There and Not There at the AIPAD Preview Gala

Last night, I spent a couple of hours wandering around the AIPAD Preview gala party, focusing mostly on the people and less on the pictures (which we will dig into further today and tomorrow). Courtesy of a friendly gallery, I had a blue Benefactor/Patron ticket to the event, which allowed me first entry into the hall at the Armory.

I arrived about 5:30 to find a generally small and sedate crowd. Unlike the caricatures of past art fairs as something akin to Wal-Mart at midnight on the day after Thanksgiving, there was no life threatening stampede to get to the art and no knife fights between collectors over prized prints. It was all very civilized; even the bar was satisfyingly empty (shot at right; 2 hours later, this same bar was 10 people deep and overrun.)

My evening was primarily spent socializing with dealers and gallery owners, especially those from out of town who I don’t see face to face as often. While there were plenty of collectors around, I noticed a few glaring absences of major players I would have expected to see (perhaps they will visit at some other time). I saw quite a few auction house specialists and staff, met some museum curators I didn’t know, and got introduced to a couple of old guard players who have been around the world of photography for decades. I also very much enjoyed seeing NY Times photographer Bill Cunningham at work in the crowd. Since things didn’t really fill up until after 7:00, the early part of the evening was very low key. As an aside, try and get a look at the small, handheld AIPAD calendar given to the gallery owners; it has some hilarious images of dealers’ faces superimposed on 19th century images.

Walking around the booths, there were of course many of the familiar names we would expect to see at AIPAD. What was a surprise were the many absences of top galleries that we like to visit, at least a dozen significant players missing by our informal count. Here’s who I didn’t see: Kicken Berlin, Priska Pasquer, Pace/MacGill, Laurence Miller, Etherton, Fraenkel, Yossi Milo, Luisotti, Rose, Michael Hoppen, Fahey Klein, and Staley-Wise. The scuttle in the crowd was that there were quite a few last minute cancellations. Filling in were several non-AIPAD member galleries and dealers, some rare book vendors (with unexpected glass cases and shelves in their booths), and a few other randoms (AXA, George Eastman House).

The other notable absence was the lack of top tier contemporary photography. This is less surprising, as most of the big names in contemporary photography have migrated to large and famous contemporary art dealers, away from the photography specialist galleries that are the bread and butter of AIPAD. So while there is plenty of excellent vintage work and a solid showing of established contemporary work, there are no images by any of the following that we noticed: no Gursky, Sherman, Prince, Becher, Struth, Ruff, Hofer, Dijkstra, Tillmans, Soth, Van Empel, Crewdson, Beecroft, Esser, or Lutter. I did see a group of Sugimoto theaters, but that was it for him as well I believe. So if contemporary photography is your focus, you’ll have to work a bit harder and explore more varied work from the next level down.

These caveats aside, there was still plenty to see and I got tied up in conversation most of the night. In one booth, I saw a gallery friend grab three little hamburger appetizers off a tray and I harassed her about hoarding her dinner. In the end, she was smart; I got distracted talking with people and didn’t get much to eat.

I’ll be back at the show later today with my game face on, gathering more systematic information for detailed booth reports (which will start tomorrow).

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One comment

  1. qt luong /

    At Photo LA this year, there was also little contemporary photography (top tier or not). I heard comments that because of the recession, galleries and collectors tended to focus on “proven values”. This in turn limited the range of contemporary work to what fitted well along the vintage photography.

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