Friday, October 10, 2008

Auction house previews

I spent yesterday afternoon previewing the upcoming sales at Christie's, Sotheby's and Bloomsbury, and then peeked in at Phillips the next day. I thought I would make a few notes about lots and displays that I found compelling. This is in NO WAY a suggestion of good deals, market recommendations, or an indication of what I may want to bid on. It's a simple aesthetic comment on what I found appealing in my previews.

Sotheby's most eye-catching lot was a spectacular albumen print by Carlton Watkins. There was another copy of this image in the recent Met show taken mostly from Gilman Paper Collection acquisition. That print caught my eye a few months ago as one of the richest landscape albumen prints I had ever seen. This was in every way its equal. A treat to see. Also fun to see was a Man Ray negative print made from an autochrome positive. As a process wonk, I just love this. My first impression was that this was the usual Sabattier effect (solarized) print that one expects from Man Ray. That the process was from an almost-out-of-date autochrome glass plate made it really neat-o cool. In addition, I was seduced by a few of the Baron de Meyer pictorialist portraits. I confess I'm pretty ignorant about this artist on a connoisseurship level, but these were a treat to see even for a tyro viewer like me.

Christie's was not too exciting for me. I guess the best was the roomful of William Egglestons that made up their own catalog. Many brilliant dye transfers - brilliant both in concept and in jewel like color. A couple of great Louise Lawlers including "Plate", "Still Life (candle)", and "Champagne for lunch". There was an interesting P-L di Corcia of men on Wall Street that seemed nostalgic and menacing in light of recent events.

At Bloomsbury I was surprised by the graphical effectiveness of a Lewis Baltz warehouse facade. Of no surprise was my pleasure in an Aurthur Siegel photogram. Beautiful work from Chicago I.D. Another surprise was a Sally Mann print form her Deep South series. This was a silver gelatin print, toned with tea, and the negative plate scratched and altered by the artist. It shows as dark and murky in the catalog, but is a real stunner in person.

At Phillips I was impressed with the gallery style hanging of much of the work. The interplay presented between adjacent work was really exciting. My favorite was a wall with 2 Joel Meyerowitz California landscapes on the sides framing a set of Wessels sunlit photos of brightly colored houses. Very effective. A few Sternfelds on adjacent walls added to the theme. Again from the process wonk front, I loved the Vera Lutter HUGE camera obscura of East River docks. But my very favorite of the show were two Helena Almeida works. I noted this artist after seeing her work in Lisbon last year. She is way under known here, and it was good to see work on the secondary market. If I had 20k burning a hole in my pocket, I'd be after those in a big way.

Swann has a wacky Ansel Adams of a woman behind a screen door. I've never seen anything like this kind of work by Adams before. I haven't actually previewed the lots yet, so I'll stop there for now. I must say it's kinda' liberating to go to the previews with no money to buy! I can just concentrate on the aesthetic pleasures and disappointments; looking at the work as a kind of gallery show. I'm sure the auction house specialists hate to hear that, but with their whopping premium hikes in the last year, I don't have much sympathy.

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