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
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
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