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PHOTO FINISH
by Walter Robinson
 
Cheryl and I rushed into the Park Avenue Armory at 3:30 on Wednesday afternoon. The AIPAD Photography Show, Mar. 26-29, 2009, only allows 90 minutes for the press preview, and we were half an hour late already. "Karen Rosenberg just left," volunteered one of the pr people, meaning that the New York Times critic was way ahead of us.†

More than 70 photo dealers from about 40 cities pack into four aisles on the drill floor, a daunting prospect. Maybe if we didnít talk to anyone, we could rush through and finish in time. At the end of the long entrance corridor was the booth of Edwynn Houk Gallery, a class act that was setting a good welcoming note with an overscaled black-and-white portrait of Princess Diana formed with puzzle pieces. It looked like the work of Vik Muniz, but he isnít part of the gallery program -- and no one was in the booth to ask.

If this kept up, maybe we could see the whole show, and not waste time learning anything.

No such luck. A few steps away was Galerie Daniel Blau from MŁnchen, the booth manned by the proprietor and Nicole Gnesa, who was in New York for the first time.† The gallery had come straight from TEFAF Maastricht, which has just begun to include photo dealers. Blau has brought a group of fascinating images made in the 1860s in the Far East by two photographer-explorers, several decades in advance of Paul Gauguin.

Paul-Émile Miot, a commander in the French navy, sailed Oceana in 1869, and took photographs in Tahiti and the Marquesas. One striking albumen print shows two Tahitian women, posed in front of their western-style clapboard home, a sign that the tropical Eden was already being compromised.† The print is $50,000. Miot is the subject of a book published by the gallery, The Invention of Paradise 1845-1870, which can be had for $30.

Émile Gsell set up his own photo studio in Saigon in 1866 and traveled to Cambodia, photographing the ruins at Angkor Wat for the first time, rediscovered only 11 years before. His photos, which include portraits of a Cambodian prince and other locals taken in a jury-rigged jungle studio, are priced between $1,300 and $19,000.

So much chatting used up a lot of time, so Cheryl hurried us along the aisle to visit her friend Catherine Edelman, the well known Chicago dealer in contemporary photography. The AIPAD photo show is now admitting digital and video-based works, and Edelman had an exemplary exhibit: A large photo-work by Chicago artist Gregory Scott that mixes photography, painting and an inset digital video screen.

In Scottís work, a viewer like us, who is partially painted in color onto the taupe-toned photo, seems to look at a picture on the wall, which is itself a version of the picture we are looking at. The scene in the picture-within-the-picture, however, comes alive, as a digital vid shows the artist installing the picture we are looking at. Self-referential enough for you? The effect is uncanny, and its appeal proven -- Edelman had already sold all but one of the edition of three (with three artistís proofs), for $25,000 each. Some of us, it seems, have a gift for dodging the recession.

On the way to Edelmanís stand, we passed the booth of New York photo dealer James Danziger, who had filled his walls with a mosaic of eye-popping images, including the now-famous photo of Barack Obama by AP stringer Mannie Garcia. Curiously, after all the fuss about Shepard Faireyís tarted-up version, Garciaís $1,200 color print looks rather good, clean and direct. You can see why photo collectors would want it.

A bit further down was the booth of Mona Gettnerís Hyperion Press, which formerly published photography portfolios but now operates privately on West 86th Street. The gallery featured a severe constellation of classic modernist and glamour photography, including a rare platinum palladium print of Horst P. Horstís Mainbocher Corset (most are silver pints), priced at $45,000 ("it should be more, but one has to take account of the market").

Another jewel in the Hyperion booth was a playing-card-sized print of Man Rayís Adam and Eve, dating to 1924 and starring Marcel Duchamp as Adam (in a pose inspired by Lucas Cranach). The image documents an early art performance, done in Paris on New Yearís Eve in between the acts of a ballet with words by Francis Picabia and music by Eric Satie. According to the memoirs of art dealer Julien Levy, the woman in the picture, Bronia Perlmutter, later married the filmmaker Rene Clair. The work is not for sale, though it (or another version) sold at auction in 1999 for about $170,000.

Cheryl and I paused next at the booth of A Gallery for Fine Photography from New Orleans, and idled away what little time we had left talking with proprietor Joshua Mann Pailet and gallery director Edward Hébert about the joys of Cajun food, the beauty of New Orleans, mortgage rates and the like -- itís pleasing to hear a Southern accent in Manhattan now and again.

Pailetís booth featured a large and late Helmut Newton -- notably soft-focus -- of Blonde and TV, Hotel Galli, Milan, 2002 ($175,000), plus many gold-leafed images by the hot young New Orleans photo-duo of Louviere + Vanessa. "We sell their works two and three times over," said Hébert. A smaller print in a smallish edition, with an image resembling a golden ghost in a Belle Epoque room, was $3,500.

At this point the clock struck 4:30 pm, and we got the bumís rush. "Members of the press are required to leave," said the burly and sharp-eyed official, who noticed that we had no exhibitorís badges. As far as I could tell, only one or two other members of the press were even present, so youíd think our attentions would be welcomed. But in the face of the bureaucratic imperative, having the proper badge is all-important. Out we went, with three-quarters of the show unreviewed.

Pausing on the threshold outside to talk to former Chelsea art dealer Dan Silverstein -- he says he is about to launch a foundation and archive for a celebrated artist who died in 1967, but he wouldnít give me the name -- I was amused to see a Park Avenue Armory uniformed guard come out and ask me to get off the steps. Ah, the indignity.

The show looked good. For further info on times and admissions, see www.aipad.com


WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.