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PHOTO NEW YORK
by Walter Robinson
 
"This is a very contemporary fair," said Stephen Cohen, the Los Angeles photo dealer who began his career trading in books and now oversees an empire of photo fairs in four cities (the San Francisco fair is in hiatus, but a new Photo Miami, with 50 dealers, opens Dec. 7-10 in Miami’s Wynwood Art District). Photo New York 2006, which runs Oct. 5-8, 2006, is the third New York installment, and includes more than 40 dealers from New York, Los Angeles, Canada and Europe.

How’s business? "We’ll have to wait till the fair runs its course and see," said Cohen, pragmatically. Most of the galleries in the fair, to be completely honest about it, are relatively new and not necessarily what you’d call "high profile," though that’s certainly no reason to dub them "so-so," as is the practice at the New York Times when the gallery at hand doesn’t feature trendy, mainstream art.

The Photo New York opening-night gala at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan benefited the Rubin Museum of Art, New York’s own museum of Himalayan art. General admission to the fair is $15 for a one-day pass.

Cohen has in his booth several photographs by Ken Ohara, a California-based conceptual photographer who made a splash back in the 1970s with his collection of 525 no-frills black-and-white portraits, published in a block-like book with no text (and since reissued by Taschen). His new works, in a series titled "With," are softer, hour-long exposures of people taken along with the artist, who is sitting outside the photo-frame (also the subject of a book, published by Twin Palms).

Over a long career, Ohara has continuously focused on restrained, humanistic portraiture. His work is too seldom seen in New York, Cohen said, though it has been included in a "new acquisitions" exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum. Prices range from $12,500 for a vintage print from the ‘70s to $2,500 for works from "With."

Cohen’s booth also includes photos from the ‘70s and ‘80s by the late Tseng Kwong Chi (1950-1990), the East Village art world’s own photographer, known for taking innumerable, wryly comic self-portraits standing alongside epic monuments like the World Trade Center. Cohen, who works with Tseng’s sister, the choreographer and dancer Muna Tseng (she manages the photographer’s estate), arranged the 2005 publication by Nazraeli Press of Tseng’s first real photo book.

In partnership with Paul Amador, Cohen has also opened Cohen Amador Gallery in the Fuller Building on East 57th Street, a gallery that celebrates its one-year anniversary on Oct. 18, 2006.

One of the first things confronting visitors to Photo New York is a huge color portrait of a grimacing monkey, the work of Jill Greenberg. A Los Angeles resident (recently out of New York), Greenberg is better known as a celebrity portraitist. Her new series focuses on "show monkeys," a different kind of celebrity (or maybe not). Her work is on view at the booth of Brian Paul Clamp’s Clampart, a gallery whose home base is a few blocks uptown on West 25th Street in Chelsea. The monkey photos, ca. 50 x 42 in., are produced in editions of ten, with a starting price of $4,500, rising as the edition is sold to $15,000. Greenberg’s monkey portraits are also featured in a new book from Bulfinch ($24.99).

Also coming down to Photo New York from Chelsea is Printed Matter, the artists’ bookstore. Along with a table of artists’ books, the booth features an assortment of photos and collages from the new book Gore, the effort of a psychedelic noise band called Black Dice. The art has a manic feel, like James Rosenquist at CBGBs. They’re the work of Bjorn Copeland, the band’s visual artist (who has a show opening at d’Amelio Terras next week) along with photographer Jason Frank Rothenberg and other Black Dice band members. The photos and collages range in price from $300 to $1,400.

Go Sugimoto, a young Japanese photographer who has lived in New York City for the past six years, was on hand early in the fair to install his small, white, square framed gelatin silver prints in the booth shared by M.Y. Art Prospects, which dealer Miyako Yoshinaga runs on West 27th Street, and Nazraeli Press, the leading photo-book publisher. Like a polar bear in a snowstorm, the image in Sugimoto’s prints is barely there, simple white sculptures made from copy paper rolled and folded and then photographed. An 11-inch-square example is $600, while the 20-inch-square ones are $1,250, all in editions of ten.

Why white? Sugimoto said his earlier series had been all black -- dark and grainy night landscapes -- and that his next series was going to be white as well. "Day dreams from my garden," he said.

Also on view in the M.Y. Art Prospects booth was a large self-portrait with a lifelike sex doll by the Chicago-based artist Mayumi Lake, a series of works that have proved popular. Called My Idol (Imaginary Alice) (2006), the work is 30 x 43 in. and priced at $3,000. Very hot, in a sensitive way, of course.

Over at the booth of the Modern Book Gallery from Palo Alto, attention was garnered by large, finely done photographs of female nudes and flower blooms, which are also hot. Artnet sales rep Cheryl Sokolow had eyes for the small, surrealist-inspired erotic collages of Mary Daniel Hobson. Picturesquely framed and including collaged maps, writing, insect wings, feathers, fabric and the like, the photographs are a bargain at $800-$1,900.

Milan art dealer Federico Luger founded his gallery in Milan two years ago, and makes an avant-garde statement with his booth. On the floor are a series of photo "meteorites" -- that is, photos that have been crumpled up around small rocks -- by the 40-something Italian artist Piero Gatto. There’s Jesus, Brando, Princess Di -- bits of space debris fallen to earth? They’re €300-€700 each.

On the wall is a large plastic-covered minimalist photograph of a gallery space, its floor carefully custom-fitted with a small rug with an arabesque design -- made of dust as with a stencil. The artist, Igor Eškinja, is from Croatia, though now he lives in Vienna on a residency. The picture is from his "You Are Here" series, in which the subject of the shot is inadvertently destroyed over the life of the exhibition by the normal course of gallery activity. The photo is €4,500 in an edition of five.

New York photo dealer Michael Foley operates his gallery on West 27th Street in Chelsea, but made the nine-block trip downtown to the Metropolitan Pavilion, where his booth includes works by Sally Mann, Frederick Sommer and the 76-year-old photographer Rosalind Solomon. She recently had a retrospective at the Cologne photo museum, for which Steidl published a huge catalogue of her work, and is working on a new project titled "Polish Shadow," which includes pictures taken in Poland in 1988 and 2003. Solomon’s prints are $3,500 each.

Nearby is a larger black-and-white photograph by Alexandre Orion, a 27-year-old Săo Paolo-based graffiti artist. He calls his work an "urban intervention followed by photographic recording" -- that is, he makes a stencil-graffiti on the street and then waits for passing events to provide for the "perfect moment." In the booth is a shot of a motorbike blurring past a cement wall that has been painted with a life-sized stencil graphic of a strongman, placed sideways so he seems to be flying along holding onto the rear end of the bike.

Sao Paolo has an almost unbelievably intense graffiti scene, says Foley, which has been ably chronicled in the book Graffiti Brasil (Thames & Hudson). Orion’s photo, titled Metabiotica 8 (2003), is $3,250.


WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine. He can be reached at Send Email