Reality Check – Yes, Art IS a Business

[photopress:whiteglove.jpg,full,centered] But don’t think of it like a four letter word. It’s a good thing. A real good thing.

When I was a young man, my agents sent me to a prestigious gallery for a possible showing. They told me that the series they were interested in had a great visual style but was a bit depressing. And could I make the prints bigger. And perhaps with a more colorful array.
After storming out with a huge cup of naivete in my belly, it took me a short while to realize that art was just a business like any other. Like I said, I was a very young man. TMI?

One bigger lesson that came through later was that, underneath it all, the dealers were passionate about what they were selling. Not that particular one mind you, but all that I have met since. For example,Howard Greenberg Gallery recently put out a book of photographs in his collection that he met and fell in love with in years of being a dealer. Brilliant.
Go and meet some of your local gallery owners. You’ll see.

The point? As we have come into world of many art and photo fairs every year, you have to remember that they are populated by dealers. Sure,their goal is to make sales. While walking around these events, you get to enjoy and view some of the finest photography ever made. These people love photography. And breathe it. And understand it.
And in each fair you can cover most tastes. The temptation of purchasing can be impulsive and emotional. Be forewarned. At the very least I dare you to walk out with at least a book or two.

So yes, it’s a business. And I’m glad. There are images hanging on my walls that make me happy every day I look at them. Even though I don’t sell my work through galleries, I am thrilled they are in business.

Maybe this is the year you begin your collection. If you are in Los Angeles in January, start at PhotoLA for a full dose of one of the best photography fairs around. By the way, if you feel that perhaps you need guidance in the are, there are excellent collecting seminars being held simultaneously to the fair. Well worth your time. I always attend.

Now on to some more Paris-Photo wrap up. After the event, the PR department issued an overview from the show which we share with you here:

The eleventh edition of Paris Photo that closed November 18 achieved successful results, despite a national and local public transport strike that began the day of the fair’s opening preview on November 14. The stoppage brought about a 20 percent drop in attendance (32,100 visitors in 2007 compared to 40,200 in 2006). What’s more, it provoked collectors from elsewhere in France and northern Europe (Germany, Netherlands and Belgium) to cancel their travel plans, along with some American buyers who faced a double wammy with the plunging dollar.

With its 104 exhibitors (83 galleries and 21 publishers) from 17 countries, including the guest of honour, Italy, the 2007 fair was particularly notable for its excellence.

The Italian theme – introduced by the Central Exhibition of landscape photography drawn from the UniCredit Collection and continuing with the work on view at the stands of Italian, French and other galleries – shone a spotlight on an under-appreciated art scene. Visitors were able to discover (or deepen their appreciation of) classic photographers such as Piergiorgio Branzi, Vincenzo Castella, Luigi Ghirri, Mario Cresci and Mario Giacomelli, as well as the fresh talent presented in the Statement section, like Carlo Valsecchi at Guido Costa Projects (Turin). French collectors snapped up his night views of Palermo contrasting with a vision of sunflower fields (eight prints at 10,000-12,000 euros). Thanks to Paris Photo, Raffaela Mariniello’s large format colour photos of iconic piazzas at the Studio Trisorio (Naples) went to New York’s Bonni Benrubi gallery to be offered on the American market. Other highlights included a singular show of work by Massimo Minini, a not-for-sale ensemble of portraits of artists selected from his personal collection, and a tribute to the leading figures of the Italian neo-realist movement of the 1950s (Mario de Biasi, Alfredo Camisa, Fulvio Roiter, etc.) at the Admira gallery from Milan, a real hit with collectors, who bought about a hundred prints at an average price of 2,000 euros each.

Paris Photo 2007 stood out for its especially varied selection of work, including a robust contingent of contemporary artists. There were a number of fine ensembles of historical photos: the early photography at the Robert Hershkowitz and Hans P. Kraus galleries, the portraiture at the Serge Plantureux, the Lumière brothers autochromes at the Daniel Blau, Otto Steinert’s sequence on 1949 Paris and 1920s-30s Czech photography at the Kicken from Berlin, work from Kértész’ Paris period at the Bruce Silverstein and so on. At the same time, the 2007 edition afforded an overview of contemporary photography on a global scale, from China (at the Marella gallery), Japan, South Africa (a courageous show at the Michael Stevenson gallery from Cape Town) and Latin America to Europe and the United States.

Numerous memorable moments marked this year’s fair: the many book signings, by, among others, Gabriele Basilico, Lewis Baltz, Franco Fontana, Mimmo Jodice, Nan Goldin and Martin Parr; Karl Lagerfeld’s presence on opening night; the awarding of 2007 BMW – Paris Photo Prize to the Czech artist Jitka Hanzlovà represented by Berlin’s Kicken gallery; and the launching of a new competition, the SFR Young Talents – Paris Photo Prize, meant to connect emerging artists with art market professionals. Another remarkable phenomenon was the avalanche of temporary exhibitions and other photo events, many inspired by the focus on Italy, transforming Paris into the world capital of photography for these five days.

Uneven sales:
Sales were uneven from gallery to gallery. Some exhibitors reported an increase in transactions, for others sales held steady, while some experienced a decline. A survey with 78 responses yielded the following figures:
– The average number of pieces sold per gallery was 21, compared to 20 in 2006.
– The average sales volume per gallery was 96,000 euros in 2007, as against 89,000 euros in 2006.

Looking at the market, sales of early photographic works were brisk. The most notable example was the UK’s Robert Herschkowitz gallery, where an 1843 view of York Minster Cathedral went for 75,000 euros. The New York Hans P. Kraus gallery sold some ten prints by Joseph Vicompte Vigier ranging in price from 10,000 to 180,000 USD. Lumière des Roses (Montreuil), specializing in 19th and 20th-century anonymous and amateur photography, reported a 30 percent jump in year-on-year sales, with a turnover of 45,000 euros. Among other major museums acquiring work from Lumière des Roses was the MoMA in New York. Regarding vintage prints, a 1936 Edward Weston piece entitled Dunes fetched 272,000 USD at the Bruce Silverstein gallery (New York), while two August Sanders brought in 67,000 euros each at the Priska Pasquer (Cologne). The classic Italian masters also did well: Anne de Villepoix sold all eight of its Luigi Ghirri photos priced at 7,000 to 15,000 euros, while Fotografia Italiana let go all of its Mario Giacomelli landscapes from the 1960s for 5,000-10,000 euros.

Contemporary photography had a more up and down ride. Excellent results were achieved by a number of galleries, including the Martin Asbaek (Copenhagen), which doubled its take with the sale of 40 photos by its artists Trine Sondergaad, Nicolai Howalt and Ebbe Strup Wittrup for an average price of 4,000 euros; Les Filles du Calvaire (Paris) – 60 pieces, including a Paul Graham at 40,000 euros; Fifty One Fine Arts Photography (Antwerp) – 30 pieces for 3,000-15,000 euros; Robert Miller (New York) – 20 pieces, including a Bill Henson carrying a 35,000 USD price tag bought by an Australian; Bonni Benrubi (New York) – the total of 30 pieces sold included camera obscura views taken by Abelardo Morell priced between 15,000-20,000USD; and the Kudlek Van Der Grinten gallery (Berlin), where American, Canadian and Swiss collectors bought 40 pieces, among them phantasmagoric staged scenes by Izima Kaoru at 16,000 euros.

Photography books:
With a record number of 21 publishers at Paris Photo this year, there was no sign of a decline in the fascination with photography books. Among the outstanding sales this year, Denis Ozanne’s rare copy of Ed Rusha’s 1960 Dutch Details brought in 25,000 euros. Toluca reported its best-ever figures at Paris Photo, most notably three copies of Solitude de l’œil by Daido Moriyama at 8,500 euros each and 13 copies at 6,500 euros apiece of Yutaka Takanishi’s No-One.

Hope to see you at PhotoLA. If not , don’t worry , there will be coverage.
Damon Webster


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