Issue #50  10/30/2002
Armory Photography Show 2002 Hits NYC With a Splash

With rather average material at most of the auctions this time around (more on that in three weeks in the next newsletter), the real action may have shifted to the Jacob Javits North Pavilion and the Armory Photography Show 2002. The new show, which garnered great buzz around New York City, drew a crowd of 7,000 in its first iteration, and that is a true gate, not the inflated ones that you see with Paris Photo and other shows. The traffic was strong and steady most of the time over the five-day schedule.

Most of the dealers I spoke to thought that the show had a very respectable draw considering its first year status and the general slowdown in the marketplace after President Bush's public threats against Iraq a little over four months ago. The show also only had a few months lead time to get up and running this time, and its management did a fine job of getting the word out in such a short time.

The mix was eclectic and visually interesting. Many of the dealers, including ourselves, utilized the larger than normal booth space to create special areas and displays, which helped add interest to the fair. There was vintage 19th, 20th and contemporary work, but it did not seem like the same-old, same-old--at least not as much as at other photography shows.

While there was an unfortunate tendency towards kiddy porn and self-indulgent sexual kink in some booths, most of the show's work--particularly its contemporary material--was frankly exciting and stimulating (and not in a prurient way). As visiting French dealer Bernard Dudoignon said, it was like the best and worst of Paris Photo's first show.

Perhaps one of the most controversial, but powerful images in the show was The Dead Taliban Soldier by Luc Delahaye, which was displayed by Ricco/Maresca Gallery of New York. The huge (43 x 93 inches) panoramic image, which was in color, was a stopper--both oddly beautiful and disturbing at the same time. This was one of the first successful blending of contemporary and photojournalist work that I have ever seen. At $15,000 in an edition of 5 (it may have already gone up by the time this newsletter goes out), it was still reasonable (comparatively) for an important large-scale piece. Several major institutions have professed interest in buying the work. My congrats to the LA County Museum for apparently being the first to recognize the power of this piece. William Hunt of R/M tells me that a book is planned for early next year. Delahaye has won the ICP Infinity Award and is a member of Magnum.

Other contemporary work of note included that of one of my favorite artists Dieter Appelt at German dealer Springer & Winckler Galerie, who had their booth opposite ours. They also had a bizarre series of images of car crashes by Arnold Odermatt, a Swiss photographer.

Also across the aisle from us was the Weinstein Gallery, which had some luscious Luis Gonzalez Palma's, especially his long series of chairs. The gallery also had some striking work from two women artists, Deborah Oropallo (large painted pigment prints of industrial gloves) and Nancy Rexroth (small vintage Diana camera photographs from the 1970s).

I liked Rose Galleries' big color images by Mitch Epstein, which included a U.S. flag in a dry cleaning bag, a brief case on an unadorned mattress, and a group of boarded-up brick tenements. These are strong pictures. They reminded me of a raw Eggleston.

Speaking of William Eggleston, Howard Greenberg Gallery sold his image "Tricycle" for a six-figure price, perhaps the highest priced single print to sell at the show. As always, the gallery also had a number of very fine vintage images.

Show organizer Matthew Marks exhibited Weegee distortions at what I felt were rather high prices (about $9,000 each) and $400 Muybridge collotypes at $1200 each. I was told that the latter sold like hot cakes to naïve contemporary buyers--the only evidence that I saw for new "cross-over" success at the fair. Most of the buyers on either side (vintage versus contemporary) were collectors that bought either or both in the past. Marks did have a wonderful Wols, " Marché aux Puces", which I felt to be quite reasonable. It was interesting to see how dealers mixed vintage and contemporary work in a free flowing style.

I admired some of Robert Mann's early images by Callahan, Siskind, Brassai and others; Bruce Silverstein's fine collection of 20th-century photographs, particularly a strong, early print by Bill Brandt and two vintage Kertesz images; Gallery 19/21's fine French images (both 19th and 20th century); Peter Fetterman's wonderful displays on "Women--A Celebration" (which will soon become a book), "Eugene Atget" and "George Tice's Urban Landscapes"; and Rose Galleries' late-printed, but interesting and unpublished images by Manuel Alvarez Bravo, who died less than two weeks ago.

Vintage Works, Ltd.'s large, open booth design allowed us to put up a special exhibition of fine Le Gray's, as well as a display of other fine 19th and 20th-century vintage master images on other walls. We also had great success with contemporary artist Robert Asman. Asman, who has taken on Philadelphia as his life work, much as Atget did with Paris, garnered lots of attention and sales at the fair from collectors, curators and dealers alike. Several observers noted that his work has much similarity to Bravo's Magic Realism School. The pieces, which are tea-toned and selenium bleached and toned, are dramatic and exquisite prints. Asman is a master printer and often prints other photographers' portfolios and editions. He imbues straight photographic images with a sense of magic and mystery. You often find yourself wondering if there is double printing, especially when he incorporates murals and graffiti into the scene so that it looks like some mystical apparition, but it is just Asman's unique urban vision. We will be posting up some of these images in a Special Exhibit next month or two.

So all in all, the Armory Photography Show was a lot of fun, even if the sales weren't quite there this first year for most of the dealers. There will indeed be a next year, according to show management. I know I plan on returning.