April 30, 2007

The Extraordinary World of Joseph Cornell

Mention the name Joseph Cornell, and most of the time you will be greeted with a blank stare. But for the cognoscenti the name induces almost a state of rapture. And with good reason. Although by no means a household name, the magical worlds created by this exceptional American artist touch the viewer in a way that once seen, are never forgotten.

Joseph Cornell was born in Nyack, New York in 1903. Although his work is very European in feeling, the fact is that throughout his 69 years on this earth, he never ventured farther West than New Jersey, farther North than Massachusetts or farther South than New York City! This largely self-taught artist managed, through reading, conversation, motion pictures but mostly his unfettered imagination to create miniature worlds within his boxes often using nothing more than "found" objects.

Joseph Cornell could create masterpieces from the commonplace. His "assemblages" took pieces as simple as glasses, balls, stamps, cut-outs or bits of wood and installed them in a way to create three dimensional "lyrical poetry". His collages combined disparate images culled from his visits to libraries, museums, flea markets and book shops, all put together to create a totally original and fantastical worlds within a frame. Often categorized as a Surrealist, he was never truly associated with the movement. His influences were many - Symbolism, Constructivism, Transcendentalism, Hollywood, the Ballet, and Christian Science - all coming together to endow his creations with the unique "Cornell" look and feel.

Joseph Cornell remains an enigma to this day. He spent most of his life in a simple frame house on the Utopia Parkway in Queens, New York. He was devoted to and cared for his younger brother who was stricken with cerebral palsy. He never married and was obsessed with unattainable women. He was an intensely private person, almost child-like in his wants and needs. Yet his boxes, collages, and films bear the mark of an extremely sophisticated and worldly man. It is perhaps this juxtaposition of the simple and the sublime that make his work irresistible to so many.

Feeling curious about the work of Joseph Cornell? You're in luck! There is a wonderful exhibition now on at the Pavel Zoubok Gallery in Chelsea, New York! Stop in and see for yourself the marvelous, wonderful, totally American creation that was Joseph Cornell!

April 21, 2007

New York Antiquarian Book Fair '07

What do you think of when you hear the term "rare book"?

Actually, it's almost a trick question because there is no complete and correct answer as visitors to this weekend's 47th annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair will discover. Nearly 200 book dealers from around the world have brought their finest examples of precious books to tempt the book-lover in all of us.

From ancient bibles like the Coverdale Bible published in 1535 at Estates of Mind, to contemporary private press books at Priscilla Juvelis, there is something from every era, every subject, every author and every edition available for sale. Historical manuscripts, maps, autographed letters, leather bound sets of classics, children's literature, modern first editions, illustrated livres d'artistes, photography books, architecture books, cookbooks - it's all here!

The sheer volume of material made it hard to pick a favorite, but let me give you a few highlights. The earliest example of color printing is on display at Ursus Books, New York. Jacques Gautier d'Agoty's "Anatomie générale des visceres" was printed in Paris in 1752 and features large fold-out color plates of the human anatomy in graphic detail. Not particularly pretty to look at, but fascinating from a historical and scientific viewpoint, this book is priced at $85,000. On the stand of Bernard Shapero, London, is a complete set of the Art Nouveau masterpiece "Les Maitres de l'Affiche (The Masters of the Poster)". Published in 5 volumes between 1896-1900, this is a compilation of 256 small format versions of posters by such graphic icons as Cheret, Toulouse-Lautrec, Mucha and Steinlen. Seldom found in such perfect condition, in the deluxe Berthon bindings, this is almost a bargain at $90,000. And finally, on the stand of Librairie Quentin-Molènes, Geneva, is the ultimate travel book. Maxime DuCamp's "Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie" comprises 125 salt print photographs taken while he accompanied Gustave Flaubert on a trip through the Middle East from 1849-51. This is considered the first major French book to be illustrated with photographs and priced in the half million dollar range.

So grab your reading glasses and head over to the Seventh Regiment Armory for this year's edition of the New York Antiquarian Book Fair!

April 13, 2007

The Photography Show '07

Photography fans rejoice! Despite a new venue and a new time, the Association of International Photography Art Dealers presents the 27th annual Photography Show, now on at the Seventh Regiment Armory, Park Avenue in New York City.

The stately Armory, home to so many art and antiques shows, is now a sea of black and white with a little color thrown in! Featuring 93 dealers from Europe, Asia and across the United States, this show offers a selection of Vintage and Contemporary photography to suit every taste. From the earliest daguerreotypes through modern Cibachrome color technology, there is a lot to look at and enjoy. Here are a few of my favorites, from older to newer:

An extraordinary group of American hand colored salt prints is on display at Gary Edwards Gallery, Washington DC. Salted paper prints are among the earliest examples of contact photography printing and date from the 1840's. This group of 20 portraits is remarkable for both its historical significance and fine condition. Not surprisingly, the set was sold on opening night.

The iconic American photographers, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, were among the first to use photography as an art form rather than as a purely documentary medium, and they paved the way for other "art" photographers like Edward Weston and his son Brett. All are well represented here. Stieglitz's "Winter - Fifth Avenue" taken during a snowfall in 1892, at the Tom Gitterman Gallery is exceptionally beautiful. One has the unique opportunity to compare 2 vintages of Steichen's hauntingly mystical "In Memoriam", 1906. Robert Klein Gallery, Boston, has a later version printed in 1930 for $150,000, while David Fleiss of Galerie 1900/2000, Paris, has the full house vintage original at a significantly higher price. Paul M. Herzmann, San Francisco, is offering the stunning vintage silver print "Market Place - La Merced Market, Mexico City", 1925, by Brett Weston. This print is one of the 18 chosen by his father, Edward, to be included in the important modernist "Film und Foto" exhibition in Stuttgart in 1939.

The art of photography has been gaining popularity among both collectors and artists for the past few years. A wave of contemporary work is now sweeping the market and is a force to be reckoned with. Although the "staying power" and "investment potential" of these new names have not yet been determined, there were works by a few that I found exciting and appealing which are, of course, the main reasons to buy art. I really enjoyed the work of Robert Polidori, a Canadian born in 1969, whose large and brilliant "Cabinet Interieur de Madame Adelaide #2, Versailles, 1986" was clever and visually stunning. And I had the pleasure to meet and talk with the young artist Jefferson Hayman whose vintage-looking photos of ordinary things in lovely frames are on display at Michael Shapiro, San Francisco.

The Photography Show runs through April 15th, but if you can't make the show, and really have the photography bug, this season's round of photo auctions begins at Sothebys next week and continues through the end of the month at various auction houses. Say cheese!