A Curated Selection of Rare Photographs from the Feldschuh Gallery
By Thomas Sweeney
“Photography is the medium of our age," says Michael Feldschuh, New York's preeminent photography curator and dealer. "Now, more than ever, we process and convey ideas visually, and photography as an art form has possibilities that other media do not." Exhibit A is Feldschuh's eponymous decade-old gallery on Grand Street, whose 2,000-photo collection preserves the legacy of every vanguard photographer imaginable. There, Imogen Cunningham's magnolia study joins with August Sander's Rhineland landscapes, and human representation varies from Garry Winogrand's street scenes to one of Bert Stern's portraits of Marilyn Monroe for her last Vogue sitting.
For a limited time, an array of 28 collectible photographs from the Feldschuh Gallery, selected by the owner himself, will be available for purchase at The Line. "I wanted to work with The Line because they are not interested in art as simply décor," explains Feldschuh. "The selection of these prints presents the client's objects as worthy of being the focus of a room or part of a greater art collection that could easily be seen at a museum." The lot includes a scintillating New York city view by Berenice Abbot, a rippled-terrain landscape by Lucien Clergue, and the watermelon-and-baguette still life famously lensed by Irving Penn in 1947. But it's the nude portraits—from the likes of Annie Leibovitz, Ruth Bernhard, and Ralph Gibson, among others—that hold a particular prominence here. "The body is the ultimate truth of our existence, and as such it is endlessly fascinating," says Feldschuh. "No other entity is tied to our emotions or actions in this way: pride, lust, shame, admiration, serenity, and the gaze in its many forms."
Now, more than ever, we process and convey ideas visually, and photography as an art form has possibilities that other media do not.
Feldschuh gained an entrée into the art world more than thirty years ago via a friendship with the renowned author and art collector Herbert Lust, who had recently released a book through a publishing press owned by Feldschuh's aunt. "Herbert took me to see an exhibition at Christie's and spoke of the need to collect with passion and a long-term view," says Feldschuh. "His collection is one of the greatest when it comes to artists such as Alberto Giacometti, Hans Bellmer, and Robert Indiana, and he has always spoken of the pain and pleasure of collecting—the pain on acquisition as one pays and the lifelong pleasure that owning a great work brings as you live and evolve with it." Herbert Lust remains an enduring influence on Feldschuh's eye as a curator, as do the pantheon of Magnum photographers and the contemporary artists Robert Mapplethorpe ("for his formalism") and Joel-Peter Witkin ("for his surrealism"). Feldschuh's chief criterion when sourcing prints, though, is museum-quality caliber. "We look for work that is significant and representative of the artist's vision. Always originals, limited in their edition, signed by the artist, and therefore rare and highly collectible," he says. "Work should allow the viewer to access something deep or spiritual or amusing, some deeper truth or experience of life, something you will want to live with and access through time."
Feldschuh taps into his curator's eye to expound on the breadth of nude portraiture seen in his selections for The Line. On DaidōMoriyama's How to Create a Beautiful Picture 6: Tights in Shimotakaido, he says, "Moriyama sees the body as a geometric puzzle and an erotic net." Moving to Lucien Clergue's seaside setting for Untitled (Nude), he explains, "Clergue seeks the harmony of the form of nature in both the body and the sea, the origin of life itself." And what of the beachy dishabille of Ralph Gibson's Malibu (Woman in a Bikini)? "For Gibson, the body is both organic and natural, but also charged with erotic tension."
When asked why all but one of the nude portraits are in black and white, Feldschuh becomes impassioned. "Form, shape, texture, line, and curve are all emphasized as color is removed," he says. "Inherently, this is not how we see the nude in life, and it forces us to consider things from an altered and perhaps higher state. The work is transformed from merely recording nature by choosing to remove color and replace it with gradations of tone." Having revealed one of the sui generis possibilities of photography, he can't help but conclude with another to entice the prospective collector: "Collecting photography represents an amazing opportunity, as only now are traditional museums and other collectors beginning to recognize how important it is. Therefore, it is still possible to buy the work of established masters of the medium in a way that is unheard of in painting and sculpture."
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Free Spirit: The Modern Vision of Charlotte Perriand