prices have ranged between roughly $7000 and $115000, but this range may not be entirely representative of the market for his most sought after works.

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

Transit Hub:
  • Features/Reviews: Village Voice (here), Wall Street Journal (here)
Through May 4th
519 West 19th Street
New York, NY 10011

Monday, April 15, 2013

Auction: Fine Photographs & Photobooks, April 18, 2013 @Swann

Later this week, Swann brings to market a combo photographs and photobooks auction, with the books mixed into the flow of the sale rather than pulled out at the end. The material is heavily weighted toward the lower end of the price range, with Swann's usual mix of vernacular, vintage, and modern prints. Overall, there are 301 lots available, with a total High estimate of $1884050.

Here's the statistical breakdown:

Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including $10000): 269
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): $1260050

Total Mid Lots (high estimate between $10000 and $50000): 32
Total Mid Estimate: $624000

Total High Lots (high estimate above $50000): 0
Total High Estimate: NA

The top lot by High estimate is tied between two lots: lot 24, Southworth & Hawes, Daguerreotype of blue-eyed woman, c1850 (image at right, middle), estimated at $30000-45000, and lot 79, Edward Weston, Charis (nude), 1935 (image at right, top), estimated at $35000-45000.

The following is the list of photographers with 5 or more lots in the sale (with the number of lots in parentheses):

Ansel Adams (14 )
Andre Kertesz (10)
Henri Cartier-Bresson (7)
Walker Evans (7)
Manuel Alvarez Bravo (5)
Harry Callahan (5)
Alfred Eisenstaedt (5)
O. Winston Link (5)
Minor White (5)

Other works of interest include lot 104, Aubrey Bodine, Curving Steps, 1943, estimated at $4000-6000 (image at right, bottom; all images via Swann).

The complete lot by lot catalog can be found here.

Fine Photographs & Photobooks
April 18th

Swann Auction Galleries
104 East 25th Street
New York, NY 10010