Sunday, September 30, 2007

Important Photographs Christie's Auction Catalog

OK…enough fairs and exhibition distractions, this posting is for all of you Robert Frankophiles. You will want to check out the new auction catalog from Christie's entitled Important Photographs (from a private American collection).

Although this is a small auction by usual standards with only 37 items being offered, almost half are works by Robert Frank. And since he is the dominant artist featured, the entire catalog is dedicated to showcasing his works and comparing them to the other important artists whose works are also being offered.

The catalog was overseen by Stuart Alexander who was responsible for the Robert Frank Bibliography published by the Center for Creative Photography in 1986 and he was given carte blanche by Christie's to make the catalog according to his wishes. The result is a fantastic production that pulls out design features including gatefolds and reproductions of book jackets and other publications where the photographs have appeared in print. As Alexander states in his brief introduction to the catalog: The importance of context for the interpretation of photographs inspired the design of this catalog to include relevant quotes, facsimiles of book covers and page spreads of early presentations of these images.

The descriptions of the different lots include many details on the material’s provenance and in turn, their historical relevance in either exhibitions or in the creation of Frank’s landmark book Les Americains. The entry on Trolley-New Orleans offers interesting details about how Frank used his prints while planning for Les Americains. One part reads: The pinholes in the corners, numerical markings, size and apparent age of this print suggests that it was used in the final stages of preparation for the first edition of Les Americains published in Paris in May of 1958. Frank made 8 x 10 inch prints from the negatives he exposed on his Guggenheim Fellowship. He edited them and made decisions about sequencing by pinning, tacking and even stapling prints on the wall of his studio.

The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC has dozens of prints- some even still have the staples in them. Many of the work prints used in early stages have the negative numbers written on them in grease pencil.

Among the reproductions of the images, there are a few detail photographs of the stamps and stickers that had been affixed to the prints. When Frank applied for an extension on his fellowship, he submitted several prints as supporting material onto which he affixed adhesive labels with penned captions. One image that was in this group is of three (theater?)usherettes from 1956 which is an image that did not appear in Les Americains and is one that I believe has never been published before.

One interesting fact of the book’s title comes under discussion as Alexander recounts that Frank’s original title for the maquette was Americans but since the book was first published in French, the language required the article Les to be added, thus Les Americains. When this was translated to English, the article tagged along and thus sparked some negative reaction to the assumption that the book was meant to be a description of all Americans.

The prices of these items are very high due to their exhibition history of their being used to create the book. For instance, the Trolley-New Orleans photograph that graced the cover of several editions of the book is estimated to fetch between $150,000 and $250,000. Hmmm…let’s decide, $250,000 for an apartment or a piece of paper? (In New York City, the apartment you’d get for $250,000 would be too small to even hang this 8x10 print so you should probably just go ahead and buy the photo.) The rest of the prints stay within the $30,000 to $60,000 range.

Walker Evans appropriately is the other artist in the catalog with the most images for sale from this collection. All of his images are from his classic subway images that eventually made up the book Many Are Called.

The other artists whose works are being offered for sale are: Helen Levitt, Arthur Leipzig, Dorothea Lange, Brassai, Diane Arbus, Lisette Model, Morris Engel, Ben Shahn, Weegee and Margaret Bourke-White.

The auction date is scheduled for Wednesday October 17, 2007.

Buy catalog at Christie's