At AIPAD Photography Show, Big Names, Assassinations, Salt Prints

In recent years, many art dealers–often urged on by art fair organizers–have become increasingly selective and considered in their art fair displays. Instead of a smattering of items from inventory, the current fashion calls for order and discernment. Many pleasures have resulted from the trend: the abundance of one-artist displays at the ADAA Art Show, for instance, or the many elegant non-booths at the Independent. When it works, it’s a joy—miniature gallery shows presenting careful overviews of artists’ careers or welcome selections of new work.

Still, sometimes it’s nice to experience a bit of sprawl—to take a look at the curiosities and quirks, or just the greatest hits, buried in a gallery’s inventory. And so it is at many of the booths at the 32nd annual Association of International Photography Art Dealers Photography Show, at the Park Avenue Armory, where 75 galleries are showing their wares through Sunday.

Anyone looking for a brief guide to market-ready photography—and there’s no shame in that—will find it here. Many galleries have stocked their booths with the big names: reliably sensual, often kitschy photos by Horst P. Horst, street scenes by Atget, fashion spreads and still lifes by Irving Penn and depictions of prewar Paris nightlife by Brassaï.

To name one sterling example: Weinstein Gallery, in town from Minneapolis, has works from Alec Soth’s “Dog Days, Bogota” series, low-key scenes of life in the Colombian capital; portraits and still lifes by Robert Mapplethorpe (including a nude of frequent model Lisa Lyon flexing her muscles with a white shawl drapped over her head); and austere shots of Venice by Vera Lutter.

One will find a small coterie of impressive Penns at Boston’s Robert Klein gallery, as well as photos by Francesca Woodman, currently the subject of a Guggenheim retrospective, made while she was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. She poses in a polka-dot dress, her head cut out of the frame, in one; in another, she’s topless, staring the camera down, arms akimbo, with a hand painted across her chest.

Across the aisle, London’s James Hyman gallery has another Woodman on offer that shows the artist ensconced in a vitrine. Inside Hyman’s dimly lit booth is the main attraction: a selection of French salt prints from the 1850s, the very early years of photography, which show Gothic cathedrals in stunning, crystal-clear umber. At the center, there’s a 14th-century carved stone of a fantastical beast. A dose of the real! Why not?

Bruce Silverstein gallery has lined a wall with photographs that the early modernist artist Constantin Brancusi took of his sculptures, like Bird in Space and Socrates. In an image of his ovoid, metallic Prometheus, the flash renders the work almost transparent, ready to vanish into thin air—“the camera’s flash… explode[s] the unity of the sculptural gestalt,” MoMA curator Roxana Marcoci has argued. One can see a direct line forward to the spectral work of some of today’s artists, like Sara VanDerBeek’s images of sculptures or Talia Chetrit’s deceptively simple still lifes.

In the more contemporary realm, Los Angeles’s M+B has large photos of lakes and resevoirs by Matthew Brandt that he developed and then soaked with their water, which morphed and warped the image. It’s a one liner, but a good and sumptuous one: they appear burned in some places. Higher Pictures, which is getting ready to move to a new space at the Gagosian fortress at 980 Madison, has photos of Emily Roysdon posing with a mask of David Wojnarowicz, restaging Wojnarowicz’s Rimbaud-mask images.

Over at the booth of Washington, D.C.’s Gary Edwards Gallery, the young artist Tam Tran, who appeared in the 2010 Whitney Biennial, is also toying with identity, morphing herself into various characters–some playful, some sinister–like Woodman, often with a cord for her camera visibly in hand. And here a touch of the eccentricity of AIPAD appears: another wall of Edwards’s booth is labeled “Assassins of the 60’s,” and lined with a press photo of JFK’s last motorcade, Jack Ruby’s mug shot and the scene of MLK’s murder.

Other surprises abound. There are anonymous tintypes—yes, positives on tin—from the 1870s at Paul Cava. The high-contrast photos show two young sisters, a haunting bird diorama and a fearsome-looking freemason in his full regalia. At Jackson Fine Art, fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld poses with his collection of thousands of books in a photo by Todd Selby, who’s quoted in a wall label declaring, “Karl is the man.” And back at M+B, on the other side of the wall with those water-damaged Brandt photos are four subtle black-and-white shots by Lisa Jack of a black man, from 1980. It’s photography in its most immediate, pure form: a single moment in time, suddenly frozen, that has now passed. In three of the photos, the man is smoking, looking relaxed, with a wide-brimmed hat atop his head. It’s a young Barack Obama.

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