The pilot came on the loud speaker with the weather report at Charles De Galle Airport: 1 degree C (that is just above freezing in F) and rain mixed with snow. Another week of typical Paris Photo weather, I thought to myself. But I was to be fooled: the weather turned out to be fair if brisk at times--mostly between 5-11 degree C (about 41 to 52 degrees F), in other words, very pleasant weather for Paris at this time of the year.
Likewise the vaunted European recession was nowhere in evidence: only fair economic skies as well. The streets and restaurants were busy once again. At the Gallery Lafayette, one of Paris' largest shopping department stores, there was an early holiday spirit in the air. Exuberant crowds flowed over even into the flood of cars in the busy streets. Christmas music came from live musicians and loudspeakers, as shoppers made early gift purchases. And the Beaujolais Nouveau flowed freely this week and was actually first-rate for once.
With the introduction of the Euro many photography dealers felt that the money that many Europeans had squirreled away under their beds and in cookie jars, would now have to flow into "hard" purchases of art, jewelry and antiques. After all, you cannot really change millions of francs, marks, lira, etc. without drawing the attention of the local tax people. Under such conditions, buying art, etc., which have good tax implications by themselves in Europe, makes considerable sense in this environment when the old money stashed away will have no value in the new economy.
Whether or not this is really the case, photo dealers were generally cautious here but also upbeat. Only the Americans were a little less enthusiastic about prospects.
While there were a substantial number of the normal American attendees missing at this year's Paris Photo, many of the key players still made an appearance. American dealers Joshua Mann Pailet, Julie Saul and Lawrence Miller, who exhibited last year, chose to sit this one out. Some of the dealers felt that the show had not been cost effective in previous outings, although Pailet indicated that he made the decision based on other factors, including the events of 9/11. The American contingent was still well represented by exhibitors Robert Klein, Howard Greenberg, Janet Borden, Paula Cooper, Staley+Wise, Hans Kraus, Jr., Edwynn Houk, Klotz Sirmon, RoseGallery, Bonnie Benrubi and Michael Senft. Other Americans of note that I bumped into at the show included Keith Davis of Hallmark Cards; Charles Isaacs, Pennsylvania dealer; Barry and Gretchen Singer, California gallery; Janos Novomeszky, Budapest and Nevada dealer, Robert Flynn Johnson of San Francisco Museum of Fine Art/Calif. Palace of the Legion of Honor, Chris Wahren, Connecticut dealer; Bryan and Page Ginns, New York dealers; Ernestine Ruben, noted photographer; Robert Koch, California gallery; Adam Boxer, New York gallery; plus, I am sure, many others that my poor memory just cannot bring up at the moment.
Most exhibitors that I spoke with told me that they had done very well in the first few days, but that Saturday was typically very slow for most. Many of the dealers reported sales as good as, or better than, the previous year. However, the sales this time were coming primarily from European rather than American buyers, which is a very positive development. Some big-ticket items were sold, according to the dealers that I spoke with.
Obviously this year's American attendance appeared to be off by about a third or more by my very unofficial tally; however overall attendance was actually up by a third according to the show management. Frankly, I have always been highly skeptical of their reported numbers. This year they claimed to have 40,000 people attend the fair--up 10,000 from the previous year. Personally, I thought the traffic was down slightly, but that Sunday's big crowd did help pull up the numbers in the end.
The big news at the fair was the sale of the show to the Reed-owned art group FIAC, which we had predicted two newsletters ago. Many of the dealers were relieved to find out that the show would still remain at the Carrousel de Louvre for 2002 (Nov.14-17), but there is no word what will happen to the show after next year.
Some vintage photography dealers told me and apparently show management that they would drop out of the show if it moves eventually to the Porte de Versaille location of FIAC. While the show has always placed more of a premium on contemporary work, it is the vintage dealers who provide the real foundation for this show and who remain year after year, while contemporary dealers drop like flies. It is also the vintage dealers who draw the most real buyers, rather than the extensive group of "lookers" (and those like to be looked at). The latter may be drawn by the big contemporary splashes of color, but seem more reluctant to actually open their wallets and purses--at least to date. Show founder Rik Gadella will, as expected, remain on to manage the show.
The special exhibits this year at Paris Photo were, like usual, a mixed bag. The Vivendi Universal collection built up by Phyllis Lambert, originally on behalf of Seagrams, and the Universal Studio archives were both quite interesting collections for quite different reasons.
The first collection was a carefully curated look at urban America, in particular the streets of New York. I liked the circa 1950 color print "Dry Cleaners" by Arthur Siegel, a Chicago School of Design photographer that I admire, and a image by an relatively unknown photographer by the name of E. Wightman.
It was also an education to see fine vintage prints of Saratoga Springs, one of Walker Evans' most iconic images, and Helen Levitt's equally iconic New York 1948 (children in masks).
The second part of the exhibition was a careful selection from an archive of thousands of stills from hundreds of movies. There was some great imagery in this group--from the giant spider attacking the Incredible Shrinking Man to the bloodied hand grasping the shower curtain in Psycho. The exhibit's curator Sam Stourdze, who curated both selections, noted that he picked from the movie archive based on the strength of the photographic image instead of the piece of cinema history it represented.
Both photo exhibits were great fun to look at and still managed to challenge many assumptions--always the mark of a good show to me. Stourdze, who often works with Paris gallery Baudoin Lebon and who has served as author and curator of many other important projects, did a very creditable job here. But just one note to Sam, who did make one small error in an otherwise well written catalogue text (actually an easy thing to do): Weegee's Critic normally has three people in the image; otherwise, it would not BE the Critic.
On the other hand, the video selection on exhibit from three separate collections made me feel that someone was playing a big joke on Paris Photo and all its participants. The kindest explanation is that the media is young and still trying to find its way, but then I would say that it is premature to show material that could not even be called a work-in-progress.
The biggest problem with this material is that it is just plain boring. I watched at least a dozen viewers yawn at a presentation during just a five-minute stretch. Actually I think they exhibited greater self-discipline than me. Such unknown (for very good reason, in my humble opinion) masterpieces as Three Legged (two men with one of their legs tied together a la county fair three-legged race style who dodge tennis balls hit towards them in a racket ball court), Godiva (a thin and ugly woman applying make-up with a spastic speeded-up action set to chitinous insect-like sounds), and others too boring (at least to me) to make note of here were displayed in four separate rooms.
If you just thought this was just European self-indulgence, you might be surprised to find that the two videos just cited came from two American collections. The European collections were not much of an improvement, but they did offer the enticement of sex on occasion, such as Pickelporno. Of course, it was pretty boring sex.
Anyone that has a different view of these videos at Paris Photo can email me a short (emphasis on short) review that will balance my lack of enthusiasm for them, but I think these presentations do nothing for the prestige or attendance of Paris Photo.
Actually they do do something: most people who saw them probably then sleepwalked the show floors or just went directly home to sleep it off. I highly recommend the video section to any jetlagged travelers finding it difficult to get sleep in noisy Paris.
If the exhibits on display were erratic, so was the material on the walls of the photo fair itself. I felt a little lack of vitality this year, as if the contemporary area was losing steam. It seemed less energetic and innovative than in past years. Many of the images dealt with sexual issues. While always titillating, surely in these times there are other themes to be considered? (Where are you, Larry Miller, when I really need your contemporary balance?)
I did like some of the work of Pavel Banka displayed at Klotz Sirmon (a new name for the gallery now that Alan Klotz and Janet Sirmon are a married team). For large-scale work, it was priced reasonably ($2000-$3000). Klotz told me that the gallery did well with the images at the show.
Edwynn Houk showed huge prints by Lynn Davis of icebergs. Excuse the bad joke here, but the work left me a little cool. I actually like the images, but they are so much alike that I see little purpose in a body of this work. One good image would have sufficed in my way of thinking, but then I do not think like New York City galleries very often. But then maybe I am only seeing the tip of the iceberg here. (Sorry about that.)
My friend Csaba Morocz made a major shift this year and showed all 19th century work, including some very fine Charles Cliffords (I bought five of them), some cloud studies by Italian Carlo Simelli and some Chauffouriers of Rome and vicinity.
London dealer Michael Hoppen showed the experimental work of Argentinean photographer Horacio Coppola, who worked from the 1920s on. Many of the images were large circa 1950 prints of 1930s images. I bought one that I thought to be extraordinary. I found out later that Michael had chosen it as his lead photo for the AIPAD catalogue. Talk to me at AIPAD if you like it. Hoppen also had some vintage Blumenfelds at the show.
Spanish photo and book dealer Kowasa Gallery always has some interesting pictorial and modernist Spanish images, although he has branched out to other areas of the globe including the US. I bought a very large Antoni Arissa image of a man stringing a sail at the bow of a ship, which is a well-published image. Kowasa also had nice images by Pic, Asnar and other Spanish photographers and US photographers Quigley and Siegel.
Hypnos Gallery had a wonderful mammoth plate print by Charles Weed of Japan. The print quality was excellent. Arnaud Delas, the owner of Hypnos, also had a great Desire Charnay of Palenque, one of only four images from paper negatives. The only drawback with these prints was the price. Both had price tags of 30,000 euros (nearly $27,000), which frankly was reasonable considering how strong both prints were. I was tempted on the Japanese image, although the Palenque was equally interesting. I did buy an historically important image by John Burke of Major Cavagnari with Sindars of Kabul and Kunae, particularly timely considering recent events. Other interesting images included several Chinese albumenized salt prints, which are exceedingly rare.
The Howard Greenberg Gallery went French with a superb early Kertesz of Boulevard de la Madeleine, Paris, 1927--a six-figure piece. It was featured in their catalogue listing.
Zero, l'Infini Gallery featured a one-man show of Jean-Luc Tartarin's large and small scale nature work. I loved a huge beautiful color print of clouds that had been sold to a French institution. His sheep images were also fun. I've picked out one for a future purchase. Jean-Luc is Paris dealer Bruno Tartarin's father. We had dinner on Saturday after the show at a little Italian restaurant near the Bibliotheque Nationale. He and his wife are delightful, intelligent people. His laid-back attitude was a sharp contrast to his son's entrepreneurship, but I could see where Bruno got his sense of humor from.
Galerie Laurent Herschtritt featured several Gustave Le Grays in an enclosed, but intimate and intelligently lit area. Rumor had it that Laurent had sold the two top Le Gray images several months before the show. They were certainly sold early in the morning before the show had opened. The one Le Gray of the blockade in Italy was marvelous. Several other photos intrigued me, including a huge panorama of Turkey and a Betsch and Arnaud self-portrait of Bertsch. A series of Krull images of lesbians getting it on was also fun.
UK AIPAD dealer Ken Jacobson joined the show for the first time. He had another Bisson climbing scene, nearly identical to one that he sold several years ago at AIPAD--a great image.
At Hans P. Kraus, Jr.'s booth, I found myself admiring an apparently unique Julia M. Cameron of the Letter Writer, as well as a Teynard of Medinet-Abu. As always, Hans had a good selection of early English photography, including Hill and Adamson and Talbot.
Michele Chomette, not usually known for low priced images, actually had what were probably the lowest priced items on exhibit at the fair at 1000 francs (under $150); she, of course, had numerous other quality images at considerably higher prices as well, but it was good to see interesting images at such an affordable price.
Galerie 213, Marion de Beaupre had some important Grete Stern montages that were very tempting, as well as a selection of above average contemporary work.
Michael Senft had some of the best prices on experimental between-the-wars materials at the fair. He had a good selection of Tabard and Man Ray. He told me that he is making most of his sales to European clients rather than Americans these days. That is good for the Europeans, but a shame for American collectors, who may be missing out on a very important area of photo history.
David Fleiss at Galerie 1900-2000 (when will they change their name?) had what was to me the most interesting Man Ray at the show: a Rayogramme circa 1925 of cards with letters on them. It was a magical image, but the price acknowledged the importance of the image.
Alain Paviot had a nice little (literally) exhibit entitled "Small Is Beautiful". I bought a few selections off of the wall and in the boxes, as did several other dealers and collectors. Paviot has a strong marketing sense; he is one dealer that knows how to "package" the work. His gallery is right around the corner from the old Bibliotheque Nationale (as opposed to the nightmare of the new building housing the library itself).
By the way, there is usually an interesting photography show at the BN, so you might catch it and drop by Paviot's gallery at the same time. Currently at the new BN, which unfortunately is not near Paviot's, there is a great Middle Eastern photography show. Though out of the way, it is only eight minutes on the new fast metro from Pyramides Metro station (near the Louvre and a quick walk from the old BN building).
Of course, there was lot more to see with the 100 galleries and publishers all on exhibit. My apologies for those I didn't get a chance to mention this time.