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Collecting Symposium (AIPAD Show continued)

    The event also featured a symposium on collecting which was open to the public. A panel of distinguished curators and a private collector discussed their individual philosophies and approaches to collecting contemporary photographs. At 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning we were surprised to find the auditorium packed. Spectators filled all the seats, stood in long lines at the sides, and crowded in at the front and back. An indication, we thought of photography’s growing audience of both collectors and practicing photographers, and perhaps a sign of the improving economic times.
    Peter Hay Halpert moderated the panel and showed slides from his recently published American Photo Magazine article. A series of photographs by different artists captioned in bold with "Buy", "Sell" or "Hold" rotated on the screen while he spoke.

    Other panelists included Denise Miller Clark from the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, Chicago, Peter Bunnell from Princeton University’s Art Museum, Anne Wilkes Tucker from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Sandra Philips from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Matthew Broad from the Guggenheim Museum. Baroness Marion Lambert of Geneva was the only private collector. Each panelist showed slides from their respective collections and provided insights into the methods by which collections are formed and defined.
    Photography sales have only recently begun to find some parity with that of other fine art, and the curators were conscious of the changing economic times and of many missed opportunities for acquiring work inexpensively. Anne Tucker drew a collective gasp when she related how in earlier years her museum had exhibited Edward Weston (at one time his prints were only $5.00), Drtikol, and Moholy, but had failed to buy any prints from the shows. Not only does her museum now buy in depth from its own shows and from a select group of contemporary artists, it continues to collect later work. The museum holds more than 30 prints each by Robert Frank, Gay Block, Roy DeCarava, Sid Grossman (and other members of The Photo League) as well as work by George Krause, Ray K. Metzker, Richard Misrach, Catherine Wagner, Cartier-Bresson, Brassai, and Steichen.

    Another means of acquiring work described by Tucker was to target certain nationalities, often with an emphasis on one photographer or a particular subject. Consequently she has a large body of work from Mexico with many pictures by Bravo and from Argentina, where photographers are dealing literally and metaphorically with the "Disappeared." The Houston Museum has also purchased an entire exhibition of sequential work which includes images by Boltanski, Prada, Baldessari, Manual and others.

    Denise Miller related how her institution, The Museum of Contemporary Photography, views photography in a number of sub-categories including artistic, documentary, commercial, and as a tool of science and technology. Starting in 1982 with 800 images, the collection now has over 5,000 works by more than 500 U.S. and U.S. resident photographers.

    Finding the funding necessary to purchase photographs for these collections is no small matter. The $5. prints of Edward Weston and the $25. Ansel Adams, are a quaint historical footnote. Peter Bunnell said that in fact his institution had no acquisition budget at all. Any time he wants to acquire a print for Princeton University’s Art Museum he has to raise the money himself. Not surprisingly Princeton alumni are a primary source of revenue. Princeton’s collection was started in 1972 when David McAlpin endowed a professorship for Bunnell, and an important benefit is that Bunnell can teach the entire history of photography using original work.

    Among other work, Bunnell likes to acquire photographs by people with a connection to the university such as Emmet Gowin and former student Fazal Sheikh. The collection houses over 15,000 prints by Minor White and White’s students, several hundred works by Japanese photographers (especially young and lesser-known ones), 40 Aaron Siskind Foundation Award winners, and 106 pictures by Michael Kenna of the Ford River Rouge plant - a gift of the carmaker.

    Bunnell showed slides of other recent acquisitions including that of an eight foot print entitled "Subtle Body," by contemporary artist Sarah Charlesworth. He was perhaps most engaging when he talked about the delight and surprise of discovering new work in various, sometimes obscure photography publications or in New York galleries, including even work by students at the School of Visual Arts. He described how he once accidently got off the elevator on the wrong floor, ambled into the Luhring-Augustine Gallery and happily discovered the work of Gregory Crewdson, later acquiring it for the Princeton collection.

    Matthew Drutt of the Guggenheim pointed out that although most people think of the Guggenheim’s collection as having started in 1993 with the gift of some 200 Robert Mapplethorpe photographs from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, the museum had, in fact begun collecting work by Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol from its 1966 show The Photographic Image. At the Guggenheim there is no department of photography as such, rather photography is placed in the context of other media and not isolated. The collection emphasizes a large number of works by just a few artists including Barbara Kruger, Gilbert & George, and Bernd and Hilla Becher.

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