Fotograf Magazine

Paris photo 2010

Photographs from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia aren’t usually the centre of attention at the largest photography fair, Paris Photo. Therefore, last year’s decision by the organisers led by Guillaume Piens to focus greater attention on Central Europe, after previous host countries like Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Scandinavia, Italy and Japan, or the Arab states including Iran, provoked great expectations among gallery owners from this part of the world. However, for many of them the rental fee of roughly 12.000 Euro for a smaller stand was ultimately beyond their means and other galleries did not make the cut for selection, about which the Slovenian fine arts curator, Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez, had the main voice. With the support of a grant from the Prague City Hall, the Hunt Kastner Artworks Gallery, which focuses on contemporary art and only marginally devotes itself to photography, as one of artistic media, was the only one to represent the Czech Republic in this section. At the fair, it presented the work of Alena Kotzmannová, Viktor Kopasz and Jiří Thýn. The joint work of the current directors of the photography atelier at the Academy of Art, Architecture and Design in Prague, Hynek Alt and Aleksandra Vajd, was represented by the ZPAF/S-KA Gallery from Cracow. Nataša Petrušin-Bachelez’s inclination toward videoart and conceptual art transmitted itself through the fact that the central exhibition, generally showing photographic work from some important collection from a guest country, did not consist this time of photographs, but instead of videoart from Central Europe. Czech artists were represented by Milena Dopitová and Zdeněk Baladrán.

However, classic Czech photography was well represented at Paris Photo. The Leica Gallery Prague had huge success with its elegant stand and its selection of attractive artists. It sold photographs of Václav Jirásek, Emily Medková, Ivan Pinkava, Tono Stano, Jiří Turek, and Tereza Vlčková. A London dealer (and former brother-in-law of Henri Cartier-Bresson), Eric Franck, traditionally offered many photographs by Czech documentarists – Josef Koudelka, Markéta Luskačová, Jindřich Štreit and Hana Jakrlová. Period artistic originals by Czech classic artists – František Drtikol, Jaromír Funke, Jaroslav Rössler and others – were often available at very high prices via a number of foreign galleries – for example, through New York’s Howard Greenberg Gallery it was possible to buy one of Drtikol’s nudes from the second half of the 20th century for 68.000 Euro and lesser known modernist details of various objects by Arnošt Pikart for 2500 Euro apiece. San Francisco’s Robert Koch Gallery offered a unique negative photogram by Jaroslav Rössler. Miroslav Tichý, a discovery of recent years, was presented by several galleries from the USA, Great Britain and France. But the prices for many of his individual photographs were often less than a year ago. In that context I heard from several gallery owners that they were unpleasantly surprised by the increasing amount of Tichý’s work that has made its way to the market from various sources and not just from the Lichtenstein-based foundation, Tichý Oceán, run by Tichý’s discoverer and promoter, Richard Buxbaum. At the stand of Vienna’s Johannes Faber Gallery there was a portrait of Egon Schiele by Anton Josef Trčka, Drtikol’s photolithographic nude with a skull and the pigment of Sudek’s still-life with glasses, which was sold right at the start of the fair for 31.000 Euro. Johannes Faber had much more luck with photographs from its collection that it put up for auction at the Paris branch of Sotheby’s. A female portrait by Mexican photographer, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, sold there for 190.000 Euro and Sudek’s splendidly large still-life with stone, done in a pigment print technique, ultimately sold for a record 250.000 Euro (excluding the buyer’s fee). The initial asking price (for the latter work) was ten times less. This result was a huge surprise – after all it surpassed previous record prices for Sudek’s pigments many times over. An auction by competing company, Christie’s, proved that photographs of exceptional quality can find buyers even during times of crisis and sold an entire, extensive collection of photographs by Richard Avedon, (including) the cult photograph of the model, Dovina with Elephants, for more than 700.000 Euro.

The Hungarians also have world-renowned, classic photographers. André Kertész was the centre of attention, enhanced by his currently-running, major retrospective in the Jeu de Paume. Originals of his most famous works, including the still-life, Chez Mondrian, were offered for exorbitant sums by the American galleries of Howard Greenberg, Bruce Silverstein and Stephen Daiter. Meanwhile his later enlargements could be purchased for much more acceptable prices at Budapest’s Vintage Gallery, which as usual brought to Paris an entire pleiad of inter-war works by Hungarian artists, lesser known to the world, who contrary to Kertész, Moholy-Nagy, Capa and Brassaï did not emigrate. While Czech and Hungarian photography already have a number of internationally-known artists, established on the world photography market, and from among Polish photographers, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Bogdan Konopka, Zbigniew Libera and Zofia Kulik, have already taken flight, Slovak and Slovenian photographers are making their way onto the international market very slowly.

Even though the overall number of 38.000 visitors remained slightly below last year’s 40.000 visitors, this was mainly because this time round Paris Photo did not remain open on certain days until late night hours. Otherwise for practically the entire four and a half days of the event the Caroussel du Louvre spaces, directly below the world’s most famous art museum, were full of collectors, photographers, curators, advisory board members of large museums and entirely ordinary people interested in photography, of which forty percent came from abroad (among them many from the Czech Republic). Everyone could look at the 57 exhibitions from the concurrently running Month of Photography in Paris, but most foreigners likely managed only the most important ones – retrospectives of Hungarian Avant-Garde photographer, André Kertész; Austrian pictorialist, Heinrich Kühn; and American documentarist, Larry Clark and the splendid exposition of the European House of Photography’s collections. The one-hundred twenty exhibitors, who got past the Paris Photo selection committee, presented mainly current trends in photography, for the most part they continued with trends leaning towards perfect technical realisation of colour photos with attractive themes. Photos by this year’s Hungarian laureate of the BMW Prize, Gábor Ősz also belonged to this group of photographs. Avant-Garde authors from the inter-war period were also well represented, even if not by their best-known works, for which some galleries prior to the break out of the (economic) crisis were asking for amounts above half a million Euro. This year’s most expensive works included a modernist detail photo of the historic centre of Arles by Lászlo Moholy-Nagy, for which New York’s Houk Gallery was asking 265.000 US dollars. At the other end of the spectrum was, for example, new prints from relatively extensive editions of 50-100, in which for prices ranging from 500 to 2000 Euro London’s Phaidon Publishing House also offered photographs by famous artists like Nan Goldin or Martin Parr (meanwhile Parr’s larger photos were going elsewhere for as much as 18.000 Euro). The increasing prices of rare photographic books were also significant – for example, a print of Man Ray’s publication, Electricité, from 1932 found a buyer for 35.000 Euro. The owners of Prague’s KANT and Torst publishing houses, Karel Kerlický and Viktor Stoilov, who had a nice joint stand in one of the busiest spots of the whole fair, could also notice that there is still a great demand for contemporary quality books. The fact that a number of important museums and libraries bought their books undoubtedly contributed to the promotion of Czech photography. As did the event that the Czech Centre in Paris prepared as part of Paris Photo – the exhibition, Little Hanoi, by Štěpanka Stein together with Salim Issa, a round table debate on the history and contemporary development of Czech photography, photographic collections, and important publications (similar discussions on Hungarian, Polish, Slovak and Slovenian photography also took place) along with a pleasant party that lasted well into the night. Czech photography decidedly stood out at Paris Photo. And Paris Photo once again confirmed that it remains today’s most important and largest global photographic fair; one that much better represents current photographic creations and attracts many more visitors than its main competitor, New York’s AIPAD.

Vladimír Birgus