The Four Best and Three Worst Booths at the AIPAD Photo Fair
By Emma Allen via Artnews
NEW YORK—Dealers were playing it safe at this year's rather uninspiring edition of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) fair, March 17-20, 2011, with even the usually more cutting-edge contemporary art vendors displaying a tame collection of salable "classic" photographic works — both antique pictorial images from the late 19th century and works by the now-canonized 60s street-combers and their Pictures Generation descendants. (It even seemed that, with eerie uniformity, nearly everyone dug out one Francesca Woodman print to tempt those shoppers who had the photographer and her tragic early death on the mind after seeing the popular new documentary, "The Woodmans.")
It was, therefore, no easy task deciding which of the largely homogeneous booths — for the most part only differentiated by whether the walls were white, black, or a shade of gray, and whether the simply framed prints were hung in a row or salon style — rose above the competition and which failed to measure up. Add to all this the fact that most galleries that had set up shop at the Park Avenue Armory for AIPAD had hundreds of photographs ferreted away in densely packed portfolios, and only a small smattering of works on their booths' walls for our consideration, and what's there to judge? Purely based on each dealer's curated display, however, there were a few outliers — both wonderful and terrible — at the fair. Here are the best four and worst three booths from AIPAD 2011.
This gallery, which is moving soon to New York, boasted one of the few innovative installations at the fair, courtesy of artist Jefferson Hayman, who flitted around his work, happily chatting with visitors. Hayman's nostalgic silver gelatin photographs — primarily quaint, moody still lifes and New York skylines that are overpriced at $500-$1,000 — are themselves quite dull, but his vintage and hand-crafted frames are lovely, with some tilting out at the viewer on accordion hinges, offering a refreshing break from all the wall-bound presentations. Also at Shapiro's booth are such gems as Robert Frank's "Car Accident — U.S. 66, between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona" (1956), one of my personal favorites from the Swiss photographer's seminal book, "The Americans." The savvy dealer also included an unusual Man Ray maquette, a group of stunningly printed Lewis Baltz images, and, most mysterious and charming of all, a series of instructional yoga photos depicting the 20th century master "Buddha Bose" in various improbable poses. Wall text enigmatically explained that the gleaming, well-oiled Bose made the series for his "Uncle Edward."
The selection of photographic material on view at Steven Kasher was eclectic in a wonderful and not a pandering way — reflecting many of the fabulous uses, both artistic and vernacular, for photography throughout the history of the medium, and not simply offering up a grab-bag of traditional top-sellers. "African American Portraits," for instance, dated circa 1960, is a suite of four painted photo tracings on silk, priced at $5,500 for the set, which were traced, in technicolor, from photographs onto incredibly delicate cloth, providing for slightly warped but very dynamic portraits. Across the spacious booth, meanwhile, were 90 ID buttons from 1930-50, offered as a group for $18,000, stunning little photo-based objects — sheriff badges for the everyman — that provided an unusual collective portrait of a generation of laborers.
Too often forgotten — at least in the art fair context — is the importance of the book as a creative medium for photographers, as a format in which juxtapositions and mini-narratives can be drawn out within a body of work. This Illinois bookseller, however, showed up at the Armory with most of the greatest hits of photo books in pristine form, as well as volumes by the masters that I, at least, had never heard of. Laid out were books by Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand, Lewis Baltz, Walker Evans, Helen Levitt, and Peter Hujar. There was Joel Sternfeld's "American Prospects," Larry Clark's "Tulsa," "New Topographics," and, of course, William Eggleston's "Guide." Basically, it was drool-fest for any recent graduate of art school.
This gallery's succinct hang befitted the frank photographs on view. Deadpan images by Bernd and Hilla Becher faced works from Robert Voit's sly "New Trees" series, whose straight-faced humor slowly unfolds as you realize that the looming "trees" are cell-phone antennas disguised with wonky faux foliage. Added to this mix were photos by former Swiss policeman Arnold Odermatt, whose cool images of his fellow hamfisted bureaucrats in the 1960s provided the perfect cap to the cohesive grouping of straight, dry works.
This showing was a prime example of the misguided elevation of certain pretty images from the realm of stock photography to the realm of art. On offer at the booth were horses, expanses of over-saturated green grass, placid lakes, blooming flowers, frolicking young Buddhist monks, Central Park at night in the snow, etc. There needs to be something hanging in hotel hallways, sure, but it is a shame that with so many talented young photographers' work absent from the fair, this facile kind of stuff was given so much space.
"It is painting's inherent detachment from the world to which photography is intrinsically bound that these works exist to relate only to themselves," reads a poorly composed statement, prominently displayed on the wall, describing New Orleans-based Louviere + Vanessa's "Counterfeit" series, which took up this entire gloomy booth. The large, oddly-shaped, gilded blow-ups of details from international paper currency, gaudily framed and ill explained, are hardly worth the $10,000 a pop for which they were being peddled (unless you're paying in fake bills, that is). Nor do they achieve the spooky, gothic kind of thing they're obviously aiming for, rather coming across as merely overwrought.
This booth was a totally overwhelming mishmash of everything under the photographic sun, sloppily and thoughtlessly hung, with labels peeling off the walls. Once your eyes adjusted to the profusion of visual information, you could spot works by everyone — Wegman, Baldessari, Weston, Warhol, Man Ray, Kruger, Liebovitz, Ansel Adams, Larry Clark, Mapplethorpe, etc. Maybe this booth was so aggravating because it was so emblematic of what was wrong, to a lesser extent, with almost all the booths, with its lack of focus, its willingness to offer a little of anything and everything to ensure brisk sales.