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The Auction as Show


Tommy Ton: ‘Werk! Qweens’, 2017

Unsurprisingly, the leading auction houses are all selling photographic work to coincide with Photo London (18-21 May). By way of a warm-up, I looked at them as exhibits rather than as potential purchases. Do they make for a good visit?

Sotheby’s: 72 photos. Some interesting images, but plenty of over-familiar choices. No discernible curatorial input, feels like whatever they happened to have available. No wall texts with work, no catalogue texts either. Coffee £2.50. *

Christie’s: 121 photos, including some fascinating surprises. Particularly good on Mapplethorpe, Penn, Ruff and Sugimoto. Loosely grouped by theme (eg fashion, animals). No wall texts with work. Catalogue entries generally adequate online, but hard copies had run out. Coffee free. ***

Phillips: c 250 photos split across three coherent and thoughtfully presented exhibitions: a general selection with strong groupings, notably of female Japanese photographers; the collection of Michel and Sally Strauss; and Polaroids from the Piero Bisazza Collection. All with rather insightful wall texts on many works and in catalogue. Coffee free. *****

In short, I thoroughly recommend a tour of Phillips, plus Christie’s if you have time. I’ve illustrated three lots of interest: Canadian new era street photographer Tommy Ton’s nine image grid of characters taken outside a drag convention in New York (Phillips: est £20-30,000); Robert Mapplethorpe’s cunningly blurred Polaroid of Patti Smith (Phillips: est £10-15,000); and Laurie Simmons’ water ballet styling of none other than Cindy Sherman – who also appears, now I think of it, in Robert Longo’s iconic photos for his ‘Men in the Cities’ series – even aside from her own work, she’s done well as a model! (Christie’s: est £3-5,000).

 
 Robert Mapplethorpe: ‘Untitled (Patti Smith)’ – 1973-1975

 


Laurie Simmons: ‘Swimming Women, Water Ballet (Cindy Sherman)’, 1980

Art writer and curator Paul Carey-Kent sees a lot of shows: we asked him to jot down whatever came into his head

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