Photo LA set new attendance records with 7,400 people attending over the four days, according to organizer Stephen Cohen. The opening reception on Thursday night was up nearly 50% from the previous year and it showed. Booth space had sold out and there was a decided up tick in the general quality of material being shown. Several important dealers--notably Weston Gallery, Julie Saul Gallery, Galerie Clairefontaine, Galerie Hypnos, Atlas Gallery, Jackson Fine Art, Joel Soroka Gallery and Keith de Lellis Gallery--were either back exhibiting or exhibiting for the first time, and gone were some of the "filler" organizations. Seven European dealers joined the mix, including three from the above list. This is fast becoming the show to beat in the U.S.
While sales were somewhat erratic (my own company Vintage Works had one of its weakest shows in terms of sales in years and a number of other dealers reported only mediocre sales), most dealers reported that they had done very well--a number reportedly sold well into six figures at the fair. Contemporary work was clearly the star at this year's Photo LA, although a few vintage dealers, in particular Howard Greenberg, reported some major sales in this category.
Greenberg said, "I did sell three very important Weston nudes for six figures, plus an important Frank, Bourke White, and three Arbus's (none vintage), as well as a smattering of other prints. I only wish LA had the class and feel of Paris." Greenberg also noted that he still has a number of good Arbus later-printed images in the 7-20K range.
In the "most improved dealer inventory" category, Adam Gendell of Artseal Gallery must take home the prize from this show. Gendell continues to get and sell some very impressive vintage, largely American pieces at reasonable (for the images) prices. I watched another dealer buy a Lewis Hine portrait that just seemed to glow off the wall. Gendell told me that he also sold August Sander's "Portrait of the Painter's Wife" (a later Gunter Sander print of a 1926c image), W. Eugene Smith's 1945c "Portrait of Terry Moore, Horace Bristol's 1946c "Melee for the Batons", plus work by Felice Beato, Will McBride, Robert Stivers, Flor Garduno, Todd Webb, Danny Lyon, Weegee and others. He is still looking for a buyer for the well-priced Dorothea Lange's 1933c "Man with Cap" at $25,000 and her portrait of San Francisco painter Charles Duncan at $12,500. I also liked the Otto Hagel/Hansel Mieth 1938c image of a "Black Woman in Her Home" at only $8,000. He also had several Edward Weston portraits, including one of son Neil, a possibly unique vintage print of Marion Post Wolcott's 1939c "Man with Pipe" at $7,500, and, finally, a 1934c portrait of Alfred Stieglitz by Dorothy Norman at $4,500.
Yossi Milo Gallery reported selling up a storm, especially for contemporary work from Loretta Lux and Alec Soth (from the latter's project, "Sleeping by the Mississippi").
Jackson Fine Art Galley's 30 x 40 inch dye transfer of William Eggleston's Peaches drew a lot of attention, as did Rose Gallery's Eggleston of the white car against the brick wall from the 14 Pictures Porfolio. These are two of my personal favorites of Eggleston's work.
Carl Mautz told me, "Photo LA was good, not great for me, but good." Mautz also confided that he did better with his contemporary photographers, "particularly Paul Kozal who shattered his previous record with the sale of over 20 prints and five books with original prints." I liked Mautz's Todd Webb images of Paris, which surprised me by how strong they were. Most were later printings but a few were vintage images.
Mack Lee of Lee Gallery said he was pleased with the show. "The mood was very upbeat, the selling went very well and was better than last year. A number of customers said they thought the show looked good." Lee Gallery sold images by Hine, Noskowiak, Ulmann, Walker Evans and Dassonville.
Andrew Daneman of Northern Light reported that he did about double last year's business at the exhibition. He promptly sold three "motion wheels", which I must admit that I coveted, plus the great blow-up of an ant. Daneman noted, "I received very positive reviews of my mix of vintage images and Danish contemporary. I'll be doing Photo L.A. again, for sure."
Amanda Collins of the Martin Gordon Gallery said, "Counting a few post-show sales, we did extremely well at Photo LA--almost double last year. We were very busy--at times swamped." She sold several Morris Berman images of "Y.A.Tittle Toppled". The gallery has the Berman estate and this is one of Berman's most recognizable photographs. Still available was Manuel Bravo's "Typical Beauty", a vintage 1947 (and possibly unique) print at a reasonable $6,950. Also available was a 1955c vintage Marilyn Monroe color image by Richard Avedon for $3,600.
Robin Venuti did well with a "collection of Lewis Hines that came directly from the son of Hine's doctor. Venuti told me, "I sold two of the five I brought (to the show) and have 10 more available."
Keith De Lellis showed some great images, including several by Japanese-American photographers, one of which was one of my favorites of the show. It, of course, sold.
Paul Hertzmann had a number of goodies, including images by Marcel Bovis, Berenice Abbott and a group of images by California School of Fine Arts photographers who were influenced by Minor White. Hertzmann has produced a catalogue of this latter work, which is a fine contribution to the history of photography on the West Coast. Most of the work is reasonably priced from between $1,500-$4,000. I particularly liked the work of Zoe Brown, Donald Ross and Charles Wong.
Michael Dawson noted that "any show can turn on the whim of one or two customers and luck was not on my side for this show." But Dawson did note that he sold " several Muybridge collotypes ($1600 to $3500), as well as several large contemporary pieces by Roger Vail ($1200 to $2500). Claudia Kunin's fabric pieces (three-dimensional representations based on 19th-century daguerreotypes) continued to attract interest and attention from both institutional and private collectors."
My neighbor Burt Finger from Photographs Do Not Bend told me: "We were pleasantly surprised with our results at Photo LA--literally tripling what we did last year." I can always count on Burt to shoot straight. His appraisal of the contemporary work at the fair was the following: "Although many of the booths showed "wanna-be contemporary" large color photographs, most would not make the cut; however, I believe the level of contemporary work (at the show) is rising."
Arnaud Delas of Galerie Hypnos, who shared the booth here with me this year, sold a number of prints, including two great balloon images by Jean Delton. He brought wonderful early travel/ethnographic material and Paris fashion images from the 1950s and 60s.
Joel Soroka reported a split between the results of contemporary and vintage markets: "Photo La was strong for me and particularly for my contemporary photographer Beatrice Helg from Switzerland. Just one of her images Presence VII, 2003 had six red dots. Other images had almost as many. Lynn Bianchi's works were also well received; I sold many. Vintage prints sold less well. All my vintage material is of high quality, in my opinion. I had a Koppitz movement Study, carte postale, a Steichen of Garbo, two wonderful Ilse Bings, a Lartigue and a great Quigley light abstraction among others. The crowd generally was unqualified for that caliber of material in my opinion."
Frankly, I pretty much have to agree with Soroka's and Finger's evaluations. We too had a lot of admirers of our top vintage pieces, but the actual buyers appeared to be more focused on lower end vintage material or splashy contemporary work at this particular Photo LA. But that begs the question then: how does this show attract and/or educate sophisticated buyers? I think the answer has to be partially in the accompanying educational sessions, which unfortunately seem mostly to serve as platforms for photographers to promote themselves to other photographers here. There are several weaknesses at Photo LA (small size of booths and low walls, no real vetting of exhibitors and poor food vendors), but this is one that stands out for me and is the easiest to fix.
Organizer Steve Cohen emailed me tongue-cheek: "I hope to hear from your research that many did great, artists found galleries, galleries found artists (I did), museum shows were set up and world peace was achieved." Well not quite, but Photo LA 2004 was a very good start for most in this new year.