Sunday, December 12, 2010

Serious Holiday Snaps: 7 Galleries at 511 W25th talk turkey about photography



I CONFESS that a week ago, I didn't give much thought to collecting photographs. Perhaps due to the push-button instant gratification of the camera, it always seemed the "easy way out" compared to artfully splashing about layers of paint or fashioning grand canyons out of core ten steel (a la Richard Serra). I've since done a 180-degree about face, partly due to a friend's recent purchase of a vintage photo that led me to "real deal" photo gallerista Deborah Bell, enthusiastic art consultant Brian Appel, and a fascinating series of mini-talks entitled "511: Holiday Focus on Photography"  this past weekend.

The 20-minute talks by the seven galleries were excellent but scheduled a bit too tightly, leaving no room to browse before you had to beat it to the elevator to see the next. (A 30-40 minute window, leaving time to ponder the just-discussed work, would have made more sense). One thing I noticed was how affable and friendly this bunch of gallery owners were. I didn't detect any of the big gallery Armani clad 'tude you experience in some galleries, and no one was hiding behind their oversize iMacs avoiding questions from ignoramus frametappers (my artworld equivalent of "tirekickers".) Is it the nature of  photography, where the camera's gaze accepts people, things, situations "as they are," that makes them so?

Here's a brief roundup:

ALAN KLOTZ GALLERY (Suite 701) The Redoubtable Anonymous, The Reasonably Famous
First off the rank was a great talk by Alan Klotz, who showed how you could get your paws on a wonderful bargain - "a real photo, not a phony thing out of a computer" - because his expert paws had already trawled the web and glommed them for you. For example, a photo signed by Josef Sudek "might be $7800", but Klotz had sleuthed a bunch of high quality limited editions printed by one of Sudek's contemporaries (Petr Tausk), which he could sell for a remarkable $275. Why? asked a disbelieving onlooker.
"Because they didn't cost me very much!"
The no-so-pseudo Sudek: a nice piece at a nice price

Close up of "Bohemian Landscape" - "really nice" says Klotz

Present was popular local photographer Harry Wilks who submitted some striking and gritty, "bridgy" New York studies for the show at around $500. He explained that the were lower due to a more modest size of around 10"x8",  and "a generous holiday discount." In a bin I spotted a photo montage of the moon (I think) by the artist NASA, which seemed a little steep at $400, because we all hallucinate that it's government footage we're paying for via taxes anyway.  Perhaps the underfuselage droid that took it was unionized ...

DEBORAH BELL PHOTOGRAPHS (Suite 703) G.P. Fieret: Women and Self Portraits
Deb reads about a meeting between G.P. Fieret and a buyer
Deb Bell had just put away her last exhibition: "Andy Warhol's Street Diary", which was what actually brought me to her door. While romancing the near impossibility of owning one, I listened to her talk about the current show by Gerard Petrus Fieret, an eccentric Dutch photographer who was so paranoid about people stealing his ideas, he curiously stamped big purple copyright notices all over his works - "in artful places, of course," said Deb. He died a couple of years ago - does that make him instantly collectible? "Not right away, but possibly, eventually," I think the answer was. To meet the utterly charming Deb is to meet your favorite piano teacher in the world - I'm sure everyone who encounters her instantly wants to adopt her. More about Deb in my next post.

An out-of-print book by the late Mario Cravo Neto
1500 GALLERY (Suite 607): Claudio Edinger - Sao Paulo Ambiguous

"If you have to remember just 2 names that are influencing Brazilian photography now, the first one is Mario Cravo Neto."

I didn't get hear the second as I had to duck out to hear the next talk [update: gallery co-director Andrew Klug just Facebooked me that it is Miguel Rio Branco], and I should insert "the late", for Google tells me that sadly, the son of the famous Brazilian sculptor of the same name died last year of skin cancer. Cravo Neto hailed from "the most African" of all states in Brazil, Bahia, and his work was deeply influenced by the rituals he observed. You can see a rich panorama of his photos if you simply Google Image his name - arresting black and white narratives involving chickens, eggs, blood - to put it somewhat simplistically.

Gallery owner Claudio seemed surprised and pleased at the small but enthused gathering, remarking that he "didn't know if anyone would be interested in Brazilian photography." Perhaps he didn't know that we've all read about Brazil being the new "it" nation, having scored the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, thanks in part to its wildly effective president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva who we watched on 60 Minutes last night. (Great take out from the show: "Why would Brazil want war? Psssh. There's too much sun and fun to be had.")

Daniel Cooney with a "bid for this now" photo by Matthew Nighswander: a great gift for a soccer and aeroplane lover rolled up in one!
 DANIEL COONEY FINE ART (Suite 506): Buying Photos Online

Next taxi stop was a talk about the real "iPhoto", specifically Daniel Cooney's own "Holiday Emerging Artists Auction" at igavel.com. Here, you can score a really nice, big shot like the one above for a starting bid of $200 plus buyer's premium ($40), though hopefully you won't get away with that.

"The highest we got at one auction was $2000, which is great for a new artist, the average is around $500-800."

Cooney has a lot of experience in the auction house world, the name Sotheby's popping up on his creds, and spends countless hours trawling student shows for emerging talent. While collecting via "artbay" is convenient, he says people are still wary and want to come in and see that he is a real person with drawers of prints that open and close. Whether a gallery owner can truly be freed of the tyranny of bricks-and-mortar rent remains to be seen. As a social media person, I say, video, video, video! Show that you're the real deal and people will come running. I hope my video here convinces you that Dennis, and the others, are "the real deal".
Small Double Spiral: A photogram by Maureen McQuillan at McKenzie Fine Art

McKENZIE FINE ART (Suite 208): Maureen McQuillam Photograms

 This talk was about a revivalist photography technique called the photogram. No camera, no stuff - just a piece of photopaper, a light source, and whatever you want to capture in between. Camera shy gallery owner Valerie (perhaps I could have persuaded her to stand in front of some photo paper) explained how Maureen McQuillam made these shots - a stack of transparencies - like the kind our teachers use to put on overhead projectors - artfully doodled with say, a Sharpie, then placed on the paper and a lightbulb switched on. In the picture above, the whitest lines are "closest" to the photopaper. The effect is somewhat like scribbling the air with a sparkler or laser pointer in the dark space under your bed. (Note to creative self: "Closet Laser Pointer Series" by Lynette Chiang. Moving right along ... ). Prices ranged from around $1500 upwards, and one could say these are true, vintage one-offs - no reprints from negatives here, because the photogram "is" the negative, and the positive.  I also couldn't help but notice the fun paper mache book sculptures in another room by California artist Jean Lau, this one being my favorite, but of course!

At this point, and due to the tight scheduling, I ran out of time and could only run and peek into the two remaining galleries:

RICK WESTER FINE ART showing large and interestingly desolate photographs by Hearst 8x10 Winner, 2011, Jonathan Smith.

DEAN PROJECT (Suite 207) showing work by an international potpourri of artists (Spain, Netherlands and Korea) although their image of a chocolate dipped polar bear by Tim Berg and Rebekah Myers had me running out to the nearest Jacques Torres.

It was a terrific, low key interlude of photography education and appreciation on a Saturday afternoon I just hope they schedule the itinerary it a little looser next time - and make sure their email dispatch is in a bigger font. It was like try to read individual pixels. I bet it was sent via Windows!

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