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Posted By Administration, Friday, May 16, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Anyone with even a slight interest in contemporary photography should go to Dumbo for the New York Photo Festival this weekend. Organized by powerHouse Books and VII Photo Agency, the event is not to be confused with the more familiar type of art or photography fair in which scores or hundreds of galleries show their wares in separate booths. It focuses on a small number of distinct, thematic exhibitions, each organized by a different curator and displayed in a different space in the waterfront area of Brooklyn, under the Manhattan Bridge overpass.

The festival's core consists of four shows. Most traditional is a 10-artist show called "Chisel," organized by Kathy Ryan, photo editor of The New York Times Magazine. Ms. Ryan selected artists whose works relate to painting or sculpture. Horacio Salinas's large, black-and-white, high-contrast pictures of found tire treads isolated against white backgrounds, for example, evoke Abstract Expressionist painting. Alejandra Laviada goes into abandoned buildings, arranges objects that she finds into sculptural configurations and makes formally elegant photographs of her constructions.
Martin Parr, the well-known British photographer, organized "New Typologies," a display of eight artists who, following in the footsteps of Bernd and Hilla Becher, photographically catalog types of objects or people. Jan Kempenaers has documented amazing abstract, Brutalist sculptural monuments constructed in Communist-era Yugoslavia, and Jan Banning creates large color portraits of government bureaucrats at their desks in countries around the world, from Russia to Bolivia.
The two other shows address the circulation of photographic images outside the museum and gallery system. Tim Barber offers "Various Photographs," a selection of 300 framed, paperback-size prints downloaded from his personal online gallery, on which he displays photographs submitted by professionals and amateurs. Favoring a snapshot aesthetic and ranging from goofy to sublime, the show is addictively entertaining.
Lesley A. Martin, publisher of the book program at the Aperture Foundation, organized "The Ubiquitous Image," a presentation of works by nine artists and one artists group who manipulate and recycle found and appropriated anonymous photographs. A wall covered by 2,100 pictures of sunsets downloaded from the Web site by Penelope Umbrico is spectacular.
The festival also includes more than 10 satellite exhibitions. Among them, Archive of Modern Conflict, a London group, presents works by three emerging Chinese photographers; and the photography agencies Atelier Reflexe and Cobertura Photo offer "E.U. Women," a selection of sociologically pointed works about European women.
By Ken Johnson
For The New York Times

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Robert Rauschenberg, American Artist, Dies at 82

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Robert Rauschenberg, the irrepressibly prolific American artist who time and again reshaped art in the 20th century, died on Monday night at his home on Captiva Island, Fla. He was 82.

The cause was heart failure, said Arne Glimcher, chairman of PaceWildenstein, the Manhattan gallery that represents Mr. Rauschenberg.

Mr. Rauschenberg's work gave new meaning to sculpture. "Canyon," for instance, consisted of a stuffed bald eagle attached to a canvas. "Monogram" was a stuffed goat girdled by a tire atop a painted panel. "Bed" entailed a quilt, sheet and pillow, slathered with paint, as if soaked in blood, framed on the wall. All became icons of postwar modernism.
A painter, photographer, printmaker, choreographer, onstage performer, set designer and, in later years, even a composer, Mr. Rauschenberg defied the traditional idea that an artist stick to one medium or style. He pushed, prodded and sometimes reconceived all the mediums in which he worked.
Building on the legacies of Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Cornell and others, he helped obscure the lines between painting and sculpture, painting and photography, photography and printmaking, sculpture and photography, sculpture and dance, sculpture and technology, technology and performance art — not to mention between art and life.
Mr. Rauschenberg was also instrumental in pushing American art onward from Abstract Expressionism, the dominant movement when he emerged, during the early 1950s. He became a transformative link between artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning and those who came next, artists identified with Pop, Conceptualism, Happenings, Process Art and other new kinds of art in which he played a signal role.
No American artist, Jasper Johns once said, invented more than Mr. Rauschenberg. Mr. Johns, John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Mr. Rauschenberg, without sharing exactly the same point of view, collectively defined this new era of experimentation in American culture.
Apropos of Mr. Rauschenberg, Cage once said, "Beauty is now underfoot wherever we take the trouble to look." Cage meant that people had come to see, through Mr. Rauschenberg's efforts, not just that anything, including junk on the street, could be the stuff of art (this wasn't itself new), but that it could be the stuff of an art aspiring to be beautiful — that there was a potential poetics even in consumer glut, which Mr. Rauschenberg celebrated.
"I really feel sorry for people who think things like soap dishes or mirrors or Coke bottles are ugly," he once said, "because they're surrounded by things like that all day long, and it must make them miserable."
The remark reflected the optimism and generosity of spirit that Mr. Rauschenberg became known for. His work was likened to a St. Bernard: uninhibited and mostly good-natured. He could be the same way in person. When he became rich, he gave millions of dollars to charities for women, children, medical research, other artists and Democratic politicians.
A brash, garrulous, hard-drinking, open-faced Southerner, he had a charm and peculiar Delphic felicity with language that masked a complex personality and an equally multilayered emotional approach to art, which evolved as his stature did. Having begun by making quirky, small-scale assemblages out of junk he found on the street in downtown Manhattan, he spent increasing time in his later years, after he had become successful and famous, on vast international, ambassadorial-like projects and collaborations.
Conceived in his immense studio on the island of Captiva, off southwest Florida, these projects were of enormous size and ambition; for many years he worked on one that grew literally to exceed the length of its title, "The 1/4 Mile or 2 Furlong Piece." They generally did not live up to his earlier achievements. Even so, he maintained an equanimity toward the results. Protean productivity went along with risk, he felt, and risk sometimes meant failure.
The process — an improvisatory, counterintuitive way of doing things — was always what mattered most to him. "Screwing things up is a virtue," he said when he was 74. "Being correct is never the point. I have an almost fanatically correct assistant, and by the time she re-spells my words and corrects my punctuation, I can't read what I wrote. Being right can stop all the momentum of a very interesting idea."
This attitude also inclined him, as the painter Jack Tworkov once said, "to see beyond what others have decided should be the limits of art."
He "keeps asking the question — and it's a terrific question philosophically, whether or not the results are great art," Mr. Tworkov said, "and his asking it has influenced a whole generation of artists."
A Wry, Respectful Departure
That generation was the one that broke from Pollock and company. Mr. Rauschenberg maintained a deep but mischievous respect for Abstract Expressionist heroes like de Kooning and Barnett Newman. Famously, he once painstakingly erased a drawing by de Kooning, an act both of destruction and devotion. Critics regarded the all-black paintings and all-red paintings he made in the early 1950s as spoofs of de Kooning and Pollock. The paintings had roiling, bubbled surfaces made from scraps of newspapers embedded in paint.
But these were just as much homages as they were parodies. De Kooning, himself a parodist, had incorporated bits of newspapers in pictures, and Pollock stuck cigarette butts to canvases.
Mr. Rauschenberg's "Automobile Tire Print," from the early 1950s — resulting from Cage's driving an inked tire of a Model A Ford over 20 sheets of white paper — poked fun at Newman's famous "zip" paintings.
At the same time, Mr. Rauschenberg was expanding on Newman's art. The tire print transformed Newman's zip — an abstract line against a monochrome backdrop with spiritual pretensions — into an artifact of everyday culture, which for Mr. Rauschenberg had its own transcendent dimension.
Mr. Rauschenberg frequently alluded to cars and spaceships, even incorporating real tires and bicycles into his art. This partly reflected his own restless, peripatetic imagination. The idea of movement was logically extended when he took up dance and performance.
There was, beneath this, a darkness to many of his works, notwithstanding their irreverence. "Bed" (1955) was gothic. The all-black paintings were solemn and shuttered. The red paintings looked charred, with strips of fabric akin to bandages, from which paint dripped like blood. "Interview" (1955), which resembled a cabinet or closet with a door, enclosing photos of bullfighters, a pinup, a Michelangelo nude, a fork and a softball, suggested some black-humored encoded erotic message.
There were many other images of downtrodden and lonely people, rapt in thought; pictures of ancient frescoes, out of focus as if half remembered; photographs of forlorn, neglected sites; bits and pieces of faraway places conveying a kind of nostalgia or remoteness. In bringing these things together, the art implied consolation.
Mr. Rauschenberg, who knew that not everybody found it easy to grasp the open-endedness of his work, once described to the writer Calvin Tomkins an encounter with a woman who had reacted skeptically to "Monogram" (1955-59) and "Bed" in his 1963 retrospective at the Jewish Museum, one of the events that secured Mr. Rauschenberg's reputation: "To her, all my decisions seemed absolutely arbitrary — as though I could just as well have selected anything at all — and therefore there was no meaning, and that made it ugly.
"So I told her that if I were to describe the way she was dressed, it might sound very much like what she'd been saying. For instance, she had feathers on her head. And she had this enamel brooch with a picture of 'The Blue Boy' on it pinned to her breast. And around her neck she had on what she would call mink but what could also be described as the skin of a dead animal. Well, at first she was a little offended by this, I think, but then later she came back and said she was beginning to understand."
Growing Up With Scraps
Milton Ernest Rauschenberg was born on Oct. 22, 1925, in Port Arthur, Tex., a small refinery town where "it was very easy to grow up without ever seeing a painting," he said. (In adulthood he renamed himself Robert.) His grandfather, a doctor who emigrated from Germany, had settled in Texas and married a Cherokee. His father, Ernest, worked for a local utility company. The family lived so frugally that his mother, Dora, made him shirts out of scraps of fabric. Once she made herself a skirt out of the back of the suit that her younger brother was buried in. She didn't want the material to go to waste.
For his high school graduation present, Mr. Rauschenberg wanted a ready-made shirt, his first. All this shaped his art eventually. A decade or so later he made history with his own assemblages of scraps and ready-mades: sculptures and music boxes made of packing crates, rocks and rope; and paintings like "Yoicks," sewn from fabric strips. He loved making something out of nothing.
Mr. Rauschenberg studied pharmacology briefly at the University of Texas at Austin before he was drafted during World War II. He saw his first paintings at the Huntington Art Gallery in California while he was stationed in San Diego as a medical technician in the Navy Hospital Corps. It occurred to him that it was possible to become a painter.
He attended the Kansas City Art Institute on the G.I. Bill, traveled to Paris and enrolled at the Académie Julian, where he met Susan Weil, a young painter from New York who was to enter Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Having read about and come to admire Josef Albers, then the head of fine arts at Black Mountain, Mr. Rauschenberg saved enough money to join her.
Mr. Albers was a disciplinarian and strict modernist who, shocked by his student, later disavowed ever even knowing Mr. Rauschenberg. He was, on the other hand, recalled by Mr. Rauschenberg as "a beautiful teacher and an impossible person."
"He wasn't easy to talk to, and I found his criticism so excruciating and so devastating that I never asked for it," Mr. Rauschenberg added. "Years later, though, I'm still learning what he taught me."
Among other things, he learned to maintain an open mind toward materials and new mediums, which Mr. Albers endorsed. Mr. Rauschenberg also gained a respect for the grid as an essential compositional organizing tool.
For a while, he moved between New York, where he studied at the Art Students League with Vaclav Vytlacil and Morris Kantor, and Black Mountain. During the spring of 1950 he and Ms. Weil married. The marriage lasted two years, during which they had a son, Christopher, who survives him, along with Mr. Rauschenberg's companion, Darryl Pottorf.
Being John Cage's Guest
Mr. Rauschenberg experimented at the time with blueprint paper to produce silhouette negatives. The pictures were published in Life magazine in 1951; after that Mr. Rauschenberg was given his first solo show, at the influential Betty Parsons Gallery.
"Everyone was trying to give up European aesthetics," he recalled, meaning Picasso, the Surrealists and Matisse. "That was the struggle, and it was reflected in the fear of collectors and critics. John Cage said that fear in life is the fear of change. If I may add to that: nothing can avoid changing. It's the only thing you can count on. Because life doesn't have any other possibility, everyone can be measured by his adaptability to change."
Cage acquired a painting from the Betty Parsons show. Aside from that, Mr. Rauschenberg sold absolutely nothing. Grateful, he agreed to host Cage at his loft. As Mr. Rauschenberg liked to tell the story, the only place to sit was on a mattress. Cage started to itch. He called Mr. Rauschenberg afterward to tell him that his mattress must have bedbugs and that, since Cage was going away for a while, Mr. Rauschenberg could stay at his place. Mr. Rauschenberg accepted the offer. In return, he decided he would touch up the painting Cage had acquired, as a kind of thank you, painting it all black, being in the midst of his new, all-black period. When Cage returned, he was not amused.
"We both thought, 'Here was somebody crazier than I am,' " Mr. Rauschenberg recalled. In 1952 Mr. Rauschenberg switched to all-white paintings which were, in retrospect, spiritually akin to Cage's famous silent piece of music, during which a pianist sits for 4 minutes and 33 seconds at the keyboard without making a sound. Mr. Rauschenberg's paintings, like the music, in a sense became both Rorschachs and backdrops for ambient, random events, like passing shadows.
"I always thought of the white paintings as being not passive but very — well — hypersensitive," he told an interviewer in 1963. "So that people could look at them and almost see how many people were in the room by the shadows cast, or what time of day it was."
Kicking around Europe and North Africa with the artist Cy Twombly for a few months after that, Mr. Rauschenberg began to collect and assemble objects — bits of rope, stones, sticks, bones — which he showed to a dealer in Rome who exhibited them under the title "scatole contemplative," or thought boxes. They were shown in Florence, where an outraged critic suggested that Mr. Rauschenberg toss them in the river. He thought that sounded like a good idea. So, saving a few scatole for himself and friends, he found a secluded spot on the Arno. "'I took your advice," he wrote to the critic.
Yet the scatole were crucial to his development, setting the stage for bigger, more elaborate assemblages, like '"Monogram." Back in New York, Mr. Rauschenberg showed his all-black and all-white paintings, then his erased de Kooning, which de Kooning had given to him to erase, a gesture that Mr. Rauschenberg found astonishingly generous, all of which enhanced his reputation as the new enfant terrible of the art world.
Around that time he also met Mr. Johns, then unknown, who had a studio in the same building on Pearl Street where Mr. Rauschenberg had a loft. The intimacy of their relationship over the next years, a consuming subject for later biographers and historians, coincided with the production by the two of them of some of the most groundbreaking works of postwar art.
In Mr. Rauschenberg's famous words, they gave each other "permission to do what we wanted." Living together in a series of lofts in Lower Manhattan until the 1960s, they exchanged ideas and supported themselves designing window displays for Tiffany & Company and Bonwit Teller under the collaborative pseudonym Matson Jones.
Along with the combines like "Monogram" and "Canyon" (1959), Mr. Rauschenberg in that period developed a transfer drawing technique, dissolving printed images from newspapers and magazines with a solvent and then rubbing them onto paper with a pencil. The process, used for works like "34 Drawings for Dante's Inferno," created the impression of something fugitive, exquisite and secret. Perhaps there was an autobiographical and sensual aspect to this. It let him blend images on a surface to a kind of surreal effect, which became the basis for works he made throughout his later career, when he adapted the transfer method to canvas.
Instrumental in this technical evolution back then was Tatyana Grossman, who encouraged and guided him as he made prints at her workshop, Universal Limited Art Editions, on Long Island; he also began a long relationship with the Gemini G.E.L. workshop in Los Angeles, producing lithographs like the 1970 "Stoned Moon" series, with its references to the moon landing.
His association with theater and dance had already begun by the 1950s, when he began designing sets and costumes for Mr. Cunningham, Paul Taylor and Trisha Brown and for his own productions. In 1963 he choreographed "Pelican," in which he performed on roller skates while wearing a parachute and helmet of his design to the accompaniment of a taped collage of sound. This fascination with collaboration and with mixing art and technologies dovetailed with yet another endeavor. With Billy Klüver, an engineer at Bell Telephone Laboratories, and others, he started Experiments in Art and Technology, a nonprofit foundation to foster joint projects by artists and scientists.
A World of Praise
In 1964 he toured Europe and Asia with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, the same year he exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery in London and the Venice Biennale as the United States representative. That sealed his international renown. The Sunday Telegraph in London hailed him as "the most important American artist since Jackson Pollock." He walked off with the international grand prize in Venice, the first modern American to win it. Mr. Rauschenberg had, almost despite himself, become an institution.
Major exhibitions followed every decade after that, including one at the Pompidou Center in Paris in 1981, another at the Guggenheim in 1997 and yet another at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art that landed at the Metropolitan Museum in 2005.
When he wasn't traveling in later years, he was on Captiva, living at first in a modest beach house and working out of a small studio. In time he became that Gulf Coast island's biggest residential landowner while also maintaining a town house in Greenwich Village in New York. He acquired the land in Captiva by buying adjacent properties from elderly neighbors whom he let live rent-free in their houses, which he maintained for them. He accumulated 35 acres, 1,000 feet of beach front and nine houses and studios, including a 17,000-square-foot two-story studio overlooking a swimming pool. He owned almost all that remained of tropical jungle on the island.
After a stroke in 2002 that left his right side paralyzed, Mr. Rauschenberg learned to work more with his left hand and, with a troupe of assistants, remained prolific for several years in his giant studio.
"I usually work in a direction until I know how to do it, then I stop," he said in an interview there. "At the time that I am bored or understand — I use those words interchangeably — another appetite has formed. A lot of people try to think up ideas. I'm not one. I'd rather accept the irresistible possibilities of what I can't ignore."
He added: "Anything you do will be an abuse of somebody else's aesthetics. I think you're born an artist or not. I couldn't have learned it. And I hope I never do because knowing more only encourages your limitations."
By Michael Kimmelman
For The New York Times

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Egglestons to Bay Area

Posted By Administration, Friday, May 9, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has acquired a group of 40 dye-transfer prints by William Eggleston dating from 1969 to 1971. The photographs — portraits, landscapes, still lifes — are images of life in places like Tennessee, Louisiana and Mississippi, and were first shown in 1976 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

"Until Eggleston, color photography was not taken seriously," said Neal Benezra, director of the San Francisco museum. "It was the stuff of fashion." He added, "This group really strengthens our collection of contemporary photography, giving it a great context."

Joshua Holdeman, an expert in 20th-century art at Christie's, sold the prints. While neither Christie's nor the museum would say what it paid, photography experts estimated that the group is worth about $4 million.

By Carol Vogel
For The New York Times

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An Auction of New Chinese Art Leaves Disjointed Noses in Its Wake

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Sotheby's auction house called it the "most important collection of contemporary Chinese art to ever come to market" — some 200 works by some of China's hottest names.

And when the first half of the trove, called the Estella Collection, went on the block in April in Hong Kong, it brought in $18 million and set some record prices for artists, like $6 million for a canvas by the Chinese painter Zhang Xiaogang.

But the sale of the works has stirred indignation among many of the artists and their dealers and some curators.

Those artists and curators say that as the collection was being formed, they were duped into thinking that a rich Westerner was putting together a permanent collection and would eventually donate some of the works to leading museums.

Instead, they say, the buyers were a group of investors who quickly cashed in by selling the works last August to the Manhattan dealer William Acquavella, who is in turn selling them through Sotheby's. (The second half of the collection is to be auctioned this fall in New York.)

Some of the artists say they sold works in the Estella Collection at a discount in the belief that the collection would gain long-term renown and help enhance their reputations.

"I feel cheated," said one of the artists, Feng Zhengjie, 40, known for his gaudy portraits of fashionable, lushly made-up women. "I can't believe it ended up like that, just for an auction."

Michael Goedhuis, the New York dealer who formed the collection for the group of investors, said he never misled anyone and had expected his investors to hold onto the works.

"The story was the same to everyone: this is a collection we intend on keeping intact," said Mr. Goedhuis, who traveled to China for more than three years to collect the pieces. "There was a change of direction for various reasons. It was a big surprise and it was out of my control."

Mr. Goedhuis declined to identify his investors, but The New York Times has already named two: Ray Debbane, president of the New York investment firm Invus Financial Advisors, and Sacha Lainovic, a co-founder and managing partner at Invus. Neither Mr. Debbane nor Mr. Lainovic returned telephone calls seeking comment.

Mr. Goedhuis said that in any case the artists had no reason to complain because they had benefited from the exposure. "They're riding the wave," he said.

In a statement issued last week, Sotheby's acknowledged that in the final weeks before the sale it "became aware that a few artists had sold their works with a different expectation about what would happen to them in the future." It said it hoped "the international exposure during this exciting time in the market would be helpful in furthering their careers."

Aggravating the controversy, the auction was announced just after the works had been exhibited at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, Denmark, from March to August of last year. Had they known the Estella Collection would quickly be sold, officials at the Danish museum said, they would never have organized the exhibition.

"We seriously regret that it turned out to be mere speculation, and there was dishonesty," said Anders Kold, the curator of the show, titled "Made in China." "We didn't have that information, and so as a consequence, we went on with it."

To retain the public trust and ensure that they are not used as marketing tools, museums generally try to avoid exhibiting private collections that are soon to be sold.

The show also traveled to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, closing there shortly before the April auction in Hong Kong. "At the time that the museum made arrangements for the exhibition, there was no indication of any intention to sell the collection,'' the Israel Museum said this week in an e-mail. "The museum learned of this development only toward the end of the showing.''

The conflict suggests the tensions that have arisen between artists, curators, galleries and museums around the world since the booming art market became global. The challenges are particularly acute when it comes to China, which has become a magnet for some of the world's biggest galleries, museums, collectors and art market speculators, but is relatively new to the game.

Chinese artists who a few years ago were selling works for just $10,000 each are suddenly signing deals with international galleries and seeing their works fetch $500,000 or more at auction. Indeed, Art Market Trends 2007 reported that last year, 5 of the 10 best-selling living artists at auction were born in China, led by Mr. Zhang, 50, whose works sold for a total of $56.8 million at auction last year.

"It's amazing," said Fabien Fryns, a founder of F2 Gallery in Beijing. "I think there'll be a $20 million painting some time soon."

Mr. Goedhuis, a former antiques dealer, said that last August's sale to Mr. Acquavella was hugely profitable for his investors. But he declined to say what they paid for the works or what they sold them for. Art market experts have put the Acquavella acquisition at around $25 million.

Sotheby's is a stakeholder in the Estella Collection auction. That the first half of the collection has sold for far above the estimate suggests that Mr. Acquavella and the auction house have invested wisely.

Mr. Goedhuis said his investors' "original concept" was to "build the pre-eminent collection of Chinese contemporary art as the basis of a great book."

One indication of the seriousness of the project, he said, was a decision to hire Britta Erickson, an independent scholar and a leading authority on Chinese contemporary art, to help select works and write essays for the book, "China Onward," which was published by the Louisiana Museum in Denmark.

But Ms. Erickson now says that she too was misled into thinking she was working for a serious, long-term collector.

"I believed that it was to be a personal collection being assembled for the long term, with perhaps some pieces to be donated to museums," she said in an e-mail message. "I am sorry I was misinformed."

She added, "The art world cannot function without trust."

The artist He Sen, 40, who paints photographlike images of young women, also said that Mr. Goedhuis had assured him that a long-term collector was behind the Estella Collection and that some of the works might end up in a museum.

He said that one painting that he sold to the collection for about $60,000 went for more than $200,000 at the Hong Kong auction.

"Many artists, including me, were convinced by him, gave our best works to Michael, some even at a relatively cheap price," Mr. He said of Mr. Goedhuis. "Then it turned out to be an auction. We feel sold out by him."

Mr. Feng said his works were auctioned at Sotheby's for 5 to 10 times the price he gave Mr. Goedhuis.

Mr. Goedhuis said that in turning to Mr. Acquavella, he had hoped that the Las Vegas casino tycoon Steve Wynn, a major collector with interests in Macao, one of China's special administrative regions, would emerge as a buyer of the entire collection. In the end Mr. Acquavella bought it himself, without restrictions. Then he put it up for auction.

"That's what I do," Mr. Acquavella said. "I buy and sell."

Mr. Goedhuis said he had since tried to convince the artists that the Estella Collection's brief history was a boon to them.

" 'You only benefited from this,' " he said he told some of the artists after the auction was announced last fall, and he began fielding complaints. " 'You're in a wonderful scholarly book and you've been exhibited in two fine museums.' "

He also offered his own scathing critique of the artists, remarking that they had profited so much from the boom that they could afford to build huge studios and homes.

"The problem is everyone is buying and flipping, and the artists are also flipping," he said by telephone from Beijing. "It's a Wild West out here."

By David Barboza
For The New York Times

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For Sale: Art and Optimism

Posted By Administration, Sunday, May 4, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

You can't help but wonder just how many of the smartly dressed people sitting night after night at Sotheby's, Christie's and Phillips de Pury over the next two weeks will be serious bidders and how many will be voyeurs hoping to witness an implosion of the multibillion dollar art market.

For years collectors and the news media have been speculating about when prices would finally top out. Spring sales estimates don't suggest pessimism. The auction houses clearly hope that things will play out as they did three months ago in London, when, despite global economic queasiness, a Francis Bacon triptych sold for $51.6 million. Now two Bacon triptychs, whose owners no doubt want to capitalize on that high, are going on the block, at estimates of $25 million to $35 million (Christie's, shown above) and a whopping $70 million (Sotheby's).

But despite the bullish prices, this auction season feels different. Economic anxiety has deepened in recent months, with the proposed bailout of Bear Stearns in March, continuing stock-market gyrations and increasing signs that we either are in or about to be in a recession.

And the art market has its own problems. Sotheby's stock price is roughly half what it was last October, and its latest annual report shows that the amount of money owed to the house more than doubled to $835 million last year. Hoping to keep the bubble afloat, Sotheby's has been giving buyers more time to hand over the money for their purchases. (It is the only publicly traded company of the three houses.)

But despite it all, sales estimates at the auction houses are more robust than ever.

Aside from the Bacon triptychs (to be auctioned at Christie's on May 13 and at Sotheby's on May 14), Sotheby's is selling a coveted Cubist painting by Fernand Léger at its Impressionist and modern art sale on Wednesday. It is estimated to fetch $35 million to $45 million.

Christie's boasts some splashy offerings too. A rare Monet will be auctioned on Tuesday, and next week's sale includes a strong sampling of Pop Art by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Tom Wesselmann. Sotheby's and Christie's are also selling 1950s red-and-yellow Rothkos that they predict will bring $35 million to $45 million each.

This season's sellers include the television producer Douglas S. Cramer; the newsprint magnate Peter Brant; and Helga Lauffs of Germany, who is selling pieces by Robert Rauschenberg, Mr. Wesselmann and Donald Judd after terminating a long-term loan to the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum in Krefeld.

To land consignments like these, auction houses have given most of these collectors guarantees, an undisclosed sum promised to the seller regardless of the outcome of a sale. Obviously this poses a considerable risk for the houses. Whether the gamble will pay off is anyone's guess.

Seasoned dealers and collectors are guessing that market cracks will emerge first in sales of less expensive works, that this is the season of the great divide between the Best and the Rest.

Auction house executives are busy talking up the soaring numbers of Asian, Russian and Middle Eastern collectors, trophy hunting with cash to burn. They also cite the recent $600 million private sale of art from the estate of the dealer Ileana Sonnabend — proof, they say, that there is still enough money out there and that no price is too high.

Yet the creative business maneuvers adopted by the auction houses to land big consignments and encourage buyers speak of desperation. Sotheby's and Christie's are at the point where they are often willing to forgo profits just to win commissions and beat out the other on sales totals. In addition to the guarantees granted to sellers, which in some cases this season are said to be even higher than the works' sales estimates, the two companies are buying works of art outright, advancing sellers money ahead of the sales and in rare cases even becoming involved in sellers' real estate transactions.

These confidential deals are so abundant that it is difficult to judge whether a strong evening sales result is a smoke screen. But if profits dry up, such face-saving strategies can't last forever.

For now auction houses are playing up the suspense. "We really won't know till the night," said Tobias Meyer, director of Sotheby's contemporary art department worldwide. "Even in this market collectors are tortured by the idea that they could miss an opportunity."

Risky Play?

TITLE "Le Pont du Cheminde Fer à Argenteuil," 1873
ESTIMATE $35 million

SOME dealers must have gulped when they saw that the most expensive painting in Christie's May 6 Impressionist and modern art auction is a Monet, not a modern work. In a sense Christie's seems to be swimming against the tide. (The most expensive work in Sotheby's sale of Impressionist and modern art is a 1912-13 Léger, "Étude Pour 'La Femme en Bleu,'" which carries a $35 million to $45 million estimate.) Yet the Monet, "Le Pont du Chemin de Fer à Argenteuil," depicting two puffing locomotives, was considered unabashedly modern in its time. In 1988 Stavros Niarchos, the Greek shipping magnate, sold it for $12.6 million at Christie's in London to the Nahmads, dealers with galleries in New York and London.

Defending the house's decision to give this painting a starring role, Guy Bennett, co-head of Impressionist and modern art at Christie's worldwide, said the work was a seminal one for Monet. He said Monet produced only three other comparable paintings of the subject. One is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, another in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the third in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. "I still believe there are buyers for top Impressionist paintings," he added.

If Mr. Bennett is wrong, it could be an expensive mistake. He declined to disclose what guarantee Christie's promised the Nahmads, but experts in the field say it was around $34 million. (Sotheby's is taking a parallel gamble on its Léger. Experts familiar with the terms said the auction house guaranteed it for $38 million. "It's one of those last-chance pictures," said Simon Shaw of Sotheby's. "We wouldn't have put our money in it if we'd believed otherwise.")


ARTIST Alberto Giacometti
TITLE "Grande Femme Debout II," 1959-60
ESTIMATE $18 million

CATALOGS are brimming with interesting sculptures this spring. The medium has been a particularly popular market choice lately, and experts are betting the trend has far from peaked. "Getting great pictures is expensive, but sculptures are less so," said Simon Shaw of Sotheby's, whose Impressionist and Modern sale on May 14 includes sculptures by Julio González and Giacometti as well as a rare painted Picasso bronze. "These sculptures make an instant impact," he said.

Christie's will serve up an exceptional group of Giacomettis from various periods on May 13, including a plaster from his Surrealist period.

The $100 Million Man

ARTIST Roy Lichtenstein
TITLE "Ball of Twine," 1963

PETER Brant, the Greenwich, Conn., newsprint magnate, is emerging as the season's craftiest seller. Seeking to raise money to buy another paper mill, he hit up both Sotheby's and Christie's for substantial guarantees. Experts familiar with the deals say Sotheby's came through with between $70 million and $80 million in exchange for various paintings and sculptures. Christie's got a share of art too, providing Mr. Brant with a reported $35 million.

Mr. Brant's collection boasts hundreds of works by artists like Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, John Chamberlain, Richard Prince and Jeff Koons. It may appear that he is unloading the bulk of what he owns, but the art being sold now amounts to only a fraction of his holdings. Among the best for sale is Lichtenstein's "Ball of Twine," a 1963 painting. Mr. Brant bought it in 2001 at Sotheby's for $4 million, the highest price paid for a work in that sale. Now it is estimated at $14 million to $18 million.

Mr. Brant is also selling Warhols, including two self-portraits (one at each auction house) and works by Basquiat, Mr. Koons andMr. Prince.

Topping Out?

ARTIST Richard Prince
TITLE "Millionaire Nurse," 2002

RICHARD PRINCE, whose retrospective last year at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York won critical acclaim, is still considered a hot commodity. Yet it seems surprising that so many Princes have surfaced on the market recently, privately as well as at auction. Sotheby's and Christie's are both selling paintings from Mr. Prince's popular nurse series, images inspired by the covers of erotic pulp fiction of the 1940s.

Some experts say the private sellers are hedge-fund managers who have supported Mr. Prince but are now facing tough times and need cash. Other collectors received overtures from auction houses they simply couldn't refuse. One of the nurse canvases belongs to Peter Brant, who has a large collection of Prince works, including other nurse paintings.

Sotheby's is selling his "Millionaire Nurse," depicting a blonde wearing a surgical mask. It is estimated to fetch $3.5 million to $4.5 million. At Christie's the television producer Douglas S. Cramer is offering "Man-Crazy Nurse #2." He bought this image of a buttoned-up blonde literally dripping paint, from the dealer Barbara Gladstone for less than $100,000 shortly after it was painted in 2002. Christie's has estimated it will bring $6 million to $8 million. "Eight months ago I was privately offered $10 million for it,"Mr. Cramer said in a telephone interview. "And I said no." He said Christie's had offered him a "gratifying'' guarantee but that he might one day regret the deal, not least because he is fond of the picture. "Five years from now I may think 'I've been taken,'" he joked.

Higher, Higher!

ARTIST Edvard Munch
TITLE "Girls on a Bridge," 1902
ESTIMATE $24 million to $28 million

YOU might presume that Graham Kirkham, the London collector and founder of the retail chain DFS Furniture, decided to sell Munch's "Girls on a Bridge" because he thinks he can get a good return. But some wonder how high collectors will be willing to go. Consider this: In 1980 Wendell Cherry, a founder of the Humana healthcare corporation, bought the painting at Christie's for $2.8 million. In 1996 Mr. Cherry's widow put it on the block at Sotheby's, where Mr. Kirkham bought it for $7.2 million. Now Sotheby's predicts this boldly colorful canvas, depicting a group of young women huddled together, will fetch $24 million to $28 million.

"Munch is one of those artists that people are finally recognizing for his position in the development of modern art," said Simon Shaw, head of Sotheby's Impressionist and modern art department in New York.

Foreign Enticements

ARTIST Erik Bulatov
TITLE "New York," 1989
ESTIMATE $700,000 to $900,000

IN an overture to Russia's new rich, Sotheby's sent highlights of its big spring sale of contemporary art from New York to Moscow this year for the first time. Sotheby's also has works that should appeal to new collectors in other emerging markets. Curiously, fewer examples of today's hot Chinese contemporary artists are on offer than a year ago, but Sotheby's contemporary sale on May 14 includes examples by two of today's most sought-after artists from Russia and India. Erik Bulatov, a Russian born in 1933, is being represented for the first time with his painting "New York." And the auction also includes a 2003 painting by the Indian artist Subodh Gupta, "Across the Seven Seas," which depicts a bustling airport. Its $500,000 to $700,000 estimate isn't cheap, but Mr. Gupta, 44, is considered one of the hottest artists of his generation in India. His work has been exhibited in high-profile shows like the 2005 Venice Biennale.

By Carol Vogel
For The New York Times

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David Travis at the Art Institute to Retire

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 24, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

The Art Institute of Chicago announces the retirement of David Travis, the Chair of the Department of Photography, effective June 30, 2008. Travis began his career at the Art Institute as an assistant curator of photography in the Department of Prints and Drawings in 1972 and was a full curator in 1975, when the Department of Photography was officially established.

James Cuno, President and Eloise W. Martin Director of the Art Institute, said, "David Travis has had a long and extraordinarily productive career at the museum, and it is impossible to conceive of the department here without his imprint. As the leader of the department for more than 30 years, David has built a very deep collection, overseen the renovation of the photography galleries and vaults, developed a conservation program, and produced widely respected scholarship. We wish him the best as he moves on to devote more time to writing and lecturing."

Travis has organized and presented more than 150 exhibitions of photography at the Art Institute in his 36-year tenure, including exhibitions of the work of Walker Evans, André Kertész, Edward Weston, Paul Strand, and Brassaï. He is perhaps best known for his landmark exhibitions On the Art of Fixing a Shadow, an exhibition of more than 400 photographs, and Starting with Atget: Photographs from the Julien Levy Collection. He has additionally prepared many thematic exhibitions, from images of "seas and skies" - featuring the work of Gustave LeGray, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Dodo Jin Man-to the photographic work of Chicago's own Institute of Design from 1937 to 1971.

Travis has also guest curated a number of exhibitions that have been shown at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. For his special contributions to the advancement of awareness and understanding of French culture, he was awarded the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 1987. He has also been a guest scholar at the J. Paul Getty Museum and in 2002 he was named a "Chicagoan of the Year" by Chicago magazine. At the Edge of the Light: Thoughts on Photographers and Photography, on Talent and Genius, a collection of his lectures and essays, was published in 2003.


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You Bet Your Tintype, Buckaroo

Posted By Administration, Sunday, April 20, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

ONE fairly reliable way to tell if you are in a part of the country where people still herd cattle for a living is the frequent and unself-conscious use of the word cowboy as a verb.

As in: "Buck got a good scholarship to go to college, but he turned it down. All he wanted to do was cowboy."

For more than 20 years the photographer Robb Kendrick, a longtime contributor to National Geographic, has traveled around the United States, Canada and northern Mexico visiting just such places, increasingly rare ones where development has been kept at bay and discouraging words seldom are heard, at least on cellphones, which stop working a hundred miles from the nearest tower.

Mr. Kendrick fits in well not only because he is a sixth-generation Texan, raised in ranch country in the state's panhandle, but also because of the unusual method of photography he favors, one patented and popularized at a time when the idea of the American cowboy was itself just being created.

He doesn't need batteries or memory cards or even film for his pictures. Mostly he just needs time, patience and lots of elbow grease. And as he labors, moving methodically from beneath the hood of his wooden box camera to a portable field darkroom, bearing wet iron plates that he has painstakingly prepared, he thinks of himself not as simply making pictures but also as taking part in the world of the cowboys who are the subjects of his otherworldly tintype portraits.

"The tendency of cowboys is to think of photographers as very demanding, high-maintenance people," Mr. Kendrick said. "And in the end I think they really respect the fact that I have to work for these pictures. They respect any kind of honest hard work."

Mr. Kendrick belongs to a growing group of commercial and art photographers — including gallery stars like Sally Mann and Chuck Close — who have retreated in recent years from the ease and exactitude of the digital age and taken up the difficult, ethereal techniques of early photography, including the ambrotype (in which a unique image is created on a glass plate), daguerreotype (on polished silver) and tintype (usually on tin-plated iron ).

The latest result of Mr. Kendrick's twin obsessions — with tintypes and the bow-legged anachronisms who continue to make their living on horseback — is "Still: Cowboys at the Start of the Twenty-First Century," a new collection of 148 tintype portraits published by the University of Texas Press.

The pictures — made by exposing and developing the metal plates after they have been coated with a light-sensitive solution of silver nitrate — are a kind of ideal meeting of subject and style. Many of the cowboys pine to have been born in the 19th century. And the tintypes, with their sepia tones, blurred peripheries and ghostly aura, take the cowboys back to the era when such photographs were taken by traveling commercial photographers. Mr. Kendrick's impulses may be more nostalgic and sociological than artistic, but the best of the pictures have a timeless power that evokes — oddly, given that Mr. Kendrick's pictures are of cowboys — the portraits of North American Indians taken by Edward S. Curtis in the early 1900s.

For the new book, and an earlier one, "Revealing Character," published in 2005, Mr. Kendrick estimates conservatively that he has covered more than 40,000 miles of often lonesome road in his pickup and visited more than 60 ranches, towing a trailer that he uses as a darkroom. (The most recent version of this mobile darkroom, specially made for him by a Mennonite company in Indiana, is as high-tech as his wooden cameras are primitive; it has an iPod docking station, climate control and stainless steel countertops.)

"When I'm doing tintypes, everything has to be driving, not flying — all the stuff for the developing is fairly flammable," said Mr. Kendrick, who began to learn tintype techniques in 1999, after years of photographing cowboys with more conventional cameras and no toxic vats of potassium cyanide. "Fortunately for me I love driving," he said, pausing before adding, "Thank God for satellite radio."

Mr. Kendrick has long been drawn to cowboys as subjects, in part because he grew up around so many in Hereford, Tex., but also because he finds the endurance of their culture and mythology — more than a hundred years after the last great cattle drives — to be as fascinating as that of other groups he has photographed, like Sherpas in the Himalayas or the Tarahumara Indians of northern Mexico.

"Many cultures threatened by so-called progress can lose much in a matter of one or two generations," he writes in the new book. "But cowboys — actual working cowboys, in all their manifestations — proudly and determinedly endure."

As the era in which their livelihood was created recedes ever further and fascination with their stubborn embrace of it seems only to grow, cowboys also have to endure a lot of curiosity, from writers and filmmakers and photographers. And so Mr. Kendrick has had to work hard to overcome the impression that he is just another dilettante spectator.

"Some of us like the publicity, and some of us just get tired of it," said Merlin Rupp, a 71-year-old lifelong range worker from Burns, Ore., who retired several years ago after a horse fell under him, badly breaking Mr. Rupp's neck and, as he describes it with great understatement, "putting me to sleep for three weeks."

But Mr. Rupp said he was proud of the stoical portrait Mr. Kendrick took of him, standing next to his wife, Faithe, the twirled ends of his long white mustache seeming to reach out toward her like tendrils. And Mr. Rupp said he believes that such portraits were an important record of modern-day cowboys at a time when cattle ranches are shrinking along with the number of working cowboys — or at least those he considers worthy of the name.

"There are fewer places to do this kind of work, but there are also fewer people who have the heart for it," he said. "It's a way of life that don't pay a lot of money, and it's hard on you. But it's also stress free. You don't have to drive 50 miles to work. You just get up out of your teepee and go to the cookhouse and then you go to work."

Another cowboy, whom Mr. Kendrick has known for 20 years, David Ross of the Pitchfork Ranch in northwest Texas, spends winters alone in a range teepee on a wheat field, speaking to someone about once a month when his supplies are dropped off. "It's good for a man to be alone," Mr. Ross told Mr. Kendrick, whose photographs of him could be mistaken for those of a Rough-Rider-era Teddy Roosevelt. "It clears your mind."

Over the years of riding, eating, bunking, branding and chewing tobacco with cowboys, Mr. Kendrick, 45, has become a fairly well-informed student of their regional idiosyncrasies and the ways in which they allow the modern world to seep into the 19th-century version that they try very hard to preserve around them.

Cowboys in northern and northwestern states like Oregon and Idaho and parts of Nevada and California tend to think of themselves not as cowboys but as buckaroos, a term that might sound as if it originated on the television show "Hee Haw" but is probably an Anglicization of the Spanish vaquero. Buckaroos are known, sometimes with a little derision, as the Beau Brummels of the saddle-office set, wearing antique-looking flat hats, leather brush cuffs, silver spurs, huge neckerchiefs they call wild rags and short chaps with long fringe, called chinks.

"These guys are very concerned with how their shadows look, whether they cut a good figure," Mr. Kendrick said. "They don't earn very much, but what they do earn they spend on their gear and they way they look." (A starting cowboy salary can be less than a $1,000 a month.)

Moving further south on the cowboy map the term cowpuncher takes over, mostly in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, where the work clothes are much more utilitarian and the brims of the hats arch skyward on the sides, a style that flat-hatted buckaroos call "taco hats." (A good example can be seen in the well-known publicity picture of James Dean from "Giant," sitting in profile with his boots up.)

Mr. Kendrick remembers a conversation with a Texas cowpuncher whose brim edges threatened to meet somewhere over the crown of his hat. "I said: 'Tom, doesn't that hat defeat the purpose of keeping the sun off of you? Doesn't it shine right on your ears?' " The rancher told him that whatever the hat's failings, its aerodynamics kept it from leaving his head in a high wind and it also sluiced the rain like a clean storm gutter.

The third major category of cowboy — those who call themselves just plain cowboys — tends to be found east of the Rockies, in Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas and Colorado and Wyoming, and its members usually find a middle ground between the fancy and the plain range looks. But Mr. Kendrick points out that it is much more common these days to see, for example, chink chaps in Texas or a taco hat far north, as cowboys migrate more and have better access to online shopping.

As the new book shows, though cowboying in the United States is still done mostly by white men, it is also more common to find cowgirls at work on ranches, not simply minding the books or cooking but on horseback, repairing fences and tracking lost calves. Jodi Miner, who runs the Snowline Ranch in Montana with her husband, Wes, told Mr. Kendrick in a series of interviews he has recorded and transcribed that she tries to live according to the dictum of working like a man but knowing when to be a lady.

"I'm proud to be a cowboy," she said. "Or a cowgirl, however you want to word it."

Mr. Kendrick said that though there are few creature comforts when he is making his portraits, food is sometimes one of them. Among his chuck-wagon highlights, he counts a mincemeat pie made by a cook on the ORO Ranch in Arizona with a filling of cow's tongue mixed with wild apples and berries. "You could have been in San Francisco or New York eating that in a really expensive restaurant," he said. He also notes that there are many modern-day cowboys who like to live a little; one in British Columbia confessed to spending his recent winters windsurfing in Mexico.

But you get the impression that Mr. Kendrick, like most cowboys, is much happier when doing things the hard way. "Making these kinds of pictures, you don't need the mental skills that you have to have a Ph.D. for," he said. "It's more like learning to be a carpenter. It's work and it's satisfying. What you get is unique, not mass-produced. You can't repeat the process. So it's the antithesis of digital."

The feeling is one that Mr. Rupp knew well. He tells a story of herding a couple hundred cows on a ranch in Nevada and taking them to the crest of a trail, below which lay a seemingly endless prairie.

"I just sat on my horse and I looked down," he told Mr. Kendrick. "Gosh, I was right in the middle of God's flower garden. The wildflowers were just everywhere. The smell was so great. And I couldn't help but say: 'Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord, for just lettin' me be out there.' "

By Randy Kennedy
For The New York Times

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An Image Is a Mystery for Photo Detectives

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 17, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

The phone call was routine, the kind often made before big auctions. Sotheby's was preparing to sell a striking rust-brown image of a leaf on paper, long thought to have been made by William Henry Fox Talbot, one of the inventors of photography. So the auction house contacted a Baltimore historian considered to be the world's leading Talbot expert and asked if he could grace the sale's catalog with any interesting scholarly details about the print — known as a photogenic drawing, a crude precursor to the photograph.

"I got back to them and said, 'Well, the first thing I would say is that this was not made by Talbot,' " the historian, Larry J. Schaaf, recalled in a recent interview.

"That was not what they were expecting to hear, to say the least."

In the weeks since Dr. Schaaf's surprising pronouncement was made public, "The Leaf," originally thought to have been made around 1839 or later, has become the talk of the photo-historical world. The speculation about its origins became so intense that Sotheby's and the print's owners decided earlier this month to postpone its auction, so that researchers could begin delving into whether the image may be, in fact, one of the oldest photographic images in existence, dating to the 1790s.

This week the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, which own similar photogenic drawings that once belonged to the same album as "The Leaf," said that they planned to perform scientific analysis and further research on their images as well.

With these decisions, suddenly, a group of antique images known to the academic and auction worlds at least since 1984 — when Sotheby's first sold them, fetching only $776 for the leaf print — have become the subjects of a high-profile detective story that could lead back to the earliest, murky years of the birth of photo technology and that could help to fill in crucial historical blanks.

Dr. Schaaf, who said he was not paid by Sotheby's or by the owner of "The Leaf" print, said that he had been aware of the images — also known as photograms, cameraless prints made by placing objects on photosensitive paper exposed to light — for many years. He had seen five of the six prints that were once compiled in an album by Henry Bright, a Briton whose family was part of a group of scientists and tinkerers active around Bristol in the late 18th century.

But as with so many other early photographic images, Dr. Schaaf said, there was so little information about these that he never gave much thought to their origins. "In most cases we just don't have any place even to get started," he said.

It was when Sotheby's inquiry reminded him that the images came from the Henry Bright family that he began to think about them again and to connect the dots with research that he had been doing for years into a group of photographic experimenters who had long predated Talbot and Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, the other acknowledged inventor of photography.

Probably in the 1790s, according to accounts written shortly afterward, Thomas Wedgwood, a son of the Wedgwood china family, began experimenting with what he called solar pictures, making images on paper coated with a silver nitrate solution. A friend of his, James Watt, wrote in a 1799 letter that he intended to try similar experiments and in 1802 another friend, Humphry Davy, wrote an account of Wedgwood's experiments in an article for a scientific-society journal, titling it "An Account of a Method of Copying Paintings upon Glass, and of Making Profiles, by the Agency of Light Upon Nitrate of Silver."

Like the lost plays of Aeschylus that were written about but did not survive themselves, no known examples of the work of Wedgwood and his circle have ever been found. But Dr. Schaaf, in looking deeper into the leaf image, realized that these legendary lost images had something else in common: their creators were all part of the close social circle of the family of Henry Bright.

"The reason that I got so excited about this was that it was the most solid, indicative collection I've seen," he said. "I'm fully prepared for 'The Leaf' to have been made by Henry Bright, or by his father, after the 1790s. But I've never seen a story that fits together so neatly."

He added, with the resolve that comes from more than 30 years of research into early photography and Talbot, "Someone could obviously come along and say that these images are all in fact Talbots, but they would be wrong."

Jill Quasha is the photo dealer and expert who bought "The Leaf" in 1989 as she was building the Quillan Collection, a group of world-renowned photographs that Sotheby's sold (without the leaf print) for almost $9 million on April 7. She said that it was still too early to say exactly what type of research would be conducted on the image. Tests could include those to determine the age of the paper and to identify the chemical makeup of any substances on the paper.

"I think it has to be done quickly and efficiently and with the least amount of damage to the photograph," said Ms. Quasha, who added that she hoped the research could be completed within six months so that the print could be put up for auction again with a more iron-clad, and perhaps stunning, provenance. (As a Talbot, it was estimated to sell for $100,000 to $150,000; if it is determined to be older, it could bring substantially more.)

But Dr. Schaaf cautioned that even when the all scientific evidence is in — along with what might be found by deep sleuthing in the archives of the families of Bright, Wedgwood, Watt and Davy — the best that experts might be able to say about it being among the oldest photographic images is "maybe."

"Somewhere in the course of the work we might find a smoking gun," he said. "But then again, we very well might not."

By Randy Kennedy
For The New York Times

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LACMA curator Looks Past Photography's Framework

Posted By Administration, Sunday, April 13, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

When I met up with Charlotte Cotton one winter Saturday, I found her in what would seem a very unlikely place for the head of the photography department at a major encyclopedic museum: the basement of the decidedly un-encyclopedic (that is, small, funky and idiosyncratic) Echo Park art space Machine Project, among folding chairs, computer equipment and a recently acquired collection of carnivorous plants. She was concluding a meeting with the organization's director, Mark Allen, about a project she hoped to involve him in, relating not to photography but digital music.

Cotton, who began at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art last June after several years in New York and more than a decade in London (she was raised in the the rural Cotswolds), is the picture of a bright, ambitious young curator: 36 years old, inquisitive, stylish and strikingly intelligent, with a broad, scholarly vocabulary and the sort of opinions that put one at odds with one's more traditional peers. She is the first to permanently fill the photo curator post at the museum since the death of Robert Sobieszek in 2005, and although she clearly holds her predecessor in high esteem, she comes from a different generation -- one that takes photography's full integration in contemporary art practice for granted -- and has little interest in limiting her efforts to what she frequently refers to as the "photo ghetto."

She speaks less of prints, therefore, than of projects, commissions, discussions, publications, websites, musical events, film programs and cross-disciplinary collaboration. Indeed, though steeped in the history and theory of photography, she seems most excited looking beyond the boundaries of her field -- as her presence at Machine Project would seem to attest.

Allen is characteristically genial. He loads Cotton with Machine Project documentation, plays video footage of an exhibition they'd been discussing (an installation by Brian Crabtree and Kelli Cain involving a room full of amplified egg-tapping robots) and promises to take her invitation into consideration. Sensing, perhaps, a note of ambivalence, she hastens to assure him of the sincerity of her interest.

"I'm sorry if it sounded like I wanted you to do the entertainment," she says. "I hope it's more than that."

"Oh, it's fine," he replies. "It's just that you understand my concern about these things. Because people are often like, 'Oh, you guys do wacky stuff, come do wacky stuff for us!' And it has to make sense for us or else, you know, it doesn't make sense for us."

Like many of L.A.'s recently transplanted curators and art professionals -- and there have been quite a few of late: for example, Gary Garrels and Ali Subotnick at the Hammer -- Cotton has been managing a demanding schedule of these sorts of meetings since her arrival. She's also been juggling studio visits, gallery openings, dinners and other events, in the struggle to get a handle on the city's sprawling art scene while simultaneously establishing her presence within the museum.

The latter, while not without its challenges, has been a relatively familiar process, and is now more or less complete. Last fall saw the launch of several pivotal pet projects, including a series of panel discussions and a photography-oriented website (at, as well as the publication of a snazzy poster outlining the department's ambitious program.

Impressive credentials

FINDING her way around the city, however, as any new resident could attest, has taken a bit more patience. "In a way, the LACMA part is so much easier because you can be very strategic about what you need to know," she says. "Comprehending the scope of artistic practice and the infrastructure outside of the museum is just much slower than that."

The first curator hired by Michael Govan since he took over at LACMA in 2006, Cotton came to the job with impressive credentials, including 12 years at the helm of a photo collection five times the size of LACMA's, at an institution -- the Victoria and Albert Museum -- that underwent a transformation of its own in the course of her tenure. She was taking a break from the museum world at the time this job came up, working at a photo agency in New York, but hadn't considered the cross-Atlantic move permanent.

Govan, however, was persuasive.

"He's very good at making you terribly excited about something that hasn't quite happened yet," she says over tea in her kitchen.

"So I asked him why he went from fabulous Dia to Los Angeles, and he said, 'You know, it's an encyclopedic museum,' which is my background at the Victoria and Albert Museum -- I've always loved that pluralism. And then he said it's the last rethink of a museum -- he said in the world, I think, but definitely in America -- and I just thought: God, I want to be a part of that! You know, that's really exciting, that's enough to move country."

She'd been to L.A. a few times before, but never for more than a brief vacation. When she arrived with the prospect of moving, her impressions were less than rosy.

"I came out here a couple of times in the spring to meet people in the museum and had a horrid time because I didn't rent a car, so I was getting taxis around, and just thinking I can't do this, I can't live here." She's now got a Mini Cooper and a spare but handsomely appointed Mid-Wilshire town house.

Her experience of the gallery scene has been largely congenial.

"I haven't had much to do with the scary top end, like Regen Projects and Blum & Poe," she says, laughing, when I ask for her take. "Personally, I love that grand dame-y element -- Margo Leavin is charming and lovely and fun. [Mary Leigh] Cherry and [Philip] Martin have been very nice. Christopher Grimes has been fantastic from the off actually -- really kind and generous and thoughtful." She also mentions Bergamot Station gallerist Theresa Luisotti, a longtime friend and early advocate of Cotton's move to L.A.

"It's a good moment, I think. It's not too commercialized. Practice is still very independent from both institutions and galleries but there's enough of an infrastructure to feel like it's a critical mass."

She sees Los Angeles, she says, as a "port town": constantly in flux and therefore perpetually open to new things; less "sophisticated," by common perception, than New York and Paris, but largely indifferent to the distinction; with a strong working-class presence and, as a result, "less snobbery about what it is to make things." She compares it to Osaka, Rotterdam or Hamburg.

"It's not about art and an elite, exactly," she says. "It's in-your-face, the fact that there are lots of reasons to be here and there are lots of things happening and it is unlikely in this city that you are going to be the Oedipal character who gets lifted out of obscurity and placed amongst princes."

With the foundation of her curatorial program now set, and the initial round of introductions -- artists who want to show her their work, galleries who want to show her their artists -- behind her, she's begun to be more proactive, seeking out artists with whom she senses a particular affinity. She mentions recent visits with James Welling, Amir Zaki and John Divola. Machine Project is another example.

"A couple people had said to me, 'You know, you would really like what they do,' " she says, explaining how the meeting came about over lunch at the coffee shop next door to Machine Project. "And I do. I get it. This felt like the first conversation of hopefully many. It was a bit crass, going in and saying I've got this particular event on this particular subject, can you imagine doing anything around that? He was very gracious about that not being the best approach.

"But I hope it will lead to him coming [to LACMA] at some point and just thinking around the question of what would be meaningful on that campus."

This, then, is the slow part: feeling each connection out, winning trust, forging relationships, gradually exploring possibilities.

She admits that she still feels "very foreign" in L.A., and that continually compensating for all the little differences -- pop culture references that she misses, local hierarchies she's still negotiating -- can be draining.

"On days when you get tired or you feel sick or you feel really homesick," she says, "then you can feel like it's a place that might not ever really get you. Particularly on a day where you spend four hours in a car -- then really you can feel very dislocated."

It can also, however, be liberating. She compares her time here to a period she spent in Japan, which was awkward, she says -- "I felt like this stick insect in a world of ants, I felt like a different species" -- but also one of the happiest times in her life.

"It means that every experience is a surprise if you're open to it," she says. "It's a really lovely feeling."

By Holly Myers
For The LA Times

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Burt Glinn, Chronicler of Cold War in Pictures, Dies at 82

Posted By Administration, Saturday, April 12, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Burt Glinn, a photojournalist, commercial photographer and former president of the Magnum photo agency, died on Wednesday in Southampton, N.Y. He was 82 and lived in East Hampton, N.Y.

The cause was kidney failure and pneumonia, his wife, Elena, said.

Mr. Glinn was one of the first Americans to join Magnum, the international cooperative founded by a group of photographers that included Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson. He became a member of the agency in 1951 and served as its president twice, in the early 1970s and again in the late '80s.

A spontaneous and observant photographer, he covered some of the biggest events of the cold war. On New Year's Eve 1958, he flew to Cuba to document Fidel Castro's triumphal, weeklong trek across the island to assume power in Havana.

In 1959, late to a photo shoot, he took his best-known photograph, an offbeat one of the Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev showing the back of his head as he gazes up at the Lincoln Memorial. Mr. Glinn was blocked from a front view by the pack of photographers.

"If I'd been on time, I would have gotten a very ordinary picture of Khrushchev and Henry Cabot Lodge looking at this statue of Lincoln, but you couldn't see the statue," he said later.

Mr. Glinn also took on in-depth assignments from magazines, particularly Holiday, which devoted several complete issues to his work. His photo essay on the South Seas for the magazine won the 1960 Mathew Brady Magazine Photographer of the Year award from the University of Missouri and Encyclopedia Britannica.

He traveled to Japan for Holiday in 1961, and then, two years later, went to the Soviet Union to photograph aspects of daily life seldom seen in the West. Pictures from those assignments are collected in two books published by William Morrow, "A Portrait of All the Russias" (1967) and "A Portrait of Japan" (1968). Both include text by the author and explorer Laurens van der Post.

In traveling overseas to create what amounted to national portraits, Mr. Glinn was motivated by an anthropological interest.

"I have come to believe that all societies, from the most primitive to the most sophisticated, are driven by similar fears, myths and superstitions," he wrote in a profile for the reference book "Contemporary Photographers." "Most of my personal favorites, among all the pictures I have taken, document these varieties of religious experience."

Burton Samuel Glinn was born in Pittsburgh on July 23, 1925. He entered Harvard in 1943 but left after a semester when he was drafted into the Army. He served in the artillery in Germany, then returned to Harvard to study history and literature, graduating in 1949.

Largely self-taught as a photographer, he first worked in the field as a photo assistant at Life magazine.

In addition to doing news and documentary work, he also produced memorable photographs of Elizabeth Taylor, Andy Warhol and other celebrities.

He was a successful commercial photographer as well, with corporate clients that included Pepsico, General Motors and Revlon. He did advertising photography for I.B.M., T.W.A. and Seagram, among others, and won the award for the best print ad of 1972 from the Art Directors Club of New York for his work for Foster-Grant sunglasses.

His most recent book, "Havana: The Revolutionary Moment," was published in 2002 by Umbrage Editions. It includes his 1959 photographs of Fidel Castro, along with new pictures he took in Cuba on the 40th anniversary of the takeover.

His work is the subject of a current exhibition by the Seattle Art Museum.

In addition to his wife, who is known professionally as Elena Prohaska, he is survived by his son, Sam, of Manhattan, and his sister, Norma Madden of Pittsburgh.

By Stuart Lavietes
For The New York Times

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