With online sales now the primary collecting outlet amid extended coronavirus closures, major blue-chip dealers are deploying their best content through digital viewing rooms — pulling together shows with the right edge to stand out in a vast pool of online material. Pace gallery presented its fourth online viewing room since the closure of its salerooms titled Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes: Notes on America – featuring images by a host of name-brand photographers like Robert Frank, Peter Hujar, William Eggleston, William Christenberry, Gordon Parks, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Trevor Paglen and Richard Learoyd.
Among the group show are some of the most famous names in American postwar photojournalism and fashion photography, each renowned for surveying critical moments of contemporary culture. On the opening day of the online program, the gallery reported that an edition of the surrealist-inspired Irving Penn photograph Optician’s Shop Window (B) carrying a price tag of $50,000 found a buyer and a host of other works saw a robust interest from the gallery’s established client base. Robert Frank’s Parade Hoboken from 1955-56, among the highest priced works is currently on reserve carrying a price of $150,000. Another Frank image, Indianapolis dated 1956 is priced at $75,000 – featuring a couple on a night bike ride, the motorcycle an emblem of postwar freedom recurs throughout Franks formative series, The Americans.
Untitled, Miami Florida — with a price tag of $20,000—features LIFE photojournalist, and first black staff photographer at the famous magazine, Gordon Parks’s 1966 image of Muhammed Ali in hotel room. The image was taken while on assignment to cover the boxer, whose political beliefs— including black separatism and protest of the Vietnam war— made him a controversial figure. Fashion photographer, Richard Avendon, who captured up-close portraits of an array of infamous entertainment figures features in the offerings as well. His 1986 portrait of jazz musician, Chet Baker is priced at $50,000—the image taken just two years before Baker’s untimely death shows a wearied age-lined face reminiscent of photographs of the depression era American West.
William Eggleston’s saturated California hillside is on reserve with a price tag of $50,000. And a 1983 cinematic shot by Richard Misrach —known as pioneer of color in fine art photography— carries a price of $8,500, the image shows a gathering of onlookers awaiting a space shuttle landing at an air force base in the surreal California desert.
As digital exhibitions remain a source of transactional flow for dealers, they also serve as a moment to flex a certain brand of curatorial cunning needed in order to compete in the digital sphere. Legacy names of contemporary culture seem to reign in these online sales. The directors of these sales are finding new ways to reorient familiar stories around this unprecedented contemporary moment. Vice President and co-curator of the exhibition Lauren Panzo noted “for this exhibition, we worked very closely with Andria Hickey, Senior Director and Curator at Pace to put forth a presentation we felt would resonate with viewers.” Quoting her colleague, Panzo reminds “as Andria explains, these images reflect an America inextricably tied to the veracity of its people—their struggle and resilience.”
The photographs segment, which comprises works of cultural significance that are also widely recognized, are ideal for digital viewing rooms. In a rapid shift to an exclusively virtual experience of visual culture, the curatorial drive behind the show acknowledges that despite limitations of the online exhibitions, iconic material carries well for internet audiences.
“These exhibitions have seen steady web traffic throughout the show’s run and garnered visitor numbers that mirror those of in-gallery exhibitions” said Panzo. By the end of the week Pace representatives reported a total of 50,000 visits to their online viewing platform since the gallery’s closure in March.