"I thought the show had a much better energy this time around and people seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was like Woodstock except thankfully everyone kept their clothes on." That is how Santa Monica photography gallery owner Peter Fetterman described this year's Photo LA, which seems to be developing more and more each year into the one photography fair to beat in the U.S. Eighty-four exhibitors filled every last corner in the show, which is held at the Santa Monica Convention Center.
All that may sound impressive except this year's Photo LA got off to an excruciatingly slow start for most exhibitors. Only 650 visitors showed up on opening night, because, unlike last year's charity reception, there was no celebrity host such as 2004's Viggo Mortensen, who starred in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, to draw the big crowds. Friday was also weak (a mere thousand visitors), but then the dams burst and Saturday and Sunday saw huge crowds of 2,900 and 2,450 respectively. More importantly, the weekend visitors were enthusiastic and spending strongly. In the end, the number of visitors was down only 500 from last year's record turnout of 7,500. Last year the results were erratic, but this year sales were definitely up and more evenly spread out across the exhibitors. Dealers also buzzed about considerable after-show activity and important new clients met at the show--even by the local galleries. Stephen Cohen, the show's organizer, told me that for the first time at any of his shows the packing materials made available to exhibitors for their clients' purchases was completely used up well before the end of the fair.
I thought the work on the walls of last year's show was excellent, but the quality of this year's show was even better. Many of the visitors and dealers I talked with agreed. As Fetterman noted, you could feel the enthusiasm and excitement for the great diversity of material--from 19th-century to 20th-century to big color contemporary work--that was being shown. It was all up on the new 10-foot high walls, which allowed exhibitors to show larger work more effectively. More and more dealers were showing their best work here rather than holding it for AIPAD the following month.
My own company, Vintage Works, had one of its best fairs ever; plus many other sales are still pending. We sold 11 big color pieces from a new series on the nude park in Munich, Germany by Joel D. Levinson (starting at $4,800 for 28 x 28 in. and $2,700 for 18 x 18 in. prints), plus six of Joel's earlier vintage black and white work, which are going up in price on March 1st; important early prints from such 19th-century masters as Louis De Clercq; an important surreal image by Jean Moral; rare images by Hungarian modernist Geza Vandor, who worked in Paris; work by a number of other French and Paris-based photographers (Auradon, Ronis, Krull, Lartigue, Duval, etc.), who are all very hot right now; work by Czech photographers, such as Josef Sudek; and vintage photographs by Americans, such as Inge Morath and Jack Welpott. We also have lots of work out on approval, on hold or under consideration, including a fine platinum print by Imogen Cunningham; a magical and very early Girault de Prangey daguerreotype of the entrance to the Temples of Phylae; a Lewis Carroll carte-de-visite of Frederica Harriette Peel with Doll (one of many good Carrolls in our inventory); and published images by Edward Steichen (The May Pole), William H. Mortensen (Witches' Sabbath and Salome) and Robert Frank (Rooming House--Bunker Hill, Los Angeles). We also had lots of interest in the contemporary daguerreotypes of Jerry Spagnoli and Mike Robinson, the big color night color work by Marcus Doyle (starting at $2,800 for 30 x 40 in. and $2,000 for 20 x 24 in. prints) and the many vintage master prints up on our walls and in our bins. The vintage Bill Brandt "Soho Bedroom" 1938 and a selection of Julia M. Cameron photographs ($2,500-$17,000) were particularly admired by many.
Barbara Bales Emberlin of Martin Gordon Gallery reported: "We did rather well at Photo L.A. We sold Frank Hurley's The Low Sun Glows on the 'Endurance', Richard Peter Sr.’s Husband and Wife, and a Dorothy Lange's Hoe Culture, Alabama (a later printing). Some of the prints that I especially like that are still available include: Lola Bravo's Frida Kahlo, c.1950 but printed later (edition of 100), silver gelatin print, offered at $6,500; Tina Modotti's Woman with Flag, 1928 (platinum print offered at $14,500); and a group of Halsmans, including Dali’s Skull, 1951 and Marilyn Jumping, 1952, both printed 1981. In general, we felt that the attendance was good and that it was an overall beautiful show with interesting pieces."
San Francisco dealer Paul Hertzmann told me: "We sold very well, not so much quantity as quality, a refreshing reversal of previous years. Many of our colleagues, both in classic and modern pictures did very well and I believe many of the vernacular dealers also did well. Some of our photographs that got a lot of attention, but remain unsold include two vintage, mounted images of Malcolm X by Eve Arnold, a vintage Imogen Cunningham of her Amaryllis, a Robert Frank "City Fathers", and a vintage image of "Priests Playing in the Snow" by Giacomelli."
Burt Finger of Dallas-based Photographs Do Not Bend Gallery had a unique experience before the fair opened. One of his crates that went missing was nearly shipped to Moscow instead! He borrowed a few frames from fellow dealers and the crate did finally appear over the weekend. Despite the mishap, Finger enthused, "We were pleased with the fair; it was better than last year. Our contemporary work, especially by Esteban Pastorino Diaz (Argentina), sold well. His aerial photographs were the most popular, selling several 12 x 18 inch prints and a large 38 x 50 inch print. Unsold were two beautiful prints of Edward Weston's (Cole Weston printed) "Tina Modotti: On the Azotea" and a portrait from 1924 at $5,500 each. We were very happy with the attendance. Most of the booths looked great. Contemporary work was well represented in this show, some of it very good indeed."
Local dealer Robin Venuti said, "Many people spent a good deal of time in my booth looking at both contemporary and vintage material. A lot of attention was paid to contemporary photographers Martha Casanave, Jane Olin, Ryuijie and Foster Witt. I still have a great selection of Edward Weston prints made by Cole Weston--all with terrific provenance and including some of the greatest hits, i.e., Nautilus, Pepper #30 and others. Prices go from $2,000-$5,000 depending on the image. Also, still available is a drop-dead gorgeous vintage image of the Lone Cypress by Morley Baer priced at $2,000 (priced elsewhere for twice as much)."
Show Organizer Stephen Cohen told me, "I sold the Michael Garlington installation wall "Exhumation of the Robot" for $22,000. This was a showstopper and many people were engaged by it. We sold duplicate images to people from the piece." Cohen said, "I thought it was great, but what do I know? The look of the show gets better and better, it ran smoothly, and the crowds were great in number and included more buyers."
Adam Gendell from Artseal Gallery reported: "Overall the fair went well for us, with works by Duane Michals, Dorothea Lange, George Platt Lynes, Manual Alvarez Bravo, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, Max Dupain, Jim Steinhardt, Martin Elkort and Will McBride being sold. We began a contemporary program this year that drew much attention, showing Justin-Julius Santos 20 Men diptychs and Stefan Kirkeby's "abstract minimalist nudes", but it was the "off the wall" vintage works that were primarily being acquired. Personal favorites shown that are still available include Horace Bristol's (vintage) c.1943 Aviator Lt. Brinks Bass $9,500; Bill Brandt (vintage) c.1937 Coal Miner Bathing $11,000; Edmund Teske (vintage) c.1965 George Herms Nude $3,000; George Hoyninigen-Huene (later/Horst) c.1930 Divers $8,000; and Harry Callahan's (70s print) c.1948 Dearborn St $9,500."
Tom Gitterman of New York City's Gitterman Gallery told me, "Basically only a couple of things sold during the fair but I have a lot on hold. If all the prints on hold sell then it would have been a fantastic fair, but we shall see. There is strong interest (holds) in vintage works by: Edward Weston, Drtikol, Roger Parry, Robert Frank, Bill Brandt and Dave Heath. I sold works by Joshua Lutz and Roswell Angier."
Tucson's Terry Etherton said, "Obviously, the crowds were good all week. We had a very good, not great show, so I am pleased. I sold to new clients and found the event this year to go very smoothly. I sold images from Danny Lyon to Emmet Gowin to Palma to Curtis. My big surprise and disappointment was that we did not sell any Kate Breakey work (the large hand-colored pieces). I thought they were strong, well displayed and very affordable. We have had lots of orders for her monograph since the show so maybe that will lead to sales. Kate's pieces are priced from $3,500-$6,000 depending on the edition number. Each piece is hand painted so they are basically unique."
Florence Penault of Gallery 19/21 felt that "It was a very good fair. Few buyers for us, but still serious collectors, and a more crowded show than last year. But I feel like a dinosaur," she opined, "like a bit old-fashioned person surrounded by this new age of contemporary ...And what happens to dinosaurs?" She did, however, sell "two very good vintage prints by Giacomelli from the 1960s and a Kollar, Atget and Reichmann."
Saying he was "very pleased," Steven Albahari of 21st Publishers reported that "books sales were strong in recent and existing titles, such as new releases of Sally Mann's platinum series book, which includes her introduction and her poetry, a true livre d'artist, and Vincent Serbin's patina coppered-covered silver series book, as well as our deluxe and museum editions for existing material."
Reinforcing his quote from the opening of this article, Peter Fetterman gushed, "Our Photo LA was great this year--much better than last year. Our total sales were double last year's amount, and we actually met some new clients in our home city just when we thought we knew everyone. We displayed a whole wall of our new artist Laslo Layton's work. The prices ranged from $1,200-$6,000. His series of hand painted cyanotypes, "Cabinet of Curiosities", was a resounding success. Printed in an edition of only ten prints, many of the images sold out and there was serious interest from two museums. The LA County Museum had purchased one prior to the show's opening. It was great to see success happen to a young photographer who is an artisan and whose images are not big color photos of empty factories, created in a lab, and cost $100,000 each, which will no doubt fade. Salgado was our other best seller, a tribute to the power of his images in the difficult times we live in."
Not everyone did as well as last year. David Carmona, Director of New York City's Yancey Richardson Gallery, said, "We did well, but not as good as last year. The crowd was large but not buying as aggressively. Lisa Kereszi, Masao Yamamoto, David Hilliard and Kenneth Josephson received the most interest."
Carmona complained, "The show infrastructure, including lights and walls, should be upgraded. The food is terrible for exhibitors and visitors alike." Unfortunately, as Stephen Cohen reminds me annually, the show is stuck with the food because of the concessionaire's exclusive contract with the City of Santa Monica. The booth lighting is pretty miserable, and it would be great for everyone involved if another larger venue were available in the area.
San Francisco dealer Robert Tat featured a group of vintage photographs from the 1930s by José Alemany, a Spanish born professor and photographer who summered in Provincetown, MA, where he made most of his photographs. Many are surreal in subject and composition. A large retrospective exhibition of his work was mounted last summer at "la Caixa" in Madrid, to which Tat lent a number of pieces. Tat noted that there was strong interest in these vintage photographs, many of which are accompanied by exhibition labels.
Tat did note that "the show was the most crowded I'd ever seen at Photo LA; I'm sure it set an attendance record. Crowds were enthusiastic. Despite that, buyers seemed very cautious this year. Many came back repeatedly to look at works before making a decision. Unlike previous fairs in Los Angeles, this year's seemed to be affected by the poor economy."
Certainly there are always some dealers that do less well at a given show than others, but clearly the overall mood coming out of this show was positive and buoyant. If only half of the after-sales materialize, I think most of the exhibitors will be overjoyed with the results.