Published: July 21, 2020
Review by W.A. Demers, Catalog Photos Courtesy PBA Galleries
BERKELEY, CALIF. – It took only two bids to wrap up a magnificent first edition midcentury artists’ book at PBA Galleries’ July 9 sale of fine art, photography, prints, food and drink. Abstract Expressionism, published by Tiber Press, 1960, is a midcentury artists’ book with contributions from members of the New York School. Realizing $5,100, the four-volume set comprised each volume with three full-page color silkscreen prints and an additional silkscreen on the title page and upper cover. No. 47 of 200 copies, each volume was signed by the poet and artist on the limitation page. These included John Ashbery’s “The Poems,” with prints by Joan Mitchell; Frank O’Hara, “Odes,” with prints by Michael Goldberg; Kenneth Koch, “Permanently,” with prints by Alfred Leslie; and James Schuyler, “Salute,” with prints by Grace Hartigan.
Represented in this summer sale were more than 350 lots, including original works of art; books on agriculture, horticulture, brewing and cooking; photography from the collection of Robert Enteen; and illustrated and fine press books.
“This sale 704 featured areas of continuing growth for the auction house: fine art, photography and food and drink,” said specialist Christopher Dunlap. “The sale presented artists’ books and fine art prints as demonstrated by Abstract Expressionism and Armin Landeck’s ‘Pop’s Tavern.’ It also offered rare photographs from the Incunable period, photobooks and fine art photography from the moderns to present-day photographers. The food and drink section continued to develop an area of passionate contemporary collecting, this time with a focus on small farming, brewing and cidering, charcuterie and hog raising, orchard-keeping and bee culture. Seeds have been planted for a bountiful year ahead.”
Portfolio One: The Seasons by Eliot Porter, published by Sierra Club in 1964, contained 12 original dye-transfer color photographs. It sold for $4,200, one of 105 copies, with 100 copies being for sale. Brother of painter and art critic Fairfield Porter, Eliot (1901-1990) was an American photographer best known for his intimate color photographs of nature. It was his father, James Porter, he said, who instilled him with a love for nature, married to a scientific bent.
Housed in a striking custom clamshell box with a recessed bronze bas-relief by Robert Graham, Lie, Sit, Stand, Be Still by Michael McClure, with 52 unbound leaves and 24 signed lithographs by Robert Graham, was bid to $3,300. Published by Arion Press in 1995, this lot was from the personal collection of Arion Press artist Vincent Perez. It was a first edition, no. 27 of an edition limited to 50 copies.
Beat Generation poet McClure, a contemporary of Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan, wrote this long expressionistic poem in response to sculptor Robert Graham’s studies of female nudes. The drawings were made into a suite of lithographs, a substantial body of graphic work by this important artist. Michael McClure died in May 2020.
Fetching $2,700 was “Pop’s Tavern,” a moody urban nightscape, by Armin Landeck (1905-1984. The 1934 drypoint and aquatint was signed by the artist with an inscription “For Mrs Eden” and measured 12½ by 16 inches. Landeck was an American printmaker and educator known for work with a variety of techniques, including aquatint, drypoint, etching and lithography.
Known primarily for his trademark orotones, American photographer Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) added some swing to the sale with a signed in negative motion picture publicity still from one of Elmo Lincoln’s silent era Tarzan movies. Curtis was an American photographer and ethnologist whose work focused on the American West and on Native American people. Around 1922, Curtis set up a studio in Los Angeles to offer his talents to the burgeoning film industry. Like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show or P.T. Barnum’s many spectacles, this work offers a glimpse into the fuzzy American border region between anthropology and show business. It settled at $2,280.
Another photographer whose name is associated with California is Bret Weston (1911-1993), the second of the four sons of photographer Edward Weston and Flora Chandler. “Voyage of the Eye [with] Pines in Fog” a photograph by Weston for Aperture, 1975, commanded $1,920. It was one of an edition limited to 100 copies with an original silver gelatin photograph, printed and signed by the photographer.
Bringing $1,200 were 42 Woodburytype portraits from Galerie Contemporaine. The periodical was published weekly in its first series from 1876 to 1880, and in a less regular second series from 1881 to 1884. The idea was for the general public to subscribe, which they did in apparently large numbers, A Woodburytype is a photomechanical rather than a photographic, but it produced captivating portraits that were featured in each issue. These portraits were of contemporary celebrities from literature, music, science, politics or the arts, each photographed by some of the great photographers of the day. Photographers included Antoine Samuel Adam-Salomon, Charles Bertall, Étienne Carjat, Franck, Félix Nadar and Pierre Petit.
From the food and drink section of the sale, the 1921 Book of Recipes for the Cooking School by Carrie Alberta Lyford, the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, contained recipes from the historically Black college and realized $1,140, while The Theory and Practice of Brewing by Michael Combrune, R. and J. Dodsley, 1762, was a philosophical treatise on the art of brewing beer and sold for $1,020.
Bringing the same price was Vinetum Britannicum: Or A Treatise of Cider, and other Wines and Drinks extracted from Fruits Growing in this Kingdom…To which is added, a Discourse teaching the Best way of Improving Bees, 1678, by John Worlidge. Thomas Dring and Thomas Burrel.
Featured prominently in the sale but passed was an original Diego Rivera watercolor for the March 1932 cover of Fortune magazine. The watercolor – commissioned for the March 1932 cover of publishing magnate Henry Luce’s deluxe new high society magazine – was inscribed by Rivera and given as a gift to Bertram and Ella Wolfe, co-founders of the Communist Party USA, then living as expatriates in Mexico City. The picture, worked up from sketches Rivera had drawn in Red Square and later sold to Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, depicts a parade of workers reminiscent of the Mayday scene in the destroyed mural.
Prices, with buyer’s premium, as reported by the auction house. For more information, 415-989-2665 or www.pbagalleries.com.
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