Intense activity around Photography in Paris

[07 Nov 2017]

Although Photography as an artistic medium has not been performing particularly well on the secondary market, it still attracts a large audience of enthusiasts and connoisseurs. This week, they all converge on Paris, the ephemeral capital of the genre, offering several international fairs, numerous exhibitions and a string of auction sales.

The market for photographic art has turned out to be particularly jumpy with results varying considerably from one year to another. Just ten years ago it was one of the most dynamic and explosive segments of the art market with 2007 seeing the first 7-digit result for a Cindy Sherman photograph and Richard Prince’s Cowboy (large format) fetching more than 2 million dollars for the first time (on two separate occasions). A certain type of Contemporary American photography was driving the market to new heights. Nowadays, the segment is posting a more erratic auction performance, and last year’s results ($131 million in 2016) look meagre compared to 2007 when the market generated a total of nearly $211 million.

On a market clearly dominated by the United States (New York accounts for over half of the global art photography market), Paris is still asserting its position and is redoubling its efforts to offer attractive events during its annual focus on the photography medium (every November, for a month). The main event is the Salon Paris Photo whose 20th anniversary attracted no less than 62,000 visitors to the Grand Palais last year. Indeed, that visitor-total makes Paris Photo one of the most visited Parisian art fairs after the FIAC, proving that collectors have definitively integrated photography into their acquisitional habits. This 21st edition is hosting 160 galleries and some thirty publishers from 9 to 12 November. The event, which describes itself as “the leading global fair dedicated to the photography medium”, has maintained its international ambition with thirty countries present for the occasion. Two thirds of the galleries are European, but American galleries are well represented, and the fair includes galleries from Argentina, South Africa, China, the United Arab Emirates, India, Iran, Japan, the Lebanon, Mexico and Taiwan.

The bulk of the works on offer will be Contemporary prints. In fact, Contemporary photography is by far the most popular period both at the Fairs and at the auction sales. It represents nearly half of the entire art photography market compared with shares of 20% for Post-war photography and 23% for Modern works.

As regards photographs from the 19th and early 20th century, the majority will be dispersed via auctions, with Sotheby’s (10 November) offering several prints by Gustave LE GRAY and André KERTÉSZ, while its rival Christie’s (the same day) is selling 143 photographic works, including 22 prints by Brassai, 12 by Joseph Sudek, 10 by Edouard-Denis Baldus, 8 by Henri Cartier-Bresson, 7 by Robert Mapplethorpe, and… a 1925 photogram by the avant-garde László MOHOLY-NAGY which should easily cross the $100,000 threshold. The week’s top lot is MAN RAY’s legendary Black and White (1926) offered at the Christie’s sale of the Thomas Koerfer Collection on 9 November. This iconic image has been reproduced all over the world since its first publication in 1926 in the Paris version of Vogue magazine (under the title Visage de nacre et Masque d’ébène). Carrying an estimate of between 1 and 1.5 million euros (1.1 – 1.7 million dollars), if the sale goes according to plan the superb Black and White will become one of Man Ray’s most expensive photographs.

Meanwhile… another photo fair, Salon de la Photo, will be celebrating its tenth anniversary by honoring one of the great figures of Contemporary photography, Sebastiao SALGADO (9 to 13 November at Paris Expo, Porte de Versailles); the Parisian gallery of Carla Sozzani will be hosting an exhibition of World Press Photo, one of the most important photo-reporting competitions for journalists; the Fotofever fair will once again occupy the Carrousel du Louvre to promote emerging Contemporary photography, focusing on a selection of works priced under €1,000; the Pompidou Center will be opening an exhibition entitled Photographisme dedicated to the dialogue between photography and graphics (from 8 November 2017 to 29 January 2018), and two photography exhibitions are ongoing in Paris: a major Irving PENN retrospective at the Musée Nationale section of the Grand Palais complex, and exhibition of the work by the Malian photographer Malick SIDIBÉ at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain. There is also an exhibition of works (photos, texts, films and documents) by Raymond DEPARDON at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation.

This week of activity in the art market’s Photography segment is now an annual relay for the official Month of Photography that has been re-programmed for April 2018 when it will expand into the Parisian suburbs (Greater Paris), organized by the Maison Européenne de la Photographie with the support of François Hébel, its new artistic director.