STEICHEN'S 'POND--MOONLIGHT' AT SOTHEBY'S NEARLY BREAKS $3 MILLION MARK, AS TWO STIEGLITZ'S ALSO TOP MILLION DOLLAR MARK; PHOTOGRAPHER GORDON PARKS DIES AT NYC HOME; GETTY QUADRUPLES SPACE FOR PHOTOGRAPHY; WALTER ROSENBLUM DIES AMIDST CONTROVERSY; ICP ANNOUNCES 2006 INFINITY AWARD WINNERS; TWO NEW SPECIAL EXHIBITS AND NEW
IMAGES GO UP ON I PHOTO CENTRAL; GETTY CEO AND PRESIDENT RESIGNS UNDER PRESSURE; NEW PHOTO BOOKS: ONE BY MICHAEL WOLF AND TWO BY EDWARD CURTIS
STEICHEN'S 'POND--MOONLIGHT' AT SOTHEBY'S
NEARLY BREAKS $3 MILLION MARK, AS TWO
STIEGLITZ'S ALSO TOP MILLION DOLLAR MARK
Sotheby's with the help of the New York Metropolitan Museum put on a show as a number of key records fell during its post-AIPAD February 14-15 photography auction, largely on the first night. Of the nearly $15 million sold at this two-day affair, about $11-1/2 million was bought in just the first evening. And by now, unless you live somewhere on the far side of the moon, you have probably heard that there is a new world record for a photograph--and it is a doosie. At this auction, not one, but three photographs easily toppled the world auction record for a photograph recently set at $1,248,000 by Christie's for the Richard Prince's color copy image of a Marlboro ad. Oh, by the way, every single photograph in this sale was sold (with the help of a re-auction of one lot), and the total take of $14,982,900 was a record for a single-owner photography auction (or any photography auction, for that matter).
Before this Sotheby's sale of photographs from the Met, including the Gilman Paper Co. collection, I had gone on record as saying that I thought Edward Steichen's "The Pond--Moonlight" should break the $2 million mark, despite its rather low $700,000-$1,000,000 estimate, and set a new world record for a photograph at auction in the process. The image was, for me, simply the most breathtaking photograph to ever come up under the hammer. To give you an idea about "the feel of the room", when I walked into the Sotheby's that evening, I immediately said to myself--without the hesitation that I felt before I got there--$3 million. I wasn't to be far off the mark.
Sometimes, as witness last autumn's Sotheby's sale on the Andre Kertesz vintage print of Chez Mondrian, photographs that should sell for very high prices don't always fulfill their expectations. There have not been a lot of buyers for very high six and seven-figure photographs--at least before this sale, so I had a little trepidation about my original estimate. After all it takes at least two people to push prices up at an auction, and who would be those two parties to elevate the Steichen's and Stieglitz's here into that rarified seven-figure atmosphere? Would the images and the sale provide the motivation to send the bidding over the estimates here? Also, who or at least what type of bidders would become players at this sale?
Clearly we saw interest from bidders with an appetite for the paintings of the Stieglitz Circle. I will detail some of that interest shortly. But apparently the whispered hedge fund money managers' interest never really materialized--at least at this photography auction. When I asked San Francisco dealer Jeffrey Fraenkel, one of those heavily involved in the first evening's auction, about the possible bidding of hedge fund collectors, he demurred tongue-in-cheek, "As far as I could tell, the hedge fund folk are not generally interested in dusty old pictures like these. The photographs don't have the same wall power or social cachet as works by Warhol, Hirst or Koons."
In the interest of space (and time) I will mostly only review lots that hit above $35,000 with the premium, although in this sale that only eliminates about a third of the lots and none (yes, none!) from the first night's portion of the sale. All lot prices will include the buyer's premium, which at Sotheby's is 20% on the amount up to $200,000 and 12% thereafter. For this newsletter I will report on the first evening's sales results, and the second day's escapades will have to hold until the next newsletter, which I will get out shortly.
From the first lot (a large-format Steerage), the broader net that Alfred Stieglitz himself had cast also resulted in bidders, who, even before this evening's purchase of photography, were interested in the art circle exhibited and promoted by Stieglitz. The winning bidder John Driscoll, owner of Babcock Galleries, told me, "I bought the photos for inventory. The quality, provenance and history of the works were absolutely irresistible. Lot number one, Stieglitz's "Steerage" was a breathtakingly beautiful example of the image and--to a considerable degree--the following lots were also of great interest and quality." The final price, including premium, was $36,000 for this Steerage photogravure from a rare deluxe copy of "291". Most large format copies that have come on the market have been the less rare version on Japan vellum instead of the thinner Japanese tissue of this print. The final hammer price was $5,000 over the high estimate.
Driscoll was to buy two other images this night--all for inventory, and all will be placed in very good company indeed. Babcock Galleries is the oldest gallery specializing in American Art and the Circle of Stieglitz, and sells and has sold paintings by the likes of Max Weber, Marsden Hartley, Mary Cassatt, William Glackens, Alfred Maurer, George Inness, Fitz Hugh Lane, John Kensett, Severin Roesen, Sanford Gifford, Winslow Homer, Ralph Albert Blakelock, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Thomas Eakins and Childe Hasam. The New York City gallery has been in existence since 1852. If anyone still questioned photography's ability to stand with the rest of the Art World's media, this sale and its buyers may have dealt them a final blow.
But don't think it was all going to be new players making their mark here. One of the other big bidders at the auction was Solomon Fine Art. Mary and Dan Solomon had been long-time West Coast photography collectors, and Mary has been a private dealer who has now refocused on art consultation and has several large corporate and private clients--many of whom were active here. The first successful bid by Solomon was on lot 2, Stieglitz's large format photogravure of "Spring Showers", which she bought for $55,200 for a private collector "who has a nice Stieglitz collection and wanted an image from the sale." Massachusetts photography dealer Mack Lee was also an active bidder on the lot, which soared well over the estimate of $20,000-30,000.
Driscoll of Babcock Galleries came right back on the next lot, another large format photogravure by Stieglitz. This time the subject was the "Flat-Iron", which was also estimated at $20,000-30,000. When the bidding had finally died down, Driscoll had to pay a total of $66,000 for the lot.
The auction was starting to attract serious money and the first actual photographic process print had yet to be sold. Lot 4, Edward Steichen's image of Frederick H. Evans looking at an F. Holland Day photograph, gathered lots of attention, but ultimately sold to the phone for a whopping $84,000--double the high estimate. Two people claimed to be underbidders. Carol Johnson of the Library of Congress thought they were the underbidder, but I guess collector Michael Mattis beat her book dealer surrogate to the punch for this dubious honor.
What better prelude to Steichen's Pond than Steichen's Pool? New York photography dealer Hans Kraus, Jr. paced the early action on lot 5 Steichen "The Pool--Evening: A Symphony to a Race and a Soul", which was largely between him and the phones. But it was to be Babcock Galleries' John Driscoll who took the ultimate plunge at $296,000 for this lot, which had been estimated at $100,000-150,000. That price, which used to be more than enough for first place in many auctions' Top Ten, was here only good enough to just edge the lot into last place on this list. Driscoll, who bid from the floor, later told me, " While I knew that I would not be purchasing the great Steichen "Pond--Moonlight", I did find the smaller "The Pool--Evening" entrancing for its subtle modulation of tone and inherent compositional abstraction."
It was, of course, lot 6 that had everyone holding their collective breathe, or at least most everyone. The famed Edward Steichen "The Pond--Moonlight" was estimated at $700,000-1,000,000, but most observers felt it would go higher--just how much higher would be the question. After all, it was a huge rarity with only two other copies known, a second also at the Met and the other at the New York Museum of Modern Art. Malcolm Daniel, curator in charge of the Met's department of photographs, had told me that he couldn't really tell which of their copies was the better version, but that since Stieglitz had given the other one directly to the Met, they felt that they had to keep that print. He did note that there was some slight conservation work on the one that they kept.
A Richard Prince copy photograph "Untitled (Cowboy)" had sold just a few months previous to New York contemporary art dealer Stellan Holm for a new world auction record for a photograph of $1,248,000. Would it be broken here? And, if so, by how much and by whom?
Let us be honest. Most of us who profess to love photography were shocked and perhaps even a bit appalled at the Prince auction record. Yes, many were happy that a "photograph" had finally brought such a high amount at auction and garnered "recognition" for the medium. But few in the photography community would deem this image a photograph in the normal sense of that word, considering it was a copy print of another photograph's reproduction in a commercial advertisement. For it to hold the record was, to many, akin to Anna Nicole Smith being crowned by the Pulitzer committee as having made the greatest contribution to humanity and intellectual advancement. But, of course, a copy of this image hangs in prime space at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art--ironically the same vaulted source for this auction's treasures, including the Steichen Pond. Many cited the provenance and the museum's review process as the reason for bidding in the Sotheby's sale. Interesting, no?
But, again, would we see more than one bidder to boost the Steichen up the bidding ladder? The battle was on. Up in front Hans Kraus, Jr. nodded his head, and then a little further back and on the right, New York photography gallerist Peter MacGill of New York's Pace/MacGill Gallery raised his hand. But then a bidder in back joined them. Lisa Newlin, bidding for a client of Solomon Fine Art, drove MacGill on, as Kraus gave up the hunt. Up and up the trio had gone, easily past the high estimate, and even past double the high estimate. But, finally, it was MacGill in the end taking the Steichen treasure at the record-setting $2,928,000, with Solomon Fine Art the underbidder. Polite applause erupted in the salesroom. The price was not only a world auction record for the artist, but was also the new world auction record for a photograph. In fact the price was about 730% more than the artist's previous record of slightly over $400,000 paid by the Musée d'Orsay in October 1999 for Steichen's 'In Memoriam' at the Jammes sale in London. Quite a jump. Even more of a jump from the original price tag in 1906 of just $75. It goes without saying that the picture was also the top lot of the sale.
But whom had Peter been bidding for with that phone in his ear? "On behalf of a private collector", said the Sotheby's press material. About the auction (he refused to talk about individual lots), MacGill would only say he "was bidding for a number of individuals, all people who have been collecting photography for at least 10-20 years."
While that may be true, I have also been told via several sources--at least one a non-photography source--that this particular buyer was primarily a painting collector specializing in Stieglitz Circle material and was a client of Philippe Alexandre of the Alexandre Gallery, who, according to these sources, was reportedly working with Pace/MacGill. This company is a very well known and respected painting gallery dealing in American Modernism and which also has a focus on Stieglitz Circle material. Alexandre, when I called him, heatedly denied he was involved in the Steichen lot and then oddly referred me to Peter MacGill for information. Prior to the auction I also heard from sources at Sotheby's that one of its painting clients had been extremely interested in the Steichen. Perhaps the same client?
But if you thought all the fireworks were finished after this lot, you would be sorely mistaken. There was still a lot more action to come.
The next lot, Steichen's 'Balzac--The Open Sky', which was the front cover image on the catalogue, came up in the back draft of the previous lot's excitement. The winning bidder, Dan Solomon, who was bidding for his personal collection, told me that it felt like "the air had left the room after the Steichen "The Pond--Moonlight" had sold." Estimated at a reasonable (for the importance of the image) $500,000-700,000, the print is only known in three examples of the larger size, one other at the Met and another in private hands. Solomon found himself bidding against New York dealer Janet Lehr and Indiana dealer Lee Marks (probably bidding for collector Howard Stein), among others, for this prize, which he finally secured at $632,000. That price, as stunning as it is, might be considered one of the few real buys of this auction. The price though was only good enough for a distant fourth place in this auction's Top Ten.
Lot 8, Alvin Langdon Coburn's Vortograph No.8, was sold to the Milwaukee Art Museum for $132,000--just over the low estimate. It was also a pretty good value when compared to other Vortographs sold at auction in London. I talked to Lisa Hostetler, assistant curator of prints, drawings and photographs of the museum, who told me, " I worked at the Met from 2001-2005, leaving in March 2005 just before the Gilman acquisition was finalized. Since I was responsible for coordinating the maintenance of the Gilman works at the Met and inventoried the entire Gilman collection prior to its acquisition by the Met, I was very familiar with the photographs and knew of their quality. Therefore, I made a concerted effort to raise money for the auction." Some of the significant donations for this effort, which netted a total of four important photographs from this sale, came from the Herzfeld and the Argosy Foundations and Friends of Art, according to Milwaukee Art Museum Director and CEO David Gordon.
The next lot, Edward Steichen's 'Triumph of the Egg', attracted a lot of dealer interest as Charles Isaacs, Paul Hertzmann and, I believe, Maggie Weston all took a shot, but it was German dealer Ute Hartjen of Camera Works who took home the egg at $84,000. It was the second 'Egg' to come up at auction within three months. The other came up at Christie's Paris auction of Claude Berri's collection. There it made 48,000 euros (a little over $56,000) and sold to Howard Greenberg. I felt the prints were comparable. Obviously the price was much higher here, even though most observers felt that Berri did very well indeed at his auction.
Lot ten was the first of the actual Alfred Stieglitz photographs (as opposed to photogravures), a lovely platinum-palladium print of 'Georgia O'Keefe in front of Charcoal Drawing', which was estimated at $150,000-200,000. On this one Peter MacGill had to bid to $531,000 in order to bring it home for his client. The half-million-dollar-plus price tag only put the lot into fifth place in this sale. At the time it briefly (very briefly) set a new world auction record for Stieglitz, but no one seemed to notice. The previous record was held by Sotheby's New York for Stieglitz's 'From the Back Window--291', which had sold for $420,500 in October 1999.
Stieglitz's iconic 'Georgia O'Keeffe (Hands)' was the next lot. It had drawn a lot of attention prior to the sale. There was a mixed quality of tension and beauty to this image of O'Keeffe's fingers nervously pinching the flesh of one of her hands. The estimate of $300,000-500,000 seemed very low in the context of this sale, and the bidding took off like a shot. At the beginning it was Peter MacGill again versus a determined phone bidder. But then West Coast dealer Jeffrey Fraenkel joined the fray, and in the end it was Fraenkel who placed the winning bid of $1,472,000, which was a new world auction record for the artist, and would have been a world auction record for a photograph if the Steichen Pond hadn't preempted that spot. The price put the lot into second place for the auction.
West Coast dealer Jeffrey Fraenkel had told me after the sale, "The Stieglitz prints are the sort of objects that, when studied out of their frames, remind one why Stieglitz was a great artist. We tend to think of Stieglitz with a capital 'S' and of his best images as icons, but the Met's prints had an immediacy and authority that barreled through the myth."
Barrel indeed is what Fraenkel did, right through the next pair of Stieglitz lots, despite the valiant efforts by New York dealers Peter MacGill and Howard Greenberg and others, such as Ute Hartjen of Camera Works, to stop him. First he took lot 12, Stieglitz's '291--Braque--Picasso Exhibition', for $262,400 (estimate $50,000-70,000); then lot 13, the stunning nude of Georgia O'Keeffe, for nearly another world record at $1,360,000 (estimate $300,000-500,000), the third picture of the night that had eclipsed the old world auction record for a photograph. Third place in the Top Ten list was also claimed.
Three more Stieglitz lots also did well. Lot 14, his portrait of Marsden Hartley (estimate $50,000-70,000) managed to attract triple the mid-range at $216,000 from an Indian-looking man with a phone, who walked out immediately after winning the lot. Art consultant Jill Quasha was the underbidder.
Quasha also found herself to be the underbidder on the next lot, Stieglitz's portrait of John Marin. This time the Milwaukee Museum of Art was the winner at $84,000, against an estimate of $25,000-35,000.
One of the true "bargains" of the night had to be the next Stieglitz, which was a 1919-21 palladium print of O'Keefe fixing her hair. It came down to a two-man race between San Francisco dealer Paul Hertzmann and collector Michael Mattis. Estimated at just $50,000-70,000, Mattis won it by bidding just over the high estimate at $90,000 including the premium. Mattis told me later, "It's not a picture of O'Keeffe as an icon, but an intimate portrait of O'Keeffe as a wife and lover." He bought it for his own wife as a Valentine's Day present.
Then the emphasis switched briefly to other photographic masters. The first was Edward Weston, whose wonderful platinum print of the 'Scene Shifter' seemed to bridge his pictorialist and modernist work. Estimated at $30,000-50,000, which might have seemed reasonable in other auctions for a pictorialist work by Weston, lot 17 briefly seemed not to have any upward limit. Paul Hertzmann took on the phones, although I think Maggie Weston may have jumped in too. But in the end the last remaining phone bidder, which was later identified as the Bluff Collection, was too much, taking the lot for a final stunning price of $284,800.
On lot 18, Margrethe Mather's 'Pierrot' in a platinum print also had strong phone activity, but this time it went to Santa Monica dealer Rose Shoshana, who had to pay a new world auction record for the artist of $228,000 against an estimate of $30,000-50,000. Pictorialism seemed to be back, at least for this auction.
Lot 19, Paul Outerbridge's 'Marmon Crankshaft', had been estimated at what I would consider a reasonable $100,000-150,000, but it quickly soared to $374,400. It went to a phone bidder, which again turned out to be the Bluff Collection, which has recently lent work to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Great image, but somewhat overpriced in my view. It set a new world auction record for the artist and nabbed sixth place in the sale's Top Ten.
Lot 20 took us back to another Stieglitz, 'Georgia O'Keeffe by Car', which was estimated at $80,000-120,000. It got a lot of attention and Zurich dealer Kasper Fleischmann had to pay $329,600 to snare the print. That put this lot into seventh place for the auction.
Margaret Bourke-White's large print of the iconic 'Gargoyle, Chrysler Building, NY' (lot 21), which I seem to recall was the cover of one of Edwynn Houk's catalogues, had been estimated at $100,000-150,000. Dealer Lee Marks battled up a phone bidder to $352,000, but lost it in the end to the private collector on the other end of the phone. The price was a new world auction record for the artist.
Another Stieglitz print ('Looking North, from an American Place', lot 22), which was estimated at $30,000-50,000, sold to Peter MacGill for $120,000 over bids from the front aisle. Likewise, MacGill took the next lot, another Stieglitz of 'Rain Drops on Grass, Lake George', for $55,200 against Massachusetts dealer Mack Lee.
A man in the back of the room won lot 24, another Stieglitz (Popular Trees, Lake George), at $43,200.
Then a print of bananas by Edward Weston came up, estimated at $80,000-120,000. The print drew bids in the room and on the phone. A phone bidder paid $216,000 for this bunch. By the pound, they must be the most expensive bananas ever sold.
The same bidder in the room, who I could not identify except for their number, bought the next three lots (26-28), which were three small Stieglitz Equivalents all estimated at $20,000-30,000 each. The bidder paid a moderately steep $57,600, $60,000 and $84,000 respectively for the three. Peter MacGill underbid at least the last of these lots. Nice provenance and all, but higher prices than normal auction on these equivalents, which have tended to go in the $40,000+ area.
The large print of 'Pere Ubu' by Dora Maar had to draw New York dealer Adam Boxer, whose gallery sports the last part of the name (Ubu). (Quickly now. No peeking at the Sotheby's copy on the lot. Where does the title come from? Hint: It is actually a character who was part of the first Polish joke. No emails of protest now; I am Polish myself.) Besides Boxer, the rest of the room, phone and commission bidders were all very active. In the end the Bluff Collection had once again made its phone presence felt, bidding up lot 29 to nearly double its low estimate to $216,000, which was not only a new world auction record for the artist, but more than doubled the previous record.
Several early Andre Kertesz prints (lots 30-33) also drew strong attention, especially since they all had such temptingly low estimates of only $30,000-50,000 each. New York dealer Edwynn Houk picked up the first two at $192,000 and $114,000 respectively. So much for low estimates.
Sotheby's dated lot 32, a matt silver print by Kertesz, as 1926, but several Kertesz dealers thought it might be a mid-1930s print despite the "evidence" presented in the catalogue. Perhaps their talk was just to scare off the tourists. In any case, West Coast dealer Maggie Weston picked up the lot for $38,400 and Jill Quasha underbid her.
For me the best of the Kertesz lots (especially condition-wise) was the last lot of the group (lot 33), a nice still life. There was some talk of removing the light silvering on the edges, but I felt that only meant it was untouched, the way it should be. I found myself bidding against Edwynn Houk on this one, but in the end neither he nor I managed to overbid the phone, which got it for $102,000.
The evening's bidding ended with two lots by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. The first lot, a photogram (lot 34), was estimated at $40,000-60,000, but sold to the phone for $114,000 over the underbid by the Milwaukee Museum of Art. Frankly, while not everyone liked the image, I thought it was an excellent buy. The second Moholy-Nagy and last lot of the evening session was his 'Winter--Berlin Vom Funkturm', which had been estimated at a very low $25,000-35,000, probably because of the print's mediocre quality/condition. But its rarity and importance still drew active bidding from dealers such as Adam Boxer, Kasper Fleischmann, Paul Hertzmann and others. But the same phone buyer who won the last lot took home the prize at $162,000.
The first evening of the sale had concluded and its echoes will be felt for a long time in the marketplace, even though they may be somewhat limited and muted in their effects.
I solicited some comments from many who were successful bidders in this auction. Their responses and observations were interesting to say the least.
Referring to the lots in the first evening of the sale, Jeffrey Fraenkel told me, "The numbers they fetched were not a surprise. If I judged correctly, it appeared that the winners of most of the top lots were people who have been involved with photographs for a long time. It did not feel as if anyone was speculating. People had done their homework."
Fraenkel, who was so active on some of the top lots of the evening, felt that this sale would result only in insignificant shifts in price. He doesn't expect to reevaluate his inventory or to see colleagues dramatically increase their prices because of this sale: "I don't expect that to change any time soon, but the auction reinforced the importance and relevance of the medium. Photography still feels undervalued, especially when compared to other aspects of the art market. And bargains remain to be found."
When pressed to propose a photographer whose work is still undervalued, Fraenkel suggested Lee Friedlander, a photographer his gallery represents, "who still wakes up each morning to make his own prints, and who cannot be doubted as a master of the medium. At $6,800 for Friedlander's recent landscapes, his work costs less than that of many newly minted Yale graduates."
Discussing the photographs in the sale, Peter MacGill said to me, "They form an extremely important group of pictures which has an extraordinary provenance. That they passed through the Gilman or Metropolitan selection process also means a great deal. I was relieved and happy to see these kinds of prices at auction. We have been selling pictures in the $400,000-$1 million-plus range for years. To realize these prices in the public arena is very healthy for the market. We will now be able to spend less time trying to convince people of the rarity of this material and its value."
John Driscoll of Babcock Galleries reiterated this point: "The sale was a watershed event in the history of photography, and American art. It demonstrated that superb works accompanied by important provenance is always a winning combination in the marketplace."
Collector Michael Mattis reminded me, "People who only learned of the Sotheby's sales results after the fact from the Sotheby's website or from press reports would naturally assume a boisterous bidding atmosphere. Quite the contrary, it seemed that the room was preternaturally subdued. Much of the serious action was from anonymous bidders on the phone, or from art advisors whispering to their clients on cell phones ("his master's voice"). In deference to the doubly impeccable provenance of Gilman and the Met, the atmosphere was solemn, even reverential. We all knew we were witnessing a sea change in the photography world; though whether the magic dust that was sprinkled over this sale's offerings (even the more mundane lots) carries over to the April auctions, or partially blows off by then, remains to be seen."
Michael, like many other keen observers, is having a hard time making sense of a future photography market. I feel that many may be slightly exaggerating the results of this extraordinary auction, and the "sea change" in the market that both Mattis and the New York Times talked about may not be so deep or so imminent. There are not many auctions that combine the aura of one of the most important and influential museums and private collections in the world, plus rare and important material being sold at a strong market peak. Add the spice of Sotheby's purposefully teasingly low estimates and you have the recipe for over-enthusiasm, at least on much of the second part of the sale. Yes, the prices achieved here and those at the end of last year may drive out some additional rare material, but the bulk of the market will remain largely unchanged. Fraenkel is more on the money here, in my opinion.
As a few more wealthy individuals are convinced of the viability of photography as art and investment, you will indeed see higher prices on a few top items as they come out into the market either by auction or as offered by dealers. But how that affects the rest of the market is still not known, but don't expect your $5,000 photo to go up tomorrow.
Mattis did note the schizophrenia affecting many of us: "The new price levels are definitely a double-edged sword. On the one hand, photo collectors that I've spoken with feel vindicated that classic photography has finally attained the market value, ergo the level of art world acceptance, that we always thought it ought to have: a great Steichen gum print should indeed sell for as much as any other masterpiece in any other medium from the Stieglitz circle (an Arthur Dove oil has sold for $1.25 million, and three Marsden Hartleys have auctioned between $2 and $3 million). Let me flat out say it: after the Gilman sale, that old expression that we all grew up with, "photography is undervalued," can finally be put to rest. And the startling new prices will definitely flush out a lot of great pictures in the near future. Personally, I predict that after the April sales, it will be clear that for the best material these price levels are indeed "real", and there is no going back. On the other hand, I also sense no small degree of wistfulness that our little private club has been crashed (as in, do we really have to share our toys now with these hedge-fund guys?)."
Mattis continued, "Several dealers bemoaned the fact that they were totally aced out at the sale, and are despairing of being able to replace the top tier of their inventory at the new price levels. One dealer that I know is going to try to segue from between-the-wars Modernism to sixties and seventies material, much of which now seems undervalued by comparison (the silly season for posthumous Arbuses notwithstanding). Another dealer is now looking more at the 19th century. This type of refocusing by dealers, collectors and curators is to be expected and is not inherently a bad thing; such is the nature of the art market in general. It is a sign that photography has, finally, come of age."
On this last point, I do feel that Mattis had caught the dealer frustration correctly, but perhaps the resulting changes might not be as radical as he suggests. Dealers will take the easiest and safest route, which in this case is to continue what they have always done before. And most photography prices, as Jeffrey Fraenkel noted, will not be affected by this sale in any way. Just don't expect to grab an early and important Stieglitz or Steichen for 1980s prices, as if one could have bought them for Sotheby's silly (or teasing, depending on your point-of-view) estimates any way. On a smaller scale, I do fully expect that the Camera Works photogravure of the Pond to now shoot up in price from the previous $3,000+. With a great sense of timing, I sold my last two of this image for about $2,000 each.
If anything, dealers are now--god forbid--the reasonable alternative to the auctions. But where could you find the type of Stieglitz and Steichen material that was sold at Sotheby's, in any case? It was pretty important and very rare, hence the prices, which were not unexpected (in the first part of the sale). Now the second part of the auction, which I will cover in the next newsletter: let's just say that some collectors were a bit too exuberant to win a piece of the Met or the Gilman collection.
It is always amusing to me to hear collectors bemoan the "high prices of dealers" at AIPAD and other shows, and then to pay even higher prices (usually 20-40% higher in fact) at auction, often the next day, for the same or similar material, usually with condition problems that they will always overlook in auction. Dealers only reflect the market; auctions are currently making it--at least on the blockbuster items. Certainly there are always some prices that are higher than they should be on exhibit walls, but at least there is time to reflect instead sacrificing yourself on the emotional roller coaster of auction one-up-man-ship where you have literally seconds to make what is often a bad decision. Even professionals can get caught up emotionally, paying a higher price than they planned because of the "room"; and collectors often find themselves the victim in this ritual designed to make the most for the house and not its bidders. It's no accident that Sotheby's just reported its best results to date for the past year.
PHOTOGRAPHER GORDON PARKS DIES AT NYC HOME
Gordon Parks, photographer, filmmaker and author, passed away on March 7th at his home in Manhattan at the age of 93.
Gordon Parks was the first African-American to work as a staff photographer for Life magazine, and he was the first black producer and director of a major Hollywood film, "The Learning Tree," in 1969.
In the 1960's he took up writing again (in 1948 he had written a photo book on portraiture), as he wrote his memoirs and penned novels, poems, essays and screenplays. In 1970 he helped found Essence magazine and was its first editorial director.
I will always remember his humanity when he faced a storm of criticism over his decision not to photograph Mohammed Ali after his first loss. He had been the only photographer admitted to the champ's dressing room after the fight. He did not feel it was right to take advantage of his friendship.
Many of his photographs have become icons, including his "American Gothic" and portrait of Malcolm X. Gordon Parks: a remarkable man and artist, always engaged with those he photographed, unlike many other photographers who seem more interested in the gratuitous shot rather than the people in need in front of their noses.
GETTY QUADRUPLES SPACE FOR PHOTOGRAPHY
The J. Paul Getty Museum will greatly expand the exhibition space at the Getty Center devoted to photography. Weston Naef, the museum's curator of photographs, said that in addition to expanding the space from 1,700 to 7,000 sq. ft., the museum will increase its commitment to the preservation of color photographs.
The new exhibition space will be located in the museum's West Pavilion. The entrance, newly redesigned by Richard Meier and Partners, will open to a courtyard housing part of the new Stark sculpture collection, while the interior space will be reconfigured to ensure the ideal environment for the display of photographs. This expansion was made possible by the January opening of the Getty Villa in Malibu, and the relocation from the West Pavilion to the Villa of part of the Getty Museum's antiquities collection.
"Photography is a key part of the museum's collection," said Michael Brand, director of the Getty Museum. "Indeed, photography is our most significant link to the art of the 20th century and current art practices, and allowing more space for its display and storage is one of my first goals as the new director."
"Over the past 20 years we have built a loyal and vibrant audience for photographs," said Weston Naef. "This expansion of exhibition space will provide us with more opportunity and flexibility in exhibiting the many and varied elements of our collection. The expansion of storage space will allow us to house large color prints under conditions that maximize their longevity."
The Getty Museum's department of photographs was established in 1984 with the acquisition of several major American and European collections. Since then, the photographs holdings have grown to include over 31,000 works, expanding by 9% in the past five years, largely by gift. The collection--which ranges from daguerreotypes and other examples from photography's experimental beginnings in England and France in the 1830s to the fine art and social documentary traditions of the 20th-century--has made the Getty, and Los Angeles, an important center for the study of the history and art of photography. Over the last 22 years, the department has presented 80 exhibitions and produced 43 publications.
The expanded space will allow the museum to mount a greater range of types of presentations, including loan exhibitions, and will also help foster greater collaboration between the museum and other programs of the J. Paul Getty Trust. The special collections at the Getty Research Institute hold rare historical images and vast photography archives for study purposes. The Getty Conservation Institute is a leader in research on the conservation of photographs.
WALTER ROSENBLUM DIES AMIDST CONTROVERSY
Walter Rosenblum, noted photographer and teacher, died on January 23rd at the age of 86. His last words were reportedly "…to see the light."
He served first as secretary and later as president of the New York Photo League. He had been an assistant to Life photographer Elliot Elisofon and then a WWII photographer, who recorded the landing in Normandy in 1944 and was the first Allied photographer to enter the concentration camp at Dachau after its liberation. In 1998 he was given a lifetime achievement award by the International Center of Photography.
Rosenblum was president of the Photo League, where photographer Lewis Hine left his archive after he died in 1940, which was to be given to the George Eastman House. The major controversy that will forever taint Rosenblum's reputation is that many believe that he may have been responsible for printing and then passing off new Hine prints as vintage, complete with forged signatures in some cases.
The Hine's scandal broke in 2001, although many in the field suspected the problem for many years before scientific proof was finally offered which clearly showed that modern prints were being sold as vintage. In addition, Rosenblum was later accused of backdating some of his own photographs that he had represented as vintage.
ICP ANNOUNCES 2006 INFINITY AWARD WINNERS
The International Center of Photography has announced its award winners for its prestigious 2006 Infinity Awards, which will be given out on May 15th in New York City.
The Infinity Awards were created in 1984 to honor the contributions of influential photographers and to recognize emerging young talent, acknowledging the widespread impact of photography on contemporary culture. Each year, a jury of selectors chooses the winners from an extensive list compiled by an international committee of nominators. ICP's President's Council, Board of Trustees, and staff elect the Cornell Capa award recipient, named for ICP's founding director, and the Lifetime Achievement award recipient.
The following are this year's award winners:
Cornell Capa Award: Don McCullin
Lifetime Achievement Award: Lee Friedlander
Young Photographer: Ahmet Polat
Publication: "Things As They Are, Photojournalism in Context Since 1955" (Chris Boot Ltd.)
Writing: Geoff Dyer
Art: Thomas Ruff
Photojournalism: Yuri Kozyrev
Applied/Fashion/Advertising: Steven Meisel
The selection committee this year consisted of: Vince Aletti, photography critic and recipient of the 2005 ICP Infinity Award for Writing; Brooks Johnson, curator of photography, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA; and Agnés Sire, director, Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, Paris.
TWO NEW SPECIAL EXHIBITS AND NEW
IMAGES GO UP ON I PHOTO CENTRAL
You will also find yet another two new Special Exhibits up on I Photo Central. The first one is entitled "Art Photography in Japan 1922" and is sponsored by Charles Schwartz, Ltd.. The second is "An Obsession with the Automobile: The Car in Photographs", which is sponsored by Vintage Works, Ltd.
Art photography flourished in Japan during the 1920s and 1930s. Japan's economic prosperity and rapidly evolving cultural institutions fostered an unprecedented community of photographers and allowed for significant exchange of information and ideas with artists in the west. This selection of rotogravures in this exhibit is unlike any other. They appear to be high quality gravures as they are so exquisitely printed. They all appeared in Bunka Shashin-shu, the magazine published by the Tokyo-based photo group Shashin Bunka Kyokai. This publication was influenced by Stieglitz's Camera Work. The group held regular juried exhibitions that included work by leading Japanese pictorialists of the 1920s. Top selections were published their magazine. The journal was intended to be a monthly publication but due to disputes among members it ceased publication after only three issues in 1922. This group of images is not only beautiful but, according to a Japanese photo historian, is extremely rare as well.
The passion for motorized transit has always been called an American obsession, but, as you will see from many of these images, other countries also share the same zeal for the automobile. The photographs of cars in this online exhibition include many from some very noted photographers, including Man Ray, Robert Doisneau, Henri Cartier-Bresson, W. Eugene Smith, Geza Vandor, Daniel Masclet, Jean Dreville, Jaroslav Rossler and Pierre Jahan, among others. The sleek metallic sheen of these motorized beasts allows for that sense of beauty, mystery and speed, which almost seem hypnotic to the viewer. The camera provides more than a rear view mirror on the subject, often manipulating or at least making the most of reality to enhance a sense of all these effects. But the subject itself is still the star, like a beautiful model whose beauty photographers can only reflect in their lens.
We have also continued to change images and add to our essays for all our Special Exhibits, so they are worth another peek, especially if you have not looked lately. And, if you see one you like, let a friend know too! In addition, nearly a hundred new images have been added in just the last month to the I Photo Central website.
You can see these fine new exhibits, along with 44 others at: http://www.iphotocentral.com/showcase/showcase.php
GETTY CEO AND PRESIDENT RESIGNS UNDER PRESSURE
Barry Munitz, president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust for the past eight years, has resigned.
There have been calls for Munitz to resign from a number of media and political sources.
By resigning, Dr. Munitz acknowledged he would not receive a severance package. He will, without admitting any wrongdoing, pay the Getty Trust $250,000 in order to resolve any continuing disputes with him.
The Board plans to explore a full range of options as it considers Dr. Munitz's successor. Dr. Deborah Marrow, director of the Getty Foundation, has been asked to serve as interim President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust.
NEW PHOTO BOOKS: ONE BY MICHAEL
WOLF AND TWO BY EDWARD CURTIS
By Matt Damsker
HONG KONG: FRONT DOOR/BACK DOOR.
Photographs by Michael Wolf. Texts by Kenneth Baker and Douglas Young. Published by Thames & Hudson Books, distributed by W.W. Norton, 500 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10110; ISBN No. 0-500-54304-6; 119 pages, 71 color plates; $75 clothbound. http://www.thames.wwnorton.com
The great polarities of Michael Wolf's Hong Kong photographs are wonderfully captured in this volume, which juxtaposes his images of vast urban scale with shots of intimately viewed human evidence. Indeed, Munich-born Wolf has made Hong Kong his home since the mid-1990s, and his fascination lies with the city's remarkable solution to the challenge of housing an immense population in a small, hilly terrain. Hong Kong's verticality--the fifty-story apartment towers that dominate the landscape--are realizations, perhaps, of Le Corbusier's utopian view of modern architecture as a "machine for living," since these monoliths provide virtually all of the infrastructure required for dwelling, working, and playing.
But Wolf's camera is the objective eye, leaving us to decide how humanizing, or dehumanizing, this remarkable modernity may be. Evocative in their own way of Andreas Gursky, Wolf's large-format shots of the tower's facades are frame-filling jolts of pure visual information--the drably repetitive tiers of windows, ledges, and utilitarian detail--brightened mainly by the color of clothing hung up to dry.
In Wolf's vision, the masses that dwell here are invisible, but life nonetheless pulses through the hard fact of concrete and steel. It's vividly evoked by everything from the mops, brooms, and scavenged chairs to the shoes and houseplants that accent his close-ups of the "back door" of Hong Kong. For here is where the street-level alleys and byways are fenced and piped, wired and infrastructured, and where people have turned public spaces into utilitarian shrines. An image of dirty work gloves on a coil of barbed wire wrapped around a drainpipe becomes a tree of workaday vitality, while the stem of a plant that has threaded itself through the tight grid of a metal grate is an image of sheer adaptation.
Urban grit, grime, and decay are everywhere in these photographs, but Wolf celebrates the color and vitality that define Hong Kong above and beyond its sheer density. The bright red of a mop handle activates the gunmetal gray of a cracked, plastered wall, just as an improvised plant stand and umbrella rack fashioned from a red coat hanger testifies, wittily, to the human spirit. Wolf locates collage and decollage, found art, and Duchampian objects everywhere, it seems. And the book's cover image, of a lovely pink bedspread hung along a chain-link fence--with gray apartment towers visible in the background--is Wolf's ultimate statement of place and purpose, bridging the gap between what Hong Kong shows us and what we may see, if we look hard enough.
EDWARD S. CURTIS: THE GREAT WARRIORS.
By Christopher Cardozo. Foreword by Hartman Lowamaima; afterword by Anne Makepeace. Published by Bulfinch Press, New York and Boston; ISBN 0-8212-894-3; 128 pages; 107 plates. $35, clothbound.
EDWARD S. CURTIS: THE WOMEN.
By Christopher Cardozo. Foreword by Louise Erdrich; introduction by Anne Makepeace. Published by Bulfinch Press, New York and Boston; ISBN 0-8212-2895-1; 128 pages; 100 plates. $3, clothbound. Bulfinch Press is part of Time Warner Book Group, 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020; http://www.bulfinchpress.com
These handsome volumes are the latest acknowledgements of Christopher Cardozo's authority as the world's great collector of photographs by Edward S. Curtis. Curtis's images are peerless, of course--an artful and poignant documentation of a vanishing Native American world in the early decades of the 20th century. Here, Cardozo offers two well-focused and definitive Curtis portfolios, and the burnished, earth-toned polarities he stakes out are especially powerful, balancing the fierce masculinity of the great tribal warriors with the gentle dignity and maternal strength of Native American women.
Importantly, "The Women" is the first collection to focus exclusively on Curtis's female portraits, while some 40% of the images included in "The Great Warriors" are either previously unpublished or little known. Of the two, "The Women" exerts a unique expressive power, especially in the photos of tribal women and their young children. As novelist and poet Louise Erdrich notes in her foreword, "These children are shortly to be taken from their mothers and sent to boarding schools run by the United States government…Loss trembles in the background."
Indeed, Curtis was exceedingly sensitive to the humanity his camera captured, and his portraits invariably suggest depths of wisdom and pain in these women, many of them wizened, their faces seemingly etched with the sting of Southwestern sand. While the young girls express a guarded optimism, the elders know better, but Curtis never stoops to sentimentality. He locates his subjects in their daily worlds--weaving, nursing, canoeing, carrying water--and in the wonderful garb of their simple lives and timeless ceremonies. From the Chinook to the Hopi, Curtis's Native American women help us define female beauty as a blend of generative power ("Everything that gives birth is female," a Mohawk woman is quoted as saying) and stoic grace.
Though the sheer humanism of Curtis's work is the most powerful aspect of these photos, his compositional eye is never uninteresting, especially in such great photos as 1906's "Watching the Dancers." In it, a quartet of Hopi women, seen from behind, regard an unseen tribal ceremony from the height of a weather-beaten stone wall. Their two-toned cloaks and coiled hair are all that define them as female, yet we can strongly sense their bonding and their centered stillness. Such images remind us that Curtis was not only documenting a dying culture and its archetypes, but also finding formal pathways that took documentary photography toward modern breakthroughs.
With "The Great Warriors," of course, Cardozo reminds us that Curtis's legend is built on the strong, noble backs and profound visages of the tribal leaders and braves whose worlds had been shrinking for decades. These photographs--the classic full-frontal and in-profile portraiture of chieftains and war-painted warriors, along with the windblown, heroic shots of braves on horseback--are elegiac in the truest sense, none more so than the remarkable posed shot of Apsaroke warriors pointing skyward with an arrow while they make an oath, or of a Blackfoot chief watering his horse by the Bow River. Curtis knew that the Native American identification with sky, earth, and water was at the center of selfhood in this world, and that as the borders of Native American land grew ever smaller, the sense of individual potency was threatened.
Thus, the extraordinary faces of Arikara braves such as Little Sioux or Four Horns, with their uptilted chins and prideful wariness, bespeak a defiance tinged with defeatism. Similarly, Curtis's shots of aged chieftains such as the Oglala's Slow Bull, or the famed 1907 image of the Apaches' Eskadi, convey despair edged out by dignity at the end of life. By now, of course, it's hardly news that Curtis' project is among photography's great achievements, its legacy a legacy of vital cultural preservation and immense compassion, its influence far-reaching (at least as far as Richard Avedon's "In the American West" series), its resonance unfading.
Matt Damsker is an author and critic, who has written about photography and the arts for the Los Angeles Times, Hartford Courant, Philadelphia Bulletin, Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. His book, "Rock Voices", was published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press. His essay in the book, "Marcus Doyle: Night Vision" was published this past November.
(Book publishers, authors and photography galleries/dealers may send review copies to us at: I Photo Central, 258 Inverness Circle, Chalfont, PA 18914. We do not guarantee that we will review all books or catalogues that we receive.)