By Alex Novak
While in New York City for the recent fall auctions, I managed to sneak out to a couple of gallery shows. My apologies to those I failed to find time to see. Considering the dearth of good material at most of the auctions (more on that next time), I probably would have done much better to spend my time visiting more of my New York City brethren.
Just opening when I was there was the wonderful Julia Margaret Cameron exhibit at Hans P. Kraus, Jr. at 962 Park Avenue at 82nd St. (phone: 1-212-794-2064). The show runs until Nov. 18th. Hans has also put together an accompanying catalogue. Both are not to be missed.
Certainly one of the most extensive showings of Cameron's work, the show lends further credence to Cameron as one of the preeminent portrait photographers of her period. The certain magic of so many of these images leaves you almost breathless from the "straight" portrait of Julia Duckworth at the entrance (a rich carbon print entitled "A Beautiful Vision" that seems to float ethereally from its dark background of vegetation) to the romanticized photographs of her sitters in Arthurian garb.
The group largely comes from the artist's niece Adeline Maria Jackson, where they remained in her family until now. And while some here are well-known images, many are rare--even unique--and unknown surprises.
The catalogue is a lovely and welcome addition, documenting this important collection of work, and Larry Schaaf does his yeoman effort once again, producing a text that is both eminently readable and full of gems of information on Cameron and her circle.
A few of the miracles on the walls include the marvelous prints "The Dream" and "Mary Mother", both of Mary Hillers, Cameron's parlor maid. Schaaf quotes Cameron's description of Hillers as, "one of the most beautiful and consistent of my models…" That is quite a statement from a woman who could command the most important sitters from Victorian England.
There are men too: a rich print of Thomas Carlyle has always stood out for me, as it did for Cameron's contemporaries. Again, Larry Schaaf picks up an apt quote from an 1893 review of H. H. Cameron's book on Tennyson's friends by 'The Nation", which "marveled at 'the magnificent profile of Carlyle…it is the most remarkable thing in the book, and one of the best portraits in existence.'" The review went on to compare Cameron's portrait to those of Velasquez or Rembrandt.
And, finally, an early photogram of ferns and portraits of the lady herself add to the richness of the choices here.
With so many masterworks available for sale, one would think you could capture one at the moment before the opening of the show. But that was much more difficult than I thought as I pointed to one after another of the prints with only politely negative answers to be had. I did finally buy one, a perhaps unique variant of the Merlin image that Hans had stashed away in a separate box. For good measure I bought another non-Cameron image before I left this beautifully appointed (and recently expanded) gallery.
After the Sotheby's auction, Chicago dealer Stephen Daiter and I traveled over to see Lawrence Miller Gallery, which was showing a preview of its Paris Photo walls. A fine sampling of several of the artists that Miller represents was up in the gallery. Not surprisingly, Ray Metzker's work was one of the stars. From the early gem-like tiny photograms with newsprint lineage to larger vintage pieces, heavy in patterned shadows, to more recent photograms of leaves and light (one already reserved for an institution), Larry, who has been Metzker's long-time dealer, continues to plumb Metzker's creative vein of work. He also had a great print by Burk Uzzle of highways. But the Uzzle image that Daiter asked to have Larry pull out was one of Uzzle's many prints from Woodstock that Daiter and his wife both felt looked like a young version of himself. I noted the hash pipe in the subject's mouth and the nude, nubile woman next to him. Ah, the '60s!
I wound up buying both one of the large Metzker photograms of leaves that hadn't made it to the wall, plus a huge print of Barbara Morgan's "Kick" here. Daiter was weighing the purchase of one or two of the smaller Metzker's. With such interesting pieces and a few more purchases, Larry might not have to make the trip to France, so go visit soon.
The gallery is located on West 57th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues. The phone is 1-212-397-3930.
And, ok, despite unforgivably not seeing them yet, I will also mention the shows at my two friends at 764 Madison Avenue (between 65th and 66th Streets): Higher Pictures (Kim Bourus) and L. Parker Stephenson, both fellow AIPAD dealers and two of the brightest young women in the market. Since they are both in the same building, it's easy to go and view the two shows.
Kim Bourus's Higher Pictures is showing "Jill Freedman: Street Cops, 1978-1981" until October 29th. The photos are vintage prints from a wild period in New York City history where junkies, drunks, prostitutes and lunatics openly walked the streets. This remarkable body of work is the result of Freedman on foot patrol and riding in the police cruisers of the Ninth and Midtown South Precincts, which included Alphabet City and the raunchy blocks around Times Square. Street Cops shows an intelligent empathy towards the police and their attitudes of like-mindedness. Kim's next show, "Jessica Eaton: Cubes for Albers and LeWitt" will open on Thursday, November 3rd (6 - 8 pm) and run through December 17th. Phone: 1-212-249-6100; open, Tuesday-Saturday from 11am-6pm.
L. Parker Stephenson's "Modernism and Advertising 1920- 1930s," is a group exhibition of vintage photographs, which will be up until December 17th. Margaret Bourke-White's "Mechanical Nuts" for Russell Birdsall & Ward, Ilse Bing's surreal portrait of a woman surrounded by lilies for Schiaparelli, Ralph Steiner's humorous picture of eggs, Anton Bruehl's ad for silk which won the Annual Advertising Art award, a large print of a perfume bottle by Jaromir Funke, and an image by Claude Tolmer from "Mise en Page" (the ultimate reference book for layout design) are among the works featured in this exhibition. Phone: 1-212-517-8700.