AIPAD – Disasters, Abstraction and Vintage Gems

The annual AIPAD (The Association of International Photography Art Dealers) show at the Seventh Regiment Armory in New York, which closed yesterday, was one-stop viewing. The only thing missing was the kind of large-format photography that was everywhere a decade ago. I don’t think anybody missed it.

Stephen Wilkes came close, with Day to Night pictures of the Capitol in Washington at the Obama inauguration and the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.  His syntheses of hundreds of exposures prove that image overload can be made into something monumental – those two pictures were at the Peter Fetterman Gallery.


Wilkes can also be mournful. His Hurricane Sandy pictures (shown by the Monroe Gallery of Santa Fe)  the explosive impact of a wave hitting the shore would have been just another creation/destruction view of nature had it not come as part of his observation of the storm.

 Another Wilkes Sandy shot, of a New Jersey resort, stripped of its boardwalk by the hurricane, had a staggering empty literalism as far as the maera could see. If you want something more empty, try Fukushima, although photographers haven’t been able to get too close.

Getting away from the grand scale, and toward the personal, there was the work of Francesca Woodman (1958-81), at the booth of Gary Edwards, with prints selling in the $70,000 range. Woodman’s nude self-portraits are an uneasy blend of grace and anxiety, and her observations of the things around her  — objects in her studio – give the pictures a poetic still-life feel (the French word is nature morte) that have led to the obvious but still reasonable parallel between Woodman and Sylvia Plath.


Francesca Woodman’s Haunted House

Woodman killed herself at 22, and for collectors who want completeness, these somber must-have images are rising in price. The self-portraits have an insistent presence –  I’m not sure I would want to look at one every day.

Red Staircase – Spain Turns Abstract Through Finnish Eyes

The photography of architecture was a focus at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, mostly by Finnish photographers, so you might expect abstraction to come from that Nordic source. My favorites there were by Ola Kolehmainen, who had two pictures of Ricardo Bofill’s housing project, La Muralla Roja, in Alicante, Spain. There’s a dramatic geometry in his Red Staircase #1, in which steps look like a thunderbolt. It makes you think of something Russian from a century ago.  At $17,000 a print in an edition of 6, these pictures were affordable by art market standards.

Shock and Awe, 1937

Shock and Awe, 1937

For historic pictures, and there were many, one of the high points (no pun intended) was the final print in a series of the Zeppelin immolation in the Hindenburg disaster over New Jersey in 1937, which was show at Daniel Blau’s booth. Shot by someone nearby, but not too near – you can see the scale of the airship and the fire by looking at the human figures in the picture – the image has an energy in its flames that makes you think of Turner.  It looks like a majestic celebration of light. I could you could describe a volcano that way. The technology of the hydrogen filled balloon, a Titanic in the air – delicately light when it operated property, deadly when a spark came near —  seems primitive enough to make you also think of Jules Verne, although Verne didn’t imagine anything quite so horrific. Technology, and the possibility of those horrors being real, gave the imagination a lot to work with.  It’s the kind of horror that taks you back to the notion of les fleurs du mal, the flowers of evil – beautiful incandescence, differentiated in a way that draws you to it, yet it’s the image of death on a scale that few people witnessed. Let’s not forget that the Zeppelin brining and crashing looks now like a prefiguration of death from the air or death by machine that we would see in the Spanish Civil War, where the Germans who made the Zeppelin would be testing more durable and deadly flying machines.

A Thanksgiving Ceremony in Yunnan Province, by Luo Dan

A discovery for me was new photography from China at the M97 Gallery from Shanghai. There were still images of projections with a pulsating magic reminiscent of shadow puppetry by a young photographer, but the most memorable there were pictures by Luo Dan, shot in a remote Christian community in the mountains of Yunnan province. Luo Dan lived in the region, where he traveled with a portable darkroom. His pictures have the look of 19th century frontier photography.

Rustication to photographs of and by Ai Weiwei at AIPAD were on view at the booth of the AXA Insurance Agency, the major insurer of art. These were Sandy casualties, of which AXA now has a collection of 1000 works damaged in the hurricane, and it is growing. On the front of a one of the photographs is water damage that the artist would have liked – he might have preferred it to have come from a disaster in China. On the reverse of one of the pictures are faint blue lines – instant Cy Twombly.  According to an AXA rep, these pictures are not for sale. What a shame. At least not yet.

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