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Walther Collection Project Space

by Barbara Pollack
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"I’m not interested in a Who’s Who of photography or who anybody is talking about," says Artur Walther, a longtime board member of the International Center of Photography who has assembled his own collection of more than 1,200 photographs and videos. Though he began with modern and contemporary German photographers, especially August Sander and Bernd and Hilla Becher, Walther’s extensive acquisitions in Asia and Africa have made his collection an invaluable resource for curators astutely attuned to new movements in a global art world.

Now, Walther is making his collection available to a New York audience, opening the Walther Collection Project Space on the seventh floor of the Chelsea Arts Building at 526 West 26th Street in Manhattan. The 1,700-square-foot nonprofit gallery is an annex to his private museum in Ulm, Germany, which opened in 2010 with the exhibition "Events of the Self: Portraiture and Social Identity,"curated by Okwui Enwezor, with whom the collector traveled to Africa several times in the past decade.

For the next two years, both of Walther’s spaces are focusing on African photography, featuring works by David Goldblatt, Seydou Keita, Santu Mofokeng, Malick Sidibe and Guy Tillim, among others.

The Walther Collection Project Space in Chelsea opens with an inaugural show of landscapes by South African photographer Jo Ractliffe. Titled "As Terras do Fim do Mundo (The Lands of the End of the World)," the series of nearly 60 platinum prints is a terrifying look at the traces of war -- minefields, mass graves, ruins of military outposts -- in present-day Angola.

According to Ractliffe, who is in town for the opening, when Walther first visited her home in Johannesburg in 2009, he was eerily silent but wound up buying so extensively that she was able to build her first studio with a darkroom in her backyard. Ractliffe’s work can also be seen in "Impressions from South Africa: 1965 to Now" at the Museum of Modern Art through Aug. 14, 2011.

The Walther Family Foundation is providing lavish publications to accompany the exhibitions, including a 445-page book edited by Enwezor for Events of the Self and a 125-page catalogue with essay by Ractliffe for her show.

The next exhibition at the museum in Ulm is "Appropriated Landscapes," an investigation of African landscape photography and videos, organized by Corrine Diserens and opening June 11, 2011.

BARBARA POLLACK is author of The Wild, WIld East: An American Art Critic’s Adventures in China (Timezone 8 Books).