Come April, photography blossoms in New York City like buds on the trees. For those who like a little competitive action, Christie’s, Phillips de Pury and Sotheby’s all hold their big photography auctions. For a more relaxed experience, it’s off to the annual AIPAD Photography Show, Apr. 10-13, 2008, at the New York Armory on Park Avenue. Sponsored by the Association of International Photography Art Dealers, the show, now in its 28th edition, presents more than 75 dealers from the U.S., Canada, Europe and Japan.
Last year, the fair seemed to feature a lot of glamour photography by everyone from Norman Parkinson to Steven Klein. This time around, the show seems split between newly unearthed vintage material and new work by contemporary photographers.
One highlight that falls into neither of these categories is the display of photos by the legendary Museum of Modern Art curator John Szarkowski at the booth of Pace/MacGill, opposite to the entrance to the fair. When Szarkowski was made director of MoMA’s photo department in 1962, not a single art gallery in New York was devoted to photography (Witkin Gallery opened in 1969, and Light Gallery in 1971). Among his own artfully composed black-and-white prints are several that predate his MoMA job, including a complex and alluring Chicago street-scene from 1954 showing terra-cotta detailing on the Garrick Theater cheek-by-jowl with the "Ham ‘n’ Egger" diner (a new print is $5,500).
Also at Pace/MacGill is a vintage gelatin print of Man Ray’s 1923 Return to Reason, a sensuous portrait of the nude torso of Kiki de Montparnasse caressed by shadows. The image is taken from the three-minute-long Dadaist film of the same name, which begins with a montage of rayographic images of tacks and nails, and ends with Kiki twirling and showing off her shapely body. The price: $900,000. The film is viewable on YouTube -- click here).
Around the corner is the booth of Joshua Mann Pailet, the irrepressible proprietor of A Gallery for Fine Photography in New Orleans. On view in his stand is a mural-sized new color photograph by Sandy Skoglund. Two-and-a-half years in the making, the photo -- titled Fresh Hybrid (2008) -- shows a typical American family exploring a tableaux including pipe-cleaner grass and felt-covered green trees sprouting bright yellow chicks from their branches. A large print -- it comes in three sizes -- is $75,000. The work is the first of a series of the four seasons, and represents "spring."
A second wall at A Gallery for Fine Photography is covered with orotone prints (silver gelatin printed on glass and backed with gold, the same technique used by Edward S. Curtis) by the New Orleans team of Jeff Louviere and Vanessa Brown, who work as Louviere + Vanessa. Their Boschian images of distorted creatures have proved popular, said gallery director Edward Hébert. "We’re going to have to raise their prices." At present their photos sell for $1,000-$10,000.
Other contemporary photographers with stuff at the fair include the Dutch artist Erwin Olaf, whose 4 x 4 ft. portrait of a sleekly winsome brunette, called Hope 5 (2005), displayed on the outside of the Hasted Hunt booth, was marked sold at $25,000 as soon as the fair opened. Another contemporary artist, Julie Blackmon, who is based in Springfield, Mo., was displaying her color digital prints at the booth of Catherine Edelman Gallery from Chicago.
Clearly inspired by Dutch genre scenes, Blackmon’s contemporary interiors are enlivened by playing children and realistic suburban disarray, as well as by references to Renaissance art via reproductions of Old Master paintings on the walls. The photos are produced in different sizes and editions, and priced between $3,200 and $4,450.
Among the 19th-century works on offer at the fair is a transfixing ambrotype from 1959-60 of John Brown, the revolutionary abolitionist who tried to launch an insurrection to end slavery and was hung for his trouble in 1959. A photo of a photo of a photo, this ambrotype is $7,000 at the booth of Charles Schwartz Ltd.
Nearby, at Richard Moore Photographs from Oakland are several works from a trove of 16 photographs by the early-20th-century California bohemian Margrethe Mather (1886-1952), who is credited with introducing the Illinois family man Edward Weston to the artistic milieu. A frequent model for Weston herself, Mather made sophisticated portraits of artists and writers in Los Angeles in the first part of the century before giving up photography entirely (and sinking into alcoholism). The group of 16 photographs here -- priced between $25,000 and $50,000 -- were recently discovered in the estate of Gertrude Barrett, a musician and member of Mather’s circle.
Fans of 19th-century photography won’t want to miss the booth of Hans P. Kraus Jr., which features several prints from L’Album Simart, assembled in 1856-60 and now on view at the gallery at 962 Park Avenue till May 9, 2008. A longstanding mystery in the photo world, the author of these striking pictures is unknown, but thought to be a member of the circle of French sculptor Pierre Charles Simart. The relatively large -- ca. 12 x 17 in. -- salt print of an apple tree is thought to complete a suite of nudes on the theme of Adam and Eve.
Another 19th-century trove is on view at Gary Edwards Gallery from Washington, D.C. The striking 1852 calotype by Maxime DuCamp showing a sculpture at Abu Simbel gradually emerging from the desert sand is one of a group of 100 salt prints, which also includes works by Roger Fenton, William Henry Fox Talbot and James Anderson. The entire lot can be yours for $1 million.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.