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AIPAD Show (continued)

   The panel became a little more animated when it was opened up for questions from the audience, one of whom wanted to know, "How was anyone supposed to understand some of this stuff?" referring to the current vogue for blurred images by the likes of Uta Barth and several other artists who specialize in out of focus images, or photographs that mimic abstract paintings.
 Much of the discussion centered around whether or not something was being "communicated" or was meant to be a "transfer of ideas," a distinction we found too subtle to grasp in the early morning overheated conditions of that hotel auditorium. "Were these kinds of things," someone wondered, "a fit subject for photography?" The Baroness Marion Lambert of Geneva, perhaps the most enigmatic and evocative presenter, replied that, "Anything that reflects the human condition is a fit subject for photography."

    The audience continued to question exactly whose taste was reflected in the panelists’ museum collections. What audience, they wondered, was meant to understand anything about some of photographs shown in their slides? Were these curators merely talking to themselves? Anne Tucker told a little story about a boy watching his father eating olives. The father takes an olive and slowly savors it. The boy takes an olive and, repelled after one taste, spits it out. The father takes another olive and savors that one. The boy tries another and again spits it out. The father takes a third olive, and the the boy finally exclaims, "You’re getting all the good ones!" "Obviously" Ms. Tucker said, "some things are an acquired taste."

    Other questions were raised regarding funding and photography as an investment. All the panelists solemnly declared that they never collected works for investment purposes. Denise Miller Clark said that museums tried to come up with a framework for collecting and then attempted to fill in the gaps. The Baroness said that when she paid $500. years ago for a series of Cindy Sherman’s movie stills she had no idea what they might eventually be worth and she could never have approached buying works for her collection with that in mind. For her, the importance of the image in society and the role of photography as the medium of our time are paramount. She stated that her collection was one of "artists" rather than photographers. It includes Matthew Barney ("Wagner seen through the eyes of Cecil B. DeMille"), the large-scale photographs of Andreas Gursky (Like Oscar Wilde, "True mystery is the visible"), Sigmar Polke, Fischli and Weiss, and Hiroshi Sugimoto.
 Like Bunnell at Princeton, many of the other panelists said that they too, had no budget for acquiring photographs. All reported their ongoing concerns with extensive fundraising in order to find capital for specific acquisitions. The only one for whom this was not a problem was the Baroness, who said that her husband was a banker and that she had private funding.

    This led to questions from the audience about the influence of donors on the selection of work purchased by museums. Anne Tucker replied rather frankly that they have a big influence, in fact most funders come to the museum with a specific work in mind, or if not an image, then a predetermined criterion for collecting such as focusing on Blacks, Asians, or Latin Americans, etc. She further elaborated, "You want to try to satisfy their needs. A funder is not going to come to me with a big amount of money and say, ‘Here’s $10,000. I trust your judgment.’ Usually they have an agenda. They like to have their name associated with what has been purchased, so it has to be something that they want."

    Tucker encourages people in her community to give donations of photographs for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, memorials, etc. She described one donor whose wife announced she had absolutely everything she would ever need and wanted no more gifts other than to have photographs added to a collection in her name at the Houston museum.

    With regard to corporate funding, Peter Bunnell opined that in his experience corporations are not essentially philanthropic but are looking to buy good public relations. They prefer to fund high-profile, attention getting, exhibitions, not acquisitions. For him raising money was akin to political fund-raising, much in the news these days, and with all the attendant problems and difficulties. "But," he said, "when you get the print home it makes all the socializing, all the work, worthwhile."

    Peter Hay Albert joked that he wished there was something he could offer donors like a night in the Lincoln Room, and Matthew Drutt offered anyone a chance to sleep in the Guggenheim’s Frank Lloyd Wright storage room for $100,000! However, he got the loudest cheer of the morning when he proclaimed that "Photographs don’t cost enough." Leading us to believe that there were more photographers in that audience than we knew.

Start saving now. The Photography Show will be back again next February 13 - 14, Valentine’s Day weekend, just in time to pick up the perfect last minute gift for your sweetheart!
Published, PhotoReview, Volume 20, Number 2, Spring 1997