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Helen Levitt
New York, Kids in Mask Up Tree
at Ariel Meyerowitz Gallery

"Silva" installation view

Jeff Whetstone
Jumping Tree

Serrana Charles
Spain, 1982
Ariel Prospers
by Charlie Finch

Now that she has moved to a dazzling new Chelsea space at 120 Eleventh Avenue, Ariel Meyerowitz, the daughter of Ground Zero photographer Joel Meyerowitz, has vaulted to the very top of the closed circle of fine art photography dealers.

She proves it with her current show, "Silva," a museum-quality exhibition of images of trees and their human handlers, spanning 150 years. The show is an esthetic triumph and an object lesson in the tricky world of photo collecting.

Do you drop $25,000 for an extraordinary Robert Frank shot of Allen Ginsberg sitting in arborum, snapped, printed and signed in 1959? Or do you pay a bargain $3,000 for a later print of Helen Levitt's haunting 1940 classic of two masked urchins climbing a naked bough? Since the Levitt is signed, and dated on the verso, and the nonagenian artist is alive and kicking on Washington Square, you probably do.

Do you fall for a hot, promising piece by Yale artist Jeff Whetstone, which we found quite dull, at $2,000, edition of eight? Or do you snap up a breathtaking shot by Serrana Charles of joyous Spanish kids dancing around a naked tree for a bargain $500, 1982, edition of 10, as we did?

Do you grab a great Justine Kurland of a naked, zaftig woman leaving a rusted school bus, edition of eight, a tad overpriced at $3,775? Or do you dig deep for $7,500 to purchase a classic, sexy Wynn Bullock, Gwen on a Log, 1954, described as an "early gelatin silver print, signed in recto of mount"? Those photography terminologies are a poetry all their own, aren't they?

These examples only scratch the surface of the visual treasures at Ariel's place, mounted in the style of MoMA's legendary photography galleries, now subject to uncertain renovation.

The exhibition includes an 1865-66 Douglas Fir by Carleton Watkins, at $14,000, and Stieglitz's Poplar Trees, Lake George, 1932 for $35,000.

Yet somehow Neil Folberg's Starry Grove, 1999 at $800, and Shadows on the Beech Tree, 1932, at $650 are just as satisfying.

Classic images by Walker Evans and Cartier-Bresson can't top Lee Friedlander's exceptional cherry blossoms, Kyoto '79, a bargain at $2,000.

"I kind of put this show together at the last minute," the youthful, perky Ariel told us, rather disingenuously, as she pointed to a great Sally Mann and a breathtaking Edward Weston.

But then, Ms. Meyerowitz has the resources to do it quickly and splendidly.

A must-see show.

"Silva," Apr. 19-May 31, 2003, at Ariel Meyerowitz Gallery, 120 11th Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10011

CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).