Frieze Masters: How to be a Big Name Fine Art Photographer

October 10, 2012  •  3 Comments

Few galleries in the world have sufficient reach across the history of art and its various genres to achieve the witty juxtaposition of hanging Annie Leibovitz's photograph Johnny Depp & Kate Moss (1994) next to Willem Bartsius's oil painting Samson & Delilah (1639), as shown on this blog's main page today. But then, this gallery is Bernheimer of Munich and this show is Frieze Masters 2012, 'The first fair for historical art organised by Frieze'.

Frieze, a part of the London art calendar for many years now, is a sort of tented mall of galleries, bringing together 'the most exciting contemporary art and living artists.' But now, in a concerted attempt at extending this formula to 'historical art', we have Frieze Masters, 101 gallery stands squeezed into a vast marquee and filled with good things. You can tell the price bracket by looking at the other guests at the preview: some very expensive looking ladies, well tailored German gentlemen, and a strong smatter of American accents. Look, there's Michael Bloomberg, spotted with his entourage of security, curly wires emerging from their ears.

Now unlike a one-artist show at a commercial gallery or a public gallery show based on some theme or other, this is a show curated by one thing: money. The artists here have floated to the top buoyed by their sales alone. The world of commercial galleries is not a sentimental one, and though high-browed critical language is applied as needed, it is not the point of the exercise.

So this show, agnostic as to whether the medium of expression is oil, watercolour, stone, silk or chemical dye, is a great place to take another shot at that vexed question: what is Fine Art Photography? And today's answer is, it's what sells in places like this.

So who do we have, and what does the list tell us about How to be a Big Name in Fine Art Photography?  (or skip to the bottom of this page for the Executive Summary)

Dead White Male Photographers:

  1. Edward Steichen
  2. Cartier-Bresson
  3. Irving Penn
  4. Richard Avedon
  5. Bernd Becher (Hilla lives on)
  6. Helmut Newton
  7. Robert Mapplethorpe
  8. Jeanloup Sieff
  9. Edward Weston

Dead White Female Photographers:

  1. Zofia Rydet
  2. Diane Arbus

Live White Male Photographers:

  1. William Eggleston
  2. Richard Avedon
  3. Lee Friedlander
  4. Andreas Gursky
  5. Josef Koudelka

Live White Female Photographers

  1. Hilla Becher 
  2. Annie Leibovitz

Dead White Male Artists Who Took Some Photos Too

  1. Richard Hamilton
  2. Brancusi

Live White Male Artists Who Take Some Photos Too

  1. Thomas Schütte
  2. Gerhard Richter
  3. Richard Wentworth
  4. Dan Graham
  5. Gilbert
  6. George
  7. Jürgen Klauke

Dead White Female Artists Who Took Some Photos Too

  1. Birgit Jürgenssen

Live White Female Artists Who Take Some Photos Too

n/a

 

Totals 

  • Dead/Alive: 14/14
  • Primarily photographer/Primarily Artist: 18/10
  • Male/Female:  23/5
  • White: all

 

Executive Summary

The advice is clear to those wanting to be numbered amongst the creme de la creme of top-selling, big name fine art photographers: don't worry about whether you're basically an artist or basically a photographer, don't even worry about whether you're dead or alive, but try to be male and make damned sure you're white.

 

Frieze Masters runs from the 11th-14th October 2012 in London

 

 


Comments

Tim Ashley Photography
Indeed it does sound racist - that was exactly my point. It seems statistically unlikely that only white people, and mostly males, are capable of achieving the highest standards. Therefore I think we can conclude that there have been historic forces at work that have mitigated against both women and non-white ethnic groups achieving a showing in the sort of environment I was discussing. So racist it is: but I am demonstrating it, not committing it.
Tim Ashley Photography
It's a thorny issue isn't it Libby? And in particular the meaning of the term in North America often tends to be different, and to apply to what might more usefully be called 'popular art'. If you are interested, I wrote an essay on this topic a few weeks back, which was intended to be a sort of manifesto for the series of guest photographers and general musings. It is here:
http://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/8/what-is-fine-art-photography
Libby Stack(non-registered)
"And today's answer is, it's what sells in places like this."

An interesting summary. I struggled for a few weeks with a blog post on what constitutes Fine Art and then abandoned the writing. I asked several business colleagues what their definition of Fine Art was. A few told me it was defined by the medium. That in photography, a photo printed on "fine art paper" would then fit the definition. Which is quite a conundrum because we have a website called Fine Art America which sells greeting cards and posters, and a lot of the stuff on there is not what I would consider "fine" work.
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