Henry Buhl by Stephen Perloff
Portrait of Henry Buhl © Dave Cross
Lot 5 Man Ray 1890-1976 RAYOGRAPH WITH HAND, LENS, AND EGG Estimate: 250,000 - 350,000 USD – ‘Courtesy Sotheby’s.’
Lot 6 Lee Miller 1907-1977 CONDOM Estimate: 70,000 - 100,000 USD – ‘Courtesy Sotheby’s.’
Lot 12 Herbert Bayer 1900-1985 LONELY METROPOLITAN Estimate: 300,000 - 500,000 USD – ‘Courtesy Sotheby’s.’
Lot 20 László Moholy-Nagy 1895-1946 FOTOGRAMM Estimate: 300,000 - 500,000 USD – ‘Courtesy Sotheby’s.’
Lot 21 El Lissitzky 1890-1941 THE CONSTRUCTOR Estimate: 300,000 - 500,000 USD – ‘Courtesy Sotheby’s.’
Lot 33 Alfred Stieglitz 1864-1946 GEORGIA O'KEEFFE -- HANDS AND THIMBLE Estimate: 800,000 - 1,200,000 USD – ‘Courtesy Sotheby’s.’
Lot 34 Dorothea Lange 1895-1965 'WHITE ANGEL BREADLINE, SAN FRANCISCO' Estimate: 100,000 - 150,000 USD – ‘Courtesy Sotheby’s.’
Lot 39 Edward Weston 1886-1958 TINA MODOTTI Estimate: 200,000 - 300,000 USD – ‘Courtesy Sotheby’s.’
Lot 42 Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) 1820-1910 PAUL LEGRAND AS PIERROT Estimate: 100,000 - 150,000 USD – ‘Courtesy Sotheby’s.’
Lot 68 Gilbert & George B. 1943 & B. 1942 'BLACK GARGOYLES' Estimate: 200,000 - 300,000 USD – ‘Courtesy Sotheby’s.’
Lot 81 Jeff Wall B. 1946 REAR, 304 W. 25 AVE., MAY 20, 1997, 1.14 & 1.17 P.M. Estimate: 600,000 - 800,000 USD – ‘Courtesy Sotheby’s.’
Lot 89 Andreas Gursky B. 1955 'MAY DAY II' Estimate: 500,000 - 700,000 USD – ‘Courtesy Sotheby’s.’
Lot 54 John Baldessari B. 1931 FIVE MALE THOUGHTS (ONE FRONTAL) Estimate: 150,000 - 250,000 USD – ‘Courtesy Sotheby’s.’
Lot 85 Chuck Close B. 1940 'MARK [MORRISROE] DIPTYCH II' Estimate: 100,000 - 150,000 USD – ‘Courtesy Sotheby’s.’
Interview of Henry Buhl by Stephen Perloff, Editor of The Photo Review and The Photograph Collector (www.photoreview.org). "A Show of Hands: Photographs from the Collection of Henry Buhl" is being sold at Sotheby's in New York City on December 12 and 13.
How and when did you begin collecting? What was the first photograph you bought?
In 1993 I bought Alfred Stieglitz's gelatin silver print from 1920 of Georgia O'Keefe's hands titled Hands and Thimble. This was one of the first significant photographs that I acquired and the work that I consider to be the inspiration behind the "hand" theme. It is the only gelatin silver print of this work; the others that Stieglitz made were all palladium or palladium-platinum prints. It has since become the icon of the collection.
What do you consider your first real success in collecting? Your biggest failure? What is your prize?
I would say that our first exhibition, Collection In Context, at the Thread Waxing Space in New York was the first big success. It happened in 1996, only two years after I started collecting, and went on to many different museums over the next few years. I honestly cannot think of any big failures; surely there are works that have depreciated in value, but there are also many that have appreciated. We have had many shows, domestic and international. In general, the collection has been a source of great joy.
Aside from the Stieglitz mentioned above, my prize work is the original and unique 1932 photomontage by Herbert Bayer, The Lonely Metropolitan.
How did you come to concentrate on collecting photographs of hands?
After buying the Stieglitz, I waited about six months before making my next acquisition. I then started buying works by only famous photographers, e.g., Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, etc. Eventually I came to recognize a common subject in all of the works, the human hand, and thus began the theme of the collection.
What is your approach? Do you go on instinct? Do you buy from galleries, dealers, auctions, and/or directly from artists?
I acquired first on instinct — if the image was engaging to me. I also had help from my Curator, Marianne Courville, who advised me on many purchases and helped me round-out the collection in the many different photographic styles and periods that exist in order to represent the entire history of photography. For example, the decision to acquire the photogenic drawing negative by William Henry Fox Talbot, A Stanza from ‘Ode to Napoleon’ in Lord Byron’s Hand, made before April 1840, brought the earliest example of photography into the collection — the choice was a stretch of our chosen theme: an image of handwriting rather than the actual hand.
I have bought from all of the above: galleries/dealers, auctions, and directly from artists.
Is there any other photography collector you especially admire?
Paul Sack and Manfred Heiting.
Is the idea of collecting vintage work important to you?
Definitely. Examples of early photography have a unique richness that you do not see in contemporary digital work.
How important was investment potential versus esthetic pleasure in choosing what to buy?
Investment potential was never a consideration. I made a decision to acquire a work based on esthetics first and second, if the work could “fill in the gaps” of the collection, historically-speaking.
If there is one picture you would have liked to buy but didn't or couldn't, what would that be?
It would be the platinum- palladium print of Alfred Stieglitz's Hands and Thimble that was sold at Christie’s on October 8, 1993.
How did you come to the decision to sell your collection? Are there any pictures you couldn't part with and are keeping? Have you sworn off collecting in the future or might you still be tempted to start again or start on a smaller scale?
As three-quarters of the collection is owned by the Buhl Foundation, which supports education and job-training within the non-profit organization I founded in 1992, ACE – The Association for Community Employment Programs for the Homeless (formerly the SoHo Partnership), the sales from the auction will be a major source of revenue for my other passion, fighting homelessness. We have had many wonderful exhibitions and have enjoyed the photographs for many years. Now it is time for someone else to enjoy the work, whether in public or private hands (no pun intended).
I am still collecting hand sculptures and an occasional non-hand photograph. One particular artist I am currently collecting is Desiree Dolron, a Dutch photographer who creates stunning portraits.