Issue #88  5/3/2005
Strong Sales At AIPAD Show, The Gates, and a Hint of World Peace

(Editor's note: Yes, I know, I am a bit late with this coverage, but not much worse than some other major commentators. Blame it on the slow dealer response to my information requests, other photography news, the weather or just the additional workload of a business upturn in the photography market. Now that I have a wonderful new assistant director, I promise not to be too late in the future.)

"I cried this year at AIPAD, not because I wasn't making any sales, but because of the experience of watching the Gates unfurl. I was in the park on the chilly Saturday morning at 8 am, surrounded by people from all over the world. There was such an amazing feeling in the park that one wondered why can't the world just live in peace." That's how Santa Monica, CA dealer Peter Fetterman described the event that both overshadowed and added spice to the experience of being in New York City during AIPAD's Photography Show this past February.

Fetterman continued, "Moving on to the Hilton, there was also a high energy in the place, so much better than in previous years. Perhaps it was the good feeling generated that weekend by the Christo's passion. We had one of our best AIPAD's in years."

And Fetterman was not alone in his enthusiasm. Many other dealers reported or were rumored to have had their best show ever or certainly within the past six years or so, including Laurence Miller, Mack Lee, Stephen Daiter and Robert Koch, among many others. The opening night, despite reports elsewhere, was a high-energy, well-attended affair that served as a great kick-off--although it really depended on which floor you were partying on. For once, AIPAD didn't have a sponsoring charity event for its opening, but then it didn't have $150 per ticket prices and parsimonious ticket distribution to its exhibitors. Exhibitors for the first time in recent years were given a reasonable amount of free tickets to distribute among their favored clients, who came out in droves. As Fetterman noted, it probably didn't hurt to have the Gates opening the same weekend of the show.

Although--as usual--not all dealers had a good show, the overall impression was that sales were clearly up and buyers were more enthusiastic--even though overall traffic at the show remained flat, according to Kathleen Ewing, Executive Director of AIPAD. But clients were clearly spending more and "just window-shopping" less this year. And more serious clients were back at the show. Coming on the heels of Photo LA's huge success, the New York fair seems to herald an up tick in the photography market.

New York City dealer and I Photo Central member Charles Schwartz, while noting the upswing in his sales at this year's show, did say though that he was somewhat disappointed that he "got very few new retail clients from the show. Usually I get a new client or two, but this show seemed to have the same clients that I normally see." Schwartz had several drop-dead Roger Fenton Crimean images that remained unsold (but you can view them on the I Photo Central website) and lots of great Eugene Smith images.

There were also the usual complaints of poor traffic and worn-out buyers from dealers on the second floor, despite the efforts this year (for the first time ever) to redirect traffic upstairs. That location didn't seem to hamper Steve Daiter's sales of the Andre Kertesz estate prints, which flew off the walls and out of the bins. Of course, his booth could have been down in the parking garage and he would have done well with this hot material. He had a preview copy of his wonderful new Kertesz catalogue/book, which sells for $75 at Daiter's Chicago gallery, that people were ordering at the show. See the last E-Photo Newsletter for a full review of this catalogue at http://www.iphotocentral.com/news/article_view.php/93/87/463 .

As noted above, Peter Fetterman did very well at the show. He told me, "We brought a special group of Cartier-Bressons, some of his less well-known images but no less powerful, and the response was amazing. Many of these images, like the Mother and Child from Mexico, I know for a fact that he did not make more than two or three prints of in his lifetime. Ted Hartwell from the Minneapolis Art Institute, who is a Cartier-Bresson expert, was amazed because he had never seen them before. 'How did you get these?' He kept asking. A young couple from Germany snapped up four of them. We also showed an amazing print Salgado had never printed before. It was of a young Indian woman sifting coffee beans, which Salgado had shown me as a contact print when I had last visited him in Paris and had asked him to make a 20 x 24 inch print. A young European collector stood in front of it and said it was the most beautiful new image in the show and bought it on the spot. We also had great response to Laslo Layton's hand-painted cyanotypes. We sold several to "new" collectors, including one gentleman who had previously only purchased etchings. This was his first photography purchase. He declared 'This man is the new Audubon.'"

New York City gallery owner Yancey Richardson "thought the show looked better than ever with better attendance in terms of quality of collector. People loved the Mitch Epstein 'Flag' (sold out) and 'Private' (still available) from his 'Family Business' project, which sold for $9,500 and $7,500 respectively. Ed Ruscha's 'Parking Lots' sold for $4,500 each to a contemporary art dealer and to Paul Sachs. We still have some. Lisa Kereszi sold out the edition of the two pieces we hung, in addition to others by this new artist. Her work is priced at $1,500 for a 20 x 24 inch to $4,000 for a 40 x 50 inch."

San Francisco dealer Michael Shapiro had what he called a "terrific" fair. He was particularly enthusiastic about his "early print of Cartier-Bresson’s Behind the Gare Station Lazare which is, happily, sold; and a vintage print of Alma Lavenson's Self Portrait with Hands (1932), which is the cover of her book and also the image of the huge banner which hung in front of the NY Public Library (42nd St) in coordination with the last women photographer’s exhibition. The price for the Lavenson is $115,000 and it is still on hold by an institution."

Austrian dealer Johannes Faber told me that he "did well at the fair. We sold a large vintage print by Josef Sudek for $9,400, a Heinrich Kuehn Portrait of his son Hans for $15,000, a Giacomelli still life, and some photographs by Sudek, Reichmann and others. Two of the most interesting pieces in our booth were an unknown pigment print by Jaroslav Roessler for $12,500 and a portrait of Greta Garbo done by Ruth Harriet Louise in 1928 ($7,200). Both prints are still available."

Dealer Charles Isaacs, who recently made the move from Pennsylvania to the Big Apple, enthused, "I thought the fair looked better than last year, though some booth realignment in certain areas is needed. The overall quality of material seemed better, with more interesting vintage material as well as strong contemporary. We seemed to be busier than ever each day; the opening was both more crowded and more exuberant than in the past. It's a great opportunity for everyone who loves photographs, in whatever form, to party together."

Isaacs noted: " We did much better than in the last two years. We sold several works by Lewis Carroll, quite a few Disderi uncut studio contact sheets, a Le Gray, a beautiful Brigman, mammoth plates by Watkins and Rau among others. We also have quite a few other pictures off on approval. We were gratified by much interest in the contemporary works of Jem Southam, who has several one-person museum shows and a monograph coming in the near future."

New York City dealer David Winter told me that this AIPAD show was one of his best and he had made several important sales, including an oversized NASA image of the earth rising over the moon.

Missy Finger of Dallas, TX's Photographs Do Not Bend Gallery, reported, "The fair was good, not a record for us, but very profitable. Sunday was a very slow day, but the other days were busy for us. Our vintage works that we brought certainly were overlooked, given the big color photographs in the booth. We were happy with the attendance of the show, which kept us very busy. I thought the booths looked very handsome overall. The contemporary photography was a viable contender this time versus the wonderful vintage works that the show continues to be strong in. My big disappointment was the opening night because there was no benefit involved. I think we could have had a bigger crowd as I see in other art fairs during the private opening."

Finger also noted, " Bill Owens was the star of our show. With the ICP show and his new book, Leisure, people were zealously buying prints. The new work (1970s) from Leisure sold particularly well, given the early edition prices. Jock Sturges, still very affordable to collect, sold well. There was a lot of museum interest in our Argentinean artist, Esteban Pastorino Diaz. It was unbelievable how many were attracted to the work. Diaz was selling at the show and after the show. We have had a lot of follow-up business from the show overall."

San Francisco gallery owner Robert Koch said, "This was our one of our two best AIPAD fairs ever. We sold multiple works by all seven of our contemporary artists that we brought to AIPAD, along with over 20 large-scale color pieces by our new artist Michael Wolf, who was a huge hit. We also still have Francis Frith mammoth plates of the Middle East in unusually fine condition."

One of the few booths built around a theme (Couples) was New York City dealer Stephen Kasher's booth. Kasher said, "I sold the two most interesting items in my booth: a vintage signed Arbus, 'A Husband and Wife in the Woods at a Nudist Camp, NJ, 1963', which sold to a private collector for the asking price of $85,000 less a small discount and an album from the San Francisco Police Department, 1942-43, with over 1,000 mug shots of mostly prostitutes, sold to a private collector for the asking price of $16,000. I also sold two Fred McDarrah vintage prints representing Christo and Jean Claude, and Gilbert and George, at $2,000 each."

Kasher continued, " Despite doing well, I felt the level of quality and freshness of work in many of the booths was low. Many of the best dealers are gone, or are showing less important work (there are a few exceptions). The excitement and interest of the private clients seemed to be reduced. I usually have several museum sales; this year museum buyers were not in evidence."

Kasher was not the only dealer to feel things at the show were heading in the wrong direction despite this year's stronger results. Even while reporting that he "did exceptionally well," Los Angeles dealer Paul Kopeikin said, "As a contemporary dealer I thought last year (and the year before, and the year before that… ) AIPAD had decided to support and encourage what I and others do so that the fair has relevance to contemporary collectors. Once again they failed to do that. People interested in contemporary photography go to the Armory. That leaves the few 19th-century and vintage collectors there are, so primarily AIPAD is for mostly new or unsophisticated collectors buying later prints of classic images. That those kinds of images (Ruth Bernhard, etc.) have increased in value as much as they have is surprising, but catering to those collectors will not help AIPAD's long-term prospects."

Kopeikin did note that he "had a small Cartier-Bresson "gem" which flew out of the booth so quickly to another dealer on opening night that I must have priced it too low. I bought it at AIPAD last year for what was a very low price and had planned to keep it in my own collection, but with Cartier-Bresson prices going crazy I decided to sell it. Without doubt my 'Cell Phones' by Chris Jordan brought the most attention and deservedly so. He is the hottest artist I've ever introduced and the work sold like hot cakes. I was surprised though at the lack of attention paid to my vintage John Gutmann photographs."

New York City gallery owner Howard Greenberg said, "I put up a somewhat different kind of display than usual. Several groupings of new collections that I've acquired, Frank family photos, a Winogrand set that he shot for a wedding in 1962, turn-of-the-century platinum prints from the building of the subway system, Davidson's color subway work, a group of Alemany photograms, etc., but no separate one-offs or very expensive pictures. The results were underwhelming and I'm still trying to understand why. I did do a good amount of business in the gallery, much of it with people in for the fair--similar to what happened last year. I guess my best sale was for a terrific Drtikol, and this happened in the gallery."

Even Greenberg expressed a little frustration with AIPAD's show, "As for the fair itself, being downstairs it certainly felt more energetic than last year, but I still feel strongly that we've long ago outgrown the venue and the cramped middle-class nature of it does not help further our cause. Not that I don't fully support AIPAD, but like many others, I feel it needs some kind of renewal, and not just the fair."

I myself dropped the two New York fairs (AIPAD and Photo New York) from my list of venues this year largely because they were not producing enough sales for me to warrant the high cost. I attributed most of the lack of sales at AIPAD to my second floor exile, which did not appear to be likely to change at the Hilton. Instead I added a booth for my company Vintage Works at Paris Photo this next November.

With the Reed Expo organization, which runs the highly successful Paris Photo, considering a New York photo show next spring and Stephen Cohen, who also runs Photo LA and Photo San Francisco, hosting his second Photo New York show in October, AIPAD may have to give its members other reasons for membership besides a show in New York City, especially if one of the two other venues takes off. This year's AIPAD Photography Show did reverse the downward slide in sales over the last few years and, I think, the booths themselves looked as good as at many other venues--perhaps better. But many photography market commentators and an increasing number of AIPAD members themselves are feeling that things need to be shaken up, rather than just spruced up.

Perhaps the possible move by AIPAD to the New York 67th Street Armory, which was reported in the last issue of The Photograph Collector newsletter, will resolve many issues and rebuild enthusiasm and support for this show from many of its members who have dropped out in recent years. Clearly larger, international and contemporary dealers need to be enticed back into the fold to keep the exciting diversity of the show alive and well. But the slot at the Armory comes with some risks as well, including the fact that no contracts can really guarantee dates because of the current legal never-never land status of the Armory.

And all was not criticism for the current version of the show, which did exceptionally well this year for most of its dealers and for most of its current audience of buyers.

James Panero, in reviewing the New York City Art Fair scene for the highly literate and intelligent The New Criterion, said of the show: "... At AIPAD, there was a collector's dream of inexpensive but far less "difficult art." I spent my time at this amiable fair, at the amiable Midtown Hilton, searching out photographs by Ralph Eugene Meatyard, whose retrospective at ICP I reviewed in these pages in January. I found a couple of haunting examples of late Meatyard at Scheinbaum & Russek of Santa Fe. A slightly damaged one was going for well under $5,000. At AIPAD you might buy something just because you like it. Talk about radical."