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Andy Warhol

Robert Smithson

Vito Acconci

Harry Shunk

Addison Thompson

Art Market Watch

Mar. 30, 2012 

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Was Andy Warhol the first guy to think of photocopying body parts? In 1969 the artist was at the School of Visual Arts supply store when he saw the new Photostat machine, a copier that made Xerox-like replicas but printed them as silver gelatin photographs. The store’s owner, Donald Havenick, said he tried to warn Warhol and his companion, Bridget Berlin, that the bulbs burned hot. But that didn’t stop Warhol from photocopying his cheek and Berlin her breasts.

Warhol went on to make seven more self-portraits that he used for a story in Playboy, but Havenick kept that original, and is now selling it for an estimated $50,000-$70,000 in the artnet Auctions sale, “Art of the Photographic Document: 1960-1990,” curated by Addison Thompson. “Back in 1969, after showing the piece to my wife, she said it looked like death!” Havenick said. “She thought it was just too morbid to hang in our apartment -- until now."

The sale goes beyond photography as a fine art, however, offering unique examples of the medium’s role as historian of performance art, happenings, and other time-based works. Once artists had abandoned their studios to make art in the landscape -- urban or Western -- photo documentation began to appear in art galleries as works in themselves.

Some of these photos are the only remaining trace of the original works, like Robert Smithson’s own photo of one of his archetypal earthworks, the Asphalt Rundown, Rome, Italy (1969), which has an opening bid of $16,000. Even more ephemeral were Vito Acconci’s notorious Body Art performances. In Waterways, a video performance from 1971, he used the saliva in his mouth as an “art material” via a close-up video and amplified sound. The set of four photographs documenting the piece are estimated at $5,000-$7,000.

Harry Shunk (1924-2006) was one of the great documentary photographers of the avant-garde era, notably collaborating with Yves Klein on his famous “leap into the void” photograph. Here, his 1960 black-and-white photograph of Klein’s “Anthropometries” performance -- an indelible scene of a string septet, three nudes and Klein himself -- is estimated at a mere $1,500-$2,500.

Another highlight is Addison Thompson’s own aerial 1989 documentation of the scar left behind after the removal of Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc from New York’s Federal Plaza, priced between $7,000 and $9,000.

To see the history in action, visit artnet Auctions, Mar. 28-Apr. 4, 2012.

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