The fall photo auctions in New York are joined by something new this year -- the first Armory Photography Show, Oct. 25-28, 2002, at the Javits Center North Pavilion at 11th Avenue and 39th Street on Manhattan's West Side. Despite the brutalist setting (the North Pavilion is essentially a big tent on an asphalt parking lot), the 80-plus photo dealers have put on a winning show (booth rentals start at $5,500).
Among the revelations at the opening night vernissage was a large display of visceral, black-and-white photos from a 1978 punk rock concert by Bruce Conner, brought into the Barbara Gladstone Gallery stable along with his dealer, Curt Marcus, who showed the legendary filmmaker and artist at his now-defunct Broadway gallery. Conner and Gladstone have issued a new DVD containing all his early films, which is available for a bargain-priced (and profit-free) $50.
The fair marked as well the debut of Banning, a new gallery located at 64 North Moore Street in Manhattan's Tribeca district. Founded by Jack and Irene Banning, the gallery is essentially a successor to Ubu, the important Surrealist photography gallery on the Upper East Side that Banning had run with partner Adam Boxer for eight years. Banning handles early modernist photography as well as posters and books from the period, and opens its first show, "Paris Berlin Moscow," at the Tribeca space, Nov. 2-Dec. 14, 2002.
Other eye-catching fare at the photo show included veteran Village Voice photographer Fred McDarrah's history-drenched photojournalistic shots of the downtown scene in the 1970s at Steven Kasher Gallery (New York), Swedish artist Maria Friberg's romantic color shots of little cupids playing in the clouds at Conner Contemporary Art (Washington, D.C.), David Burrows' amusing, post-Pollock color photos of carefully curated messes he calls "Modern Domestic Disasters" at Frederieke Taylor Gallery (New York), J. Leone's serial set of self-portraits in yoga meditation attached to a sinuous sheet of shiny metal at Paul Rodgers 9W (New York), a solo show of the mysterious and romantic fuzzy color photos of Seton Smith at Winston Wachter Mayer Fine Art (New York) and Whitney Biennial veteran Jose Alvarez's color photos of himself and some female acolytes in robes praising the Holy Spirit at the new gallery Ratio 3 (San Francisco).
The Armory Photography Show was preceded by photo auctions at both Sotheby's and Christie's (the sale at Phillips, which features a group of 31 classic portraits by Richard Avedon, takes place today, Oct. 25). Sotheby's had the more impressive sale, spread over two days, Oct. 23-24, with three catalogues -- one of regular consignments, a second devoted to more than 80 fabulous photos of New York City taken in the 1930s by Berenice Abbott, which were deaccessioned by the Museum of the City of New York, and the third with more than 200 photographs from the Museum of Modern Art.
The photo world more or less accepted the sale of the Abbott works, which the museum said were all duplicates. Eyebrows were raised, however, at MoMA's sale, since a handful of the top lots are unique images that are the envy of many a collection. Museum photo curator Peter Galassi, who is reshaping the MoMA photo holdings to his own liking, told the Photograph Collector newsletter that he was willing to sacrifice works from "areas of exceptional strength" in order "to get strong in areas where we are weaker."
In any case, the market snapped up the museum offerings. The Berenice Abbott collection sold 64 of 84 lots, or 76 percent, for a total of $669,498 (with buyer's premium -- 19.5 percent of the first $100,000 of the hammer price and 10 percent on any amount in excess of $100,000). Judith Selkowitz's Art Advisory Services bought Abbott's stark 1938 shot of the Flatiron Building for $54,970, well over the $30,000 presale high estimate. The equally dramatic Canyon, Broadway and Exchange Place, Manhattan (1936) went for $52,580 (est. $10,000-$15,000).
The MoMA photos were more than 79 percent sold, with 168 of 212 pictures finding buyers, for a total of $2,691,642. The sale's top ten included several records. Man Ray's untitled 1922 rayograph with flowers and ferns, an elegantly beautiful image that was originally owned by MoMA curator James Thrall Soby, went for $339,500 (est. $150,000-$250,000), a new auction record for a rayograph by the artist. Artist records were also set for Frantisek Drtikol, when his erotically stretched image of a nude woman from 1928, The Bow, sold for $76,480 (est. $40,000-$60,000), and Clarence H. White, whose Vermeer-like Pictorialist platinum print from 1912, The Mirror, sold for $62,140 (est. $10,000-$15,000).
Sotheby's single-owner sale offered 266 lots; 158, or more than 58 percent, found buyers for a total of $1,438,512. Top lot was again a work by Man Ray, a mounted and inscribed rayograph from 1929 that was made as a poster for the Paris nightclub Le Bateau Ivre, which sold for $174,500 (est. $150,000-$250,000).
In Christie's single-catalogue sale on Oct. 22, 201 of 428 lots found buyers, a disappointing 47 percent, for a total of $2,438,685. Top lot here was also a Man Ray, also sold to Art Advisory Services -- a solarized, Georgia O'Keeffe-ish Calla Lillies (1931), which went for $185,500 (est. $80,000-$100,000). An anonymous American buyer paid $141,500 (est. $150,000-$200,000) for Dorothea Lange's famously emblematic Depression-era picture, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936). And a European bidder paid $95,600 (est. $80,000-$100,000) for a double-grid of two dozen prints of Helmut Newton's famous image of four fashion models, dressed and undressed, marching toward the camera.
Swann Auction Galleries down on East 25th Street also held an auction sale of 19th- and 20th-century photographs on Oct. 21. The total at the hammer was $510,350, with a group of 27 large-format landscape and industrial views of the Delaware and Hudson Canal by Thomas H. Johnson, ca. 1860-71, going for $29,900.