AIPAD – Cinema, Old Masters and Eye Candy

The AIPAD Photography Show  — New York

The Association of International Photography Art Dealers – Park Avenue Armory  – April 10-13

The annual AIPAD fair in New York at the Uptown Armory is like a visit to a dozen museums.

It doesn’t take much for photography to suggest cinema, although you usually don’t see as many people at the movies as you do at AIPAD. My suspicion is that many were buying. If you have been to one of the major art fairs, you will find pictures here to be affordable.

Special Effects -- The Hindenburg Burns

Back to photography and cinema. At Daniel Blau – Art & Photography, sequences were taken from newsreel that became cinematic as the years past by. You could see the burning of the Hindenburg zeppelin in New Jersey, taken by someone with a camera who happened to be there (shown at AIPAD at the same booth last year), or freeze frames from the legendary/notorious home movie taken by Abraham Zapruder of the Kennedy assassination — the film that launched a thousand theories about who killed JFK and why Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t. Looking at The Dream Life: Movies, Media and the Mythology of the Sixties by J. Hoberman, I learned that the US government paid the heirs of Zapruder $16 million for the film. The images were available at Daniel Blau for much less.

Hungary 1956 - Security Police Fear Reprisal

Among the grim sequences were executions. In one scene, men are brought into the desert in Aleppo by French troops in the 1940’s when Syria was a French protectorate, and shot dead by a firing squad. Look on the internet for footage of more recent killings in Syria, where the tide is turning in the direction of the Assad regime. Another set of two images shows Nazi soldiers tying a French partisan to a stake in Vincennes in 1941. A second exposure shows the young man’s slumped body.

The Shooting Begins....

The most shocking for me was a sequence of photographs from Hungary in 1956 of police loyal to the pro-Moscow regime. The first image shows them with their hands up, then cringing as the shooters, whom we don’t see, pull the trigger. Then we see bodies drooping toward the ground, then corpses. The pictures are by John Sedavy, a Czech photographer on assignment. Sedavy makes no judgments. The fact that these security police would be the targets of such vengeance gives you some idea of the emotions at work, and the history.

Revolutionary "Justice"

Old Master paintings were also the subject of pictures at AIPAD. Photography still follows art images that were long considered more respectable or legitimate. Still-lifes of delicate ensembles of fruit and flowers by Paulette Tavormina at Robert Klein Gallery looked as if they were lifted from a table in a scene by Caravaggio. The lighting brings a touch of Magritte, adding to the mystery.

Flowers and Atmosphere by Paulette Tavormina

At 798 Photo Gallery of Beijing,  the photographer Zhang Wei presented Artificial Theater – Profile Portraits of Unknown Women, black and white version of portraits first realized in paint. Here’s how the artist explains his approach to replicating classic images.

Petrus Christus via Zhang Wei

“By using computer synthesis technology we reorganized  and recomposed the body parts of hundreds of real actors to produce, through artificial swapping, a brand new visual image by incorporating the minor likenesses to the classic characters, including such details as skin color and hair of each actor. The images are no longer a carrier of soul or spirit, but rather a concretized pattern, with a sensation of materialized mutation.”

Zhang Wei Takes on Leonardo, and a Multiplicity of Chinese Faces

From soul or spirit to science? You can imagine that the NSA might be interested in this artist.

A Scientific Approach to Classic Portraiture

Also on view were the photographs of Edward Burtynsky at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery. On the booth’s outer wall was a pictured of layered cultivation in China from Burtynsky’s series (and documentary film, with Jennifer Baichwal), Manufactured Landscapes.  The photographer’s work has been about the repurposing of nature by man.

The Hungry Farmer - Edward Burtynsky

The images tell you almost everything – dessicated riverbeds, stark demarcations between green irrigated land and desert, and the industrial pollution of vast bodies of water.  Also on the outer wall of the Bryce Wolkowitz booth was a framed image of what looked like the brown swirls of a Turner painting, minus the recognizable image somewhere on the Turner canvas.

Turner, Anyone ?

No, it was not a photographic reference to another Old Master painting, but a close-up from the eruption of water when silt from one side of the Xiluodu Dam in China (six times the size of the Hoover Dam) was released into a river on the other side. The wrath of nature? These are graceful forms, more graceful than the wrenching displacement caused by the dam – defended by the Chinese government as “green” infrastructure that helps China avoid building more coal-fired power plants.  Watermark, Burtynsky’s new documentary film (directed with Jennifer Baichwal), brings motion to a process that is evolving constantly.

At AIPAD, also seen at TEFAF (The European Fine Art Fair) in Maastricht, were camera lucida drawings shown at Hans P. Kraus Jr. – Fine Photographs by one of the inventors of photography, Sir John Herschel (1792-1870), in which Herschel made precise pencil tracings (sometimes with added refinements) of images reflected by a set of mirrors. Simple in some scenes and densely precise in others, the drawings executed between 1816 and 1860 (while not photographs) span the prehistory and the early decades of photography.   Stone Henge, a magical proto-cartoon of the ruins made in 1865, was done when Herschel was 73.  Unlike painters of the 17th century, who kept any use of optical aids secret, Herschel defended the scientific benefits of the camera lucida.

Before Photography - A Drawing from the Camera Lucida by Herschel

The pictures give the impression of a frame waiting to be filled as photography takes shape. They were a revelation in Maastricht and at AIPAD.

The Candy Was Hard for Museums To Resist

Another kind of revelation, that disappeared due to demand from buyers, was at Winter Works on Paper. The pictures were photographs of candy sold early in the 20th century by the Brandle & Smith firm of Philadelphia, marketed as Satin Finish and hand-colored to give that wrapped candy the allure that consumers came to take for granted when color was easier to produce mechanically.

Candy Constructivism

Think of a restrained Pop Art, like Wayne Thibault. The images are page-sized – they came from catalogs –but the palette and the subject matter (if you can call it that) have the feel of a larger format.

Theme and Variations

Word is that the pictures that put a new twist on the notion of “exit through the gift shop” were scooped up by museums. I was told that by a former curator, who reported that the Rijksmuseum, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and other institutions were buying. At my last visit to AIPAD, there was one left. I doubt that David Winter will have trouble selling it.

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