Those intrepid collectors, dealers, curators, photographers and photography aficionados who braved a state of high terrorist alert to visit the annual Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) fair, held 7 to 9 February at the Hilton hotel (the US government declared “orange” alert on the first full day of the fair) were treated to the organisation’s recent improvements on this 23 year old fair. Booth walls were raised to accommodate larger contemporary pictures, each booth had a ceiling, the house lights were dimmed to create a more dramatic effect, and the number of exhibitors was winnowed down to 80, so that booths could be more spacious and better arranged.
But the heightened terrorist threat undeniably created an inauspicious climate for the fair, one that was heightened by an actual bomb scare at the hotel on Sunday morning, when fair attendees and even a few exhibitors found themselves stranded at the Hilton’s entrance as hotel employees and police scrambled to sort out a situation involving a package left unattended in the lobby.
Needless to say, attendance was not what it has been at past editions of AIPAD, widely considered the United States’ most important photography fair (attendance was 7,500 this year against 8,000 last year), however, dealers reported that a number of important curators and clients were there (Laurence Miller spotted no less than 17 curators passing through his booth on opening night), the panel discussions were sold out, and it seems that in some cases collectors were in the mood to buy, regardless of both the stagnant economic climate and uncertain international situation. Laurence Miller (New York) did very well with prints by Ray K. Metzker for six figure prices, even selling a Metzker composite to a New England museum.
But it seems in general that lower priced items were doing better this year. Tom Gitterman, director of Howard Greenberg Gallery (New York), commented that “the market is tight, but we’re doing well”, selling a 1955 W. Eugene Smith print, as well as a Saul Leiter, a Kenzo Izu and others, and generating interest for post-fair sales. Hans Kraus, the renowned dealer in rare, very early photography, had a number of dots next to pictures in his booth, indicating sales or reserves, on photographs such as a Le Gray and a Fox Talbot.
In the past several years, there has been speculation that AIPAD is trying to make itself a more contemporary fair, but, aside from a very daring solo show of Hanno Otten’s brightly coloured photograms at Janet Borden, dealers remained fairly conservative, spicing up their booths with contemporary, but for the most part sticking to the tried-and-true, top quality vintage prints for which the fair is known.
Another brave foray into edgy contemporary territory was at the booth of Zabriskie (New York), which showed Japanese photographer Tomoko Sawada’s large composite prints of herself in various guises, all the pictures taken in a photo booth (dated 1998). Sawada riffs playfully and with panache on both Warhol and Cindy Sherman, and this thrusts her work firmly into the realm of contemporary art, as opposed to its being segregated as photography. Her pictures appeared in the booth of young, Chicago-based contemporary art dealer Julia Friedman at the Chicago Art Fair last year.
Despite circumstances, dealers remained sanguine—a few griped that AIPAD’s improvements came at an increased booth cost for them, but most agreed that the changes were needed and gave the fair the polish it has long needed. The Armory Photography Show, inaugurated last fall at New York’s Javits center, is still too young to pose any kind of threat to AIPAD, which in any case is now building on its strengths; its only real competition is from Paris Photo.
Many visitors surely noticed a melancholy note upon exiting the fair, a sort of ode to the beginnings of New York’s terrorist paranoia: on the outside of Keith de Lellis’s booth hung Moreno Gentili’s photograph, taken in 2000, of the shadows of the twin towers; next to it was a red dot.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'In the shadow of a war'