Arts / Galleries

Vaunted Photography Print Auction Celebrates 40 Years With New Treasures — 10 Beautiful Pieces to Bid On

Previewing the Houston Center for Photography's Big Event

BY Haley Berkman Karren // 02.08.21

In a PaperCity exclusive, guest art editor Haley Berkman Karren previews Houston Center for Photography’s 40th Anniversary Print Auction, which takes place next Thursday, February 18.

2021 for the Houston Center for Photography (HCP) is truly a time of significance, marking the storied nonprofit’s 40th anniversary. Founded in 1981 as a member and artist-run cooperative, HCP has always been dedicated to promoting photography and pushing the medium forward across four decades.

One of Houston Center for Photography’s most important events is next week’s 40th Anniversary Print Auction, 2021 Vision: Past – Present – Future. In keeping with the times, this year’s auction, which supports exhibitions, educational initiatives, community programs and Spot magazine, is completely virtual. Preview the lots in the HCP galleries (a free appointment is encouraged) through this Friday, February 12.

Houston buyers have a rare opportunity to acquire Cindy Sherman‘s groundbreaking photography. Known for her chameleon-like way of peeling off her skin to change into an unrecognizable new one, this photographer’s work is on every serious collector’s radar. One of Sherman’s early images currently holds one of the world’s top auction records for a work of photography: $3,890,500.

Besides Sherman, also noteworthy is a print by photographer/sculptor, Demetrius Oliver, a former MFAH Core Fellow who has his unassuming tea kettle tossed in the auction ring, which features a reflection that you may recognize.

Another highlight on the HCP auction block is a work by Duane Michals, the long ago graphic designer-turned-accidental-photographer. A fine art photography rejector, Michals’ skills landed him subjects like Andy Warhol for his portfolio.

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Speaking of icons, longtime supporter of HCP and patron of the arts, Clint Willour passed away on February 4. For many years, Willour and curator Anne Wilkes Tucker hosted a highly anticipated Print Auction Tour. Poignantly, the tour did not take place as planned this year. HCP is lovingly and respectfully dedicating the 40th Anniversary Print Auction in his memory.

Here are my Top 10 picks from the Houston Center for Photography “2021 Vision: Past-Present-Future” Auction:

1. Cindy Sherman’s Untitled, 1980, printed 2012, Live Auction Lot 20

My appreciation for Cindy Sherman began in the summer of 2010, when I was just beginning my career in the art world as an intern in the Photography Department at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. I was delving into research and preparation for MoMA’s 2012 retrospective of the artist. For weeks, I was engrossed in every series of self-portraits the artist had made in character – some of which are grotesque and unnerving.

Imagine my surprise when the artist walked up to our offices as sweet as can be, wearing a light-pink sweater set, not intimidating at all. This experience of working with Cindy Sherman truly set the stage for my appreciation of working with artists.

This photograph was created in 1980, just after Sherman finished her landmark series, Untitled Film Stills, where she explored women in 1950s and ’60s film stills. In this early dual portrait, Sherman presents a focused, almost creepy blonde doctor and a daydreaming nurse.

Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled,” 1980, printed 2012, Live Auction Lot 20
Cindy Sherman’s Untitled, 1980, printed 2012, Live Auction Lot 20

2. Duane Michals’ FromThe Sleepers,” 1995, 1995, Live Auction Lot 17

Duane Michals is well-known for his humor and for incorporating hand-written text onto his photographs. He has been involved with HCP for many years. Ever since I attended Michals’ artist lecture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (which was actually held in conjunction with a seminar he taught at HCP) in 2015, I have been a huge fan of the artist.

In this beautiful gelatin silver print, Michals quotes from the eighth section of Walt Whitmans’s 1855 poem, “The Sleepers.”

Duane Michals’ From “The Sleepers,” 1995, 1995, Live Auction Lot 17
Duane Michals’ FromThe Sleepers,” 1995, Live Auction Lot 17

3. Malick Sidibé’s Actrice Biénal Jeunesse Mali, circa 1976, printed 2008, Live Auction Lot 18

A celebrated Malian photographer, Malick Sidibé is known for his striking portraits of exuberant youth. This unique portrait depicts a young actress, hands on her hips, likely in the photographer’s studio. Houstonians may remember seeing Sidibé’s photographs in the recent MFAH exhibition, “Through an African Lens: Sub-Saharan Photography from the Museum’s Collection.”

Malick Sidibé’s “Actrice Biénal Jeunesse Mali,” c.1976, printed 2008, Live Auction Lot 18
Malick Sidibé’s Actrice Biénal Jeunesse Mali, circa 1976, printed 2008, Live Auction Lot 18

4. Demetrius Oliver’s Engine, 2006, printed 2020, Live Auction Lot 7

I am intrigued by this photograph by Demetrius Oliver, who created this poetic piece while he was a Core Fellow at the MFAH. At first glance, the photograph depicts a tea kettle, but when you look closer, you see the artist in reflection. Engine is a fascinating intersection of sculpture, performance and photography.

Demetrius Oliver’s “Engine,” 2006, printed 2020, Live Auction Lot 7
Demetrius Oliver’s Engine, 2006, printed 2020, Live Auction Lot 7

5. Osamu James Nakagawa’s Texas #1, 2018, printed 2020, Live Auction Lot 15 and Illinois #1, 2018, printed 2020, Silent Auction Lot 50

Osamu James Nakagawa has generously donated two photographs as separate lots to the auction – one from Texas, which he considers his home, and another from the Midwest, where he has lived for more than 20 years. Nakagawa received an HCP Fellowship in 1993, which helped launch his career.

In his Eclipse series, Nakagawa depicts the once-bustling, now abandoned drive-in theaters. These haunting and elegiac works are carbon prints, which are perfectly rendered in subtle gray tones.

Osamu James Nakagawa’s “Texas #1,” 2018, printed 2020, Live Auction Lot 15
Osamu James Nakagawa’s Texas #1, 2018, printed 2020, Live Auction Lot 15
Osamu James Nakagawa’s “Illinois #1,” 2018, printed 2020, Silent Auction Lot 50
Osamu James Nakagawa’s Illinois #1, 2018, printed 2020, Silent Auction Lot 50

6. Pentti Sammallahti’s Delhi, India (Flock of Birds), 1999, printed 2020, Silent Auction Lot 62 and Des Oiseaux, Hardcover Book

I have enjoyed following Pentti Sammallahti’s work for many years. The Finnish photographer is known for timeless, evocative imagery, which often incorporates animals. His book, Des Oiseaux, is a wonderful companion to Delhi, India (Flock of Birds) and expands on his interest in birds.

Pentti Sammallahti’s “Delhi, India (Flock of Birds),” 1999, printed 2020, Silent Auction Lot 62
Pentti Sammallahti’s Delhi, India (Flock of Birds), 1999, printed 2020, Silent Auction Lot 62

7. Elisabeth Hogeman’s Proboscis, 2020, Silent Auction Lot 44

I am delighted to find an artist I was previously unaware of working with photography and collage. Her process involves re-picturing elements culled from home and lifestyle magazines, playing with physical and virtual space while manipulating scale, depth and perspective.

Elisabeth Hogeman’s “Proboscis,” 2020, Silent Auction Lot 44
Elisabeth Hogeman’s Proboscis, 2020, Silent Auction Lot 44

8. Adam Neese’s Rainbow Over Sky Blue, 2014, printed 2015, Silent Auction Lot 37

I was introduced to Adam Neese’s photography when we both worked at The Menil Collection. With Rainbow Over Sky Blue, Neese was working with optical filters in his studio when he came across a rainbow filter. He Googled sky blue, averaged and printed the readings as a field of color, tacked the paper onto his studio wall, placed the filter over his large format camera, and voila. . .

This photograph is so playful and joyful. We could all use a little more rainbow and cheer in our lives.

Adam Neese’s “Rainbow Over Sky Blue,” 2014, printed 2015, Silent Auction Lot 37
Adam Neese’s Rainbow Over Sky Blue, 2014, printed 2015, Silent Auction Lot 37

9. Kristy Peet’s Objects owned by a 4 year old and a 65 year old that live in Space City, 2018, Silent Auction Lot 52

Kristy Peet is a large-format conceptual photographer who frequently teaches photography at HCP. In March 2020, I juried “Overwhelming (Im)possibilites”, an exhibition of photography from members of the South Central chapter of the Society of Photographic Education, in conjunction with the organization’s conference.

This photograph was the lead image for the exhibition. In this series, Peet asked participants to choose objects that are special to them. She photographed the objects in the space they reside, and then combined similar objects. This photograph celebrates objects that earned Houston the title of “Space City.”

Kristy Peet’s “Objects owned by a 4 year old and a 65 year old that live in Space City,” 2018, Silent Auction Lot 52
Kristy Peet’s Objects owned by a 4 year old and a 65 year old that live in Space City, 2018, Silent Auction Lot 52

10. R.J. Kern’s The Lifeguards, Lake Myvatn, Iceland, 2014, printed 2020, Silent Auction Lot 32

I was introduced to R.J. Kern’s work when I met the photographer this past spring at the FotoFest Meeting Place Portfolio Review. Kern explores ideas of home, ancestry and place through the interaction of people, animals and cultural landscapes.

In this beautiful and expansive photograph, Kern depicts Icelandic sheep roaming the edge of a lake. Kern draws influence from 19th-century landscape painters, particularly in their use of light and composition.

R.J. Kern’s “The Lifeguards, Lake Myvatn, Iceland,” 2014, printed 2020, Silent Auction Lot 32
R.J. Kern’s The Lifeguards, Lake Myvatn, Iceland, 2014, printed 2020, Silent Auction Lot 32

The “2021 Vision: Past-Present-Future” Live Auction takes place on Thursday, February 18, at 6 pm. Purchase tickets here. Online bidding for all lots is available through Artsy. Silent auction closes on Friday, February 19, 4 pm. (Collectors can also place advanced bids on live auction lots before the bidding begins on Thursday, February 18 at 6 pm.)

Author’s note: Karren, a former Menil curatorial assistant is an art advisor, independent curator and writer who has contributed to Houston Center for Photography’s Spot Magazine as well as juried the HCP exhibition, “Learning Curve 11.” She is the founder and director of Karren Art Advisory, specializing in modern and contemporary art and photography.

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