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April 22, 2007

By Alex Novak

If it's the AIPAD Show, it must be some kind of a record-breaker--at least for the weather! Last year's February's show experienced the highest amount of snowfall in New York City's history on its last day of the exhibition. And many still remember the blizzard of 1993 that stranded AIPAD dealers virtually alone and the Sunday bomb scare of 2003. This year, with a move to only a slightly warmer month of April, the show's last day on Sunday was awash in the second highest deluge of rain to ever hit the city--only eclipsed by a record set 125 years earlier.

Despite the weather and other Sunday snafus, the show itself was far from a wipe-out, with attendance records being set the last two years and with Sunday's brave crowds helping out those numbers dramatically. This year's wet but enthusiastic crowds topped 1,500 attendees on the last day, and AIPAD's executive director and show manager Kathleen Ewing estimated that the total numbers were up again from last year's record breaker. While figures weren't finalized, Ewing felt that over 8,000 people made their way to the 7th Regiment Armory during the five days of the fair.

The resultant sales were strong and solid, much like last year, although a few dealers still complained about a lack of top level players seen at other events, such as Art Basel Miami. But curators and collectors groups made a very strong showing at the fair, and there were a lot of solid mid-level sales reported here, along with the occasional six-figure one. The increased presence of an international contingent of buyers was also noted by many dealers, perhaps prompted by the weak dollar. In addition, numerous international exhibitors showed here, at least two for the first time--Galerie 1900-2000 and Galerie Daniel Blau.

With over 94 photography dealers and galleries exhibiting, attendees had plenty to choose from and much more contemporary work than in past years, despite the small booth sizes.

Washington D.C.'s Gary Edwards told me, "Generally, I thought the show looked very good, with an appropriate mix of 19th, 20th and 21st-century images. I would say that the recent additions to the list of AIPAD members from Europe, such as Daniel Blau, Serge Plantureux and David Fleiss (Galerie 1900-2000), did a lot to upgrade the quality of photographs on display. Altogether, a very successful fair. Crowds were good, even on the day of terrible rain."

Artcurial's auction expert Gregory Leroy deemed it "a pretty good fair, which stands up as the best in the world along with Paris Photo; and all the rest are distant seconds. It was especially strong on 1900 to 1950's material (or maybe I thought so because this is material hardly ever shown in Europe). I was pleased to see some very strong 19th-century material, especially in the booth of Ezra Mack--a great selection of work and a risky bet. Also, I couldn't help but notice that the prices for French humanist photographers such as Doisneau, Ronis or Boubat have gone through the roof in the last year. Works of particular interest to me included a wonderful Le Gray Fontainebleau at Hans Kraus; a great Boubat self portrait at Gallery19/21; a large and fine Flachéron paper negative at Serge Plantureux; and the beautiful "train and bridge panorama" by Frederick Gutekunst at Contemporary Works/Vintage Works."

New York dealer Tom Gitterman said, "I think the fair is so much better at the Armory. The overall look of the fair was very good, and I was surprised how many booths were fit in without it seeming too overdone. Even so, I still think it would look much better with fewer dealers and with the fair vetted. But that isn't what AIPAD was set up as; and, even with its democratic nature, it does a remarkable job."

But as contemporary art writer and critic Brian Appel told me, "These things are very often tremendously disappointing because the room allocated to the various dealers is too small to mount an exhibition that treats the images with the respect they need."

With the limitation on acceptable venues in New York City and an active and growing membership, AIPAD is definitely "space-challenged." But most exhibitors appeared, to me and other observers, to do a splendid job of showing work despite the limitations. As San Francisco dealer Michael Shapiro said, "The room looked better than it ever has. We looked grown up; and, for the most part, the dealers rose to the occasion. I feel like we've taken the first of many big steps we need to progress." He then quipped, "I got a lot of bad vibes for not using red dots in my booth," implying that he did very well, including selling a Drtikol pigment print of a nude. Petaluma, CA dealer Barry Singer seconded Shapiro's comments, noting that "overall the show looked beautiful" and that "this was our best AIPAD ever."

My own choices for best booths did focus mostly on those with the biggest booth space, so that was certainly a factor, but Ezra Mack, as noted above, did a very fine job with a smaller space, exhibiting some very top-end 19th-century material in some very unique ways. Rudolf Kicken's display was again among the best, featuring rare large-scale Heinrich Kuhn photographs, which served as an appetizer for his own upcoming gallery show of this work in Berlin. A number of his fellow dealers, including myself, also noted Lawrence Miller's fine display of Ray Metzker's largely vintage photographs. The latter was particularly challenged (along with Josh Pailet's A Gallery for Fine Photography) when he arrived to find his booth shortened by four feet due to a last-second fire marshal change. Hans Kraus, Jr. also had a strong showing of 19th-century material in his booth. One photograph in particular drew fellow dealer Michael Shapiro's attention: "For someone who has bought only two 19th-century pictures in 35 years, I drooled continually over Hans Kraus' Julia Margaret Cameron of Mrs. Duckworth. It truly sent me."

As noted above, many exhibitors reported solid sales. Barry Singer said he did very well with his "newest contemporary artist, Douglas Gayeton and sold six pieces of his work documenting the Slow Food Movement in Tuscany. People could not stop looking at his shadow boxes. But the piece that got the most attention in our booth was a very rare vintage print by Arthur Rothstein, 'Dust Storm', which came out of the archives of the US Camera Annual publication of 1936."

Tom Gitterman said, "We sold special vintage prints by Walker Evans, Bill Brandt, Erwin Blumenfeld, as well as more recent work by Charles Traub and Debbie Fleming Caffery to name just a few. We have serious interest in work by Minor White, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston. I was surprised that we didn't have more specific interest in our vintage print of Edward Steichen's 'Triumph of the Egg', 1921 at $115,000 and our mammoth plate William Henry Jackson of the Colorado River near Glenwood Canyon at $50,000.

Gary Edward reported that he "did very well at the fair." He had a client buy an entire collection of hand-colored American salt-print portraits that constituted the central installation in his booth. The collection of about 150 vernacular portraits was priced in six figures, according to Edwards.

Edwards also said, "I was surprised to see that both Willy Schaeffer and I independently decided to feature plates from W. J. Stillman's 1869 "Acropolis of Athens" in the beautiful carbon print version. I have not seen offerings of this material for quite a while. Our prices, too, were practically the same. I sold three of the ten plates I brought. Among the best 20th-century photographs still available from my booth are prints by Man Ray, Francesca Woodman, Alexander Zhitomirsk (a photo-collage) and Natalia Gontcharova. Each of these had admirers."

Massachusetts dealer Mack Lee reported that "Our sales of 19th-century photographs and photographs by Photo-Secessionists were particularly strong. Paul Hertzmann, Susan Herzig and I offered a collection of platinum prints by Gertrude Kasebier. The group includes well known images such as 'Happy Days', 'Road to Rome', and 'The Picture Book'. We've published a catalogue with an essay and new research by Barbara Michaels."

I can vouch for the quality of these images. They were quite marvelous to behold.

New York (and I Photo Central) dealer Charles Schwartz told me, "I had the best AIPAD show this year in all the many years I've been doing AIPAD. There was solid energy, and it certainly beat being on the second floor in years past. The images I had on display of the Bunraku Puppet Theater by Taikichi Irie did particularly well, as did most of my Japanese photos, particularly the ambrotypes. I published my own catalogue this year on my Japanese Ambrotype Collection and it's available for sale on the I Photo Central website for $20. Some unsold Bunraku Puppet Theater images are available for $6,500 each. To my complete surprise what didn't sell were two black and white vintage gelatin silver prints illustrated in LIFE magazine in 1968--both aesthetic and sentimental gems by the late Gordon Parks. One, an artist's proof, was kept by Parks himself, and I displayed it in its original frame, which was in his office until he died ("The Fontanelle Family", $8,000)."

Fellow New Yorker Spencer Throckmorton said, "The show looked great. A lot of fine vintage works for sale. It truly was the history of photography. In our own booth we sold vintage and modern prints. The very rare Tina Modotti of telephone poles did not sell yet. I felt the most beautiful photo at the show was the Tina Modotti typewriter in Edwin Houk's booth."

Chicago dealer Catherine Edelman reported, "Personally, we did well. We sold 26 Julie Blackmon prints as well as ten other pieces. While I did not think the traffic was as good as past years, we still had a great show."

New York gallerist Bonni Benrubi said, "We had a very fine fair, better than I expected considering that the attendance seemed very thin and there were many of my New York clients absent. Our stars were Abelardo Morell and Matthew Pillsbury, and we sold less vintage material this year than previous years."

LA photo dealer and bookseller Michael Dawson reported that his best sale (a Duane Michals and a Kertesz image) was to a New York collector who was new to him. "I hope to sell him more pieces in the future," Dawson told me. "Throughout the weekend I had private collector and trade interest in a rare album of 60 photographs produced in 1931 by Ansel Adams (Winter Sports in Yosemite) for the Yosemite Park and Curry Company that I featured in the booth."

Tucson dealer Terry Etherton told me, "We did very well...not spectacular but solid. On Sunday near the end, however, I went a little crazy buying from other dealers--Siskind's Pleasures and Terrors portfolio from Daiter, Sally Mann from Bellows, Witkin from Lebon, and a few other goodies.

"I thought my most interesting pieces included the large Witkin encaustic titled 'Abundance, Prague, 1997' and two Callahan dye transfers by Callahan that date from 1985 Atlanta. Both Callahan's were sold to museums. The Witkin is priced at $35,000 and was unsold, but I have a lot of interest. We also had the best print I have ever seen of Karl Moon's 'Navajo Boy'. This sold to a prominent NYC designer."

Terry concluded, "In general, I thought the show went well. One trend that I noticed was that there were more Europeans this year. We made sales to collectors from France, Germany, Switzerland and Spain. This is good news. I actually got paid in euros for a Les Krims."

I have to admit that I barely saw half the booths at the fair, because our own booth was so busy that I had little extra time, even for lunch, so I have depended on others' comments about booths that I unfortunately missed myself. And, frankly, I tend to focus on individual images.

At Galerie 1900-2000, you couldn't miss Edward Steichen's fine gum bichromate of "In Memoriam". At the similar named Gallery 19/21, my favorite had sold, but there still remained the important and wonderful Brassai 'Paris, Dépôt de Sel (Salt yard)' in the middle of their walls. Paul Hertzmann had a great Cabbage Leaf by Edward Weston, which sold to an astute collector at the fair. I also liked the group abstractions by Jaromir Funke that Stephen Daiter had on his wall, but they had also sold. Bruce Silverstein had many tempting prints, including a mid-1930s print by Kertesz of his 'Fork and Plate'.

Mentioning Bruce Silverstein reminds me to thank both him and collector Joe Baio for their two wonderful parties, put on in support of the AIPAD dealers. Both nights were exceptional breaks from the exhausting work at the show and were very much appreciated. By the way, Bruce has a stunning show of E.O. Hoppe's work currently up in his gallery at 535 West 24th St., NYC.

At my own Contemporary Works/Vintage Works booth we had a very solid show, selling vintage 19th and 20th-century work, as well as contemporary work from Lisa Holden, Arthur Tress and Marcus Doyle. Our two Irving Penn's (Girl in Bed and Three Cuzco Men in Masks) and our Man Ray's (especially the little unique print of Kiki) got a lot of attention, and may still sell. Our rare 19th-century triple mammoth plate Gutekunst of a train and bridge, as mentioned by Gregory Leroy got lots of inquiries, including one institutional one. I sold four Arthur Tress vintage prints to an Italian dealer and a Kertesz and Cartier-Bresson to a collector from Hong Kong, again emphasizing the international flavor of this show. The old standards--Kertesz, Cartier-Bresson, Cameron--all sold very well for us. The group of dance and theater photographs from Max Waldman, printed on his favorite paper that was no longer made after the early 1970s, had a lot of admirers.

I also had an exceptional salt print by Eugene Cuvelier 'Cart on the Road, October 1862' in one of our stand-up bins. The print had been included in the New York Metropolitan Museum show's Cuvelier exhibit in 1996 and has impeccable provenance. The price compared to the recent auction of such similar work at Sotheby's is exceptionally reasonable.

You can always count on Santa Monica's Peter Fetterman for interesting and insightful commentary, and this year was no exception: "We had our best AIPAD ever. I was amazed at the crowds and the quality of the attendance, particularly on Thursday, which normally would have been a "quiet" day, and even on Sunday when the rains were coming down. If it rains in LA, people are afraid their Mercedes might get dinged and stay home. New Yorkers are a determined breed. Nothing stops them. If they want something they "go" for it. In LA they have to ask their shrink, their maid, their art consultant and their dog before they buy anything.

"It was the first NY showing of Salgado's new 'Genesis' series and it made our show. We took numerous orders for prints. The only problem now is to try and get him to make the prints. He's so consumed with doing the work on his current eight-year project that he hardly has time to go into a darkroom and make and sign the prints. We also sold well on the new large platinum print of Chester Higgins, Jr.'s 'Moslem Woman' at $15,000 (from an edition of 25) and Burt Glinn's 'Andy Warhol and Eddie Sedgwick', the only great picture ever taken of them both together ($2,500). Willy Ronis' prints were also eagerly snapped up $5,500-$6,800. It's easy to understand why. At 96 years old he is the last great European humanist photographer left alive.

"I think Miami will come and go but New York City will always remain the epicenter of art activity. This wonderful show proved why."