at Park Avenue Armory
in the Upper East Side area
This event has ended - (2009-03-26 - 2009-03-29)
It may not be as sexy as the Armory Show or as hip as SCOPE, but The AIPAD Show always features a strong roster of international photography galleries. This year marks the 29th edition, with 73 galleries from nine countries showing 19th-century through contemporary work, including photo-based art, new media, and video. Highlights include Wednesday night’s Gala Preview benefiting the John Szarkowski Fund, the Endowment for Photography Acquisition at MoMA, two special exhibitions, a full day of panel discussions on Saturday, and a lecture.
Despite the grandness of the Park Avenue Armory, the fair does look a bit tired, with muted grey carpet, yellowed fabric-covered walls, and fascia that has seen better days. Combine that with a multitude of small black and white images, salon-style hanging (and in some cases plain old over-hanging), and many tables with stacks of prints to flip through, the sleeker, curated booths really stand out, as do the less common large, color photographs.
The New York-heavy fair is a stalwart, however, and as long-time exhibitor and one-time organizer of AIPAD Robert Mann of Robert Mann Gallery points out, the show has come a long way. “I actually was involved in the very first AIPAD. That year [the show] was in Rochester and, in fact, it was on tabletops, folding tables. There weren’t any walls. Those were the infant stages of AIPAD. The industry has really grown and you can just see by the number of participants here versus an AIPAD catalogue from 10-15 years ago, the organization has doubled in size. It’s a much more international group of exhibitors and clientele. The medium has really expanded and flourished including lots of opportunities to push the envelope of what a photograph is. Quite a transformation.” Perhaps this expanded medium can take advantage of the slowdown in art sales during Armory Week, which may have left room for sales in photography, usually a more affordable option for collectors.
The show is mix of primary and secondary market, lending a disjointed and repetitive feel to the exhibition. After seeing so much Ansel Adams I was less than impressed to see another one in Mr. Mann’s booth, but the gallerist was quick to explain its provenance. “We may have done something a little foolish, or maybe not, but we did decide to bring a very expensive picture here. We brought an early and exquisite example of Moonrise. It’s not an uncommon picture, it’s one of the most iconic 20th-century images, but this is a very early print…So this picture is priced at $450,000 and that might be taking a bit of a chance given the market, but for someone who can appreciate quality and a really extraordinary and unique object where price is secondary, then we’ve got the piece for that person right here.” On a nearby wall hung work by Holly Andres, priced at $1,500, the lowest priced work in his booth. Andres has enjoyed a very successful solo show at Robert Mann Gallery and was a hit at Paris Photo recently. “She bases her images on Nancy Drew novels and they’re all very carefully choreographed. She is off to a terrific start and hopefully she’ll stick with us and we’ll stick with her; she’s somebody to grow with. As an entry-level artist you can’t go wrong with her.”
This juxtaposition is a microcosm of the fair as a whole, which begs the question of how the dealers decide which artists to bring with them. According to Ellen Miller of Miller Block Gallery, from Boston, MA, “I wanted to bring photographers that don’t deal in a classic way with photography. I’m interested in artists that use photography as the end product of their work. The work itself is a process, many times, of building, constructing, finding, and using recycled materials. I’m interest in the process that an artist goes through.” The price range in her booth is $800 – $5,000, which she said was representative of her gallery, but she admits she also curated her booth “with a concern for today’s market.” With artists such as Scott Peterman, David Maisel, Deb Todd Wheeler, and Lori Nix, the booth represents a strong showing of contemporary artists in all stages of their careers, and stands out among the aisles. However, standing out won’t guarantee sales in this market. “My expectations are that I’m going to meet a lot of collectors and dealers and consultants. I think that right now most of us are happy with a break-even from a fair. I honestly tend to find that I sell pretty well at the fairs but this is such a difficult market to predict. It’s a fascinating time to be in business.”
Adrienne Meraz from Andrea Meislin Gallery, an “Israeli contemporary photography gallery,” puts a positive spin on things, saying that as a moderately priced gallery they are not affected by the downturn. “I think these are the freshest examples of what we have as far as photography in our gallery. I believe people are looking for something that’s more affordable and since we are more moderately priced we are not really feeling the pinch so much. But you can definitely see how they [collectors] are just more considerate and aware of the economic situation. I think photography is more accessible. It’s something that people definitely connect to. I think we’re going to sell, sell, sell.”
W.M. Hunt of New York-based gallery Hasted Hunt, is one of the few exhibitors showing large-scale works, priced between $5,000 and $25,000. “I think they’ve done a nice distribution of us. This is very representational of our gallery. These are our big boys, but I find that our success is with people just walking in and seeing something and the name not being so relevant. It’s an emotional (or financial!) reaction.” German artist Andreas Gefeller has prominent placement in Hasted Hunt’s booth, not surprisingly as his solo show during Armory Week received strong reviews. These large-scale color photographs play with the viewer’s sense of reality. The images are attention grabbing, which is part of the point. “Our expectations run the gamet, hope springs eternal. I think this is a really good looking fair and I hope that people get it when they walk in. The Armory had this shadow over it, and so we’re trying not to have that shadow over this show; the president was on TV last night so maybe everyone is now feeling good,” says a hopeful Mr. Hunt, who then revealed all is not as calm as it looks. “I’m as jumpy as a fucking cat! People keep going, ‘Are you alright?’ and I’m like ‘Jesus, it looks that bad, huh?’. I don’t know what’s going on now. We had a pretty active Miami and this depends on how the place fills up over the weekend,” he said while looking for wood to knock on, finally settling on frame behind him.
Another eye-catching artist is Colby Caldwell, at Hemphill Fine Arts from Washington, D.C., whose work is large, colorful and abstract. A diptych created from a corrupted file, his piece is from the series How To Survive Your Own Death and deals with memory and nostalgia for the past. Jessica Neresh, who works at the gallery, says they expect to receive some feedback about the artist who is “younger and experimenting with his technique. The images are photo-based, and printed on archival print, mounted on wood, then waxed so they take on a painterly quality. Together they are $25,000.” Sometimes eye-catching is not a good thing, in the case of Winter Works on Paper, whose booth overflowed with examples of their vast inventory, which according to their website, covers everything “From snapshots to mugshots, from press prints to pictorialist art studies, from science to the avant-garde, from sports to celebrities, we probably have what you are looking for.” And it all spilled out of their booth. Across the aisle a sleek exhibit gleamed in comparison at Yancey Richardson Gallery, with work by Kenneth Josephson and Andrew Moore.
Sharing a back wall with Winter Works was FOLEYgallery, a highly curated booth in which Michael Foley exhibited work by artists including Alexandre Orion, Polixeni Papapetrou, and Sage Sohier. Each of these artists in one way or another reflects on individuals interacting with their surroundings. Sage Sohier, a relatively new addition to the FOLEY roster, is a portrait artist whose work is priced very affordably at $1,500. “She decided to do this project called Perfectable Worlds where she seeks people out who have designed either by hobby or profession a very intimate, private world. It’s a professional world but very idiosyncratic and very specific to the person in the portrait. Very smart work.”
Whether you’re interested in established or emerging artists, this year’s AIPAD is worth the visit. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it is a stable, solid show. How it will fare in this market remains to be seen, however. As Mr. Hunt said, we’ll just have to wait to see how the place fills up over the weekend.