You’re all invited to the opening of our next show – an exhibition by the renowned German photographer Matthias Schaller. What these pictures are all about, and how the show came to be is an interesting story. (I hope.)
This past December I was having dinner in Miami with two curators from the Victoria and Albert Museum who were in town to work on their forthcoming Horst show. One of the curators, Susannah Brown, mentioned that Gert Elfering – the owner of the Horst archive – had an interesting group of pictures hanging in his house. The pictures, she explained, were photographs of some of the masterpieces of fashion and editorial photography shot in the viewing rooms of Christies in 2005 prior to being sold in what was to become the first of three enormously successful sales of works from The Elfering Collection. These installation shots (so to speak) were commissioned by Elfering to have as both a high-class souvenir and as works of art in their own right, as Schaller's work is all to do with creating a person-less portrait.
This description immediately intrigued me and I was dying to see the pictures, but getting to Elfering is not easy. He doesn’t take phone calls or respond to e-mails! However, with the help of Philippe Garner of Christie’s and Andy Cowan, the former owner of London’s Hamilton’s Gallery who now lives in Bogota but flies in and out of Miami to help Elfering with various projects, a meeting was finally set up.
Patronage and commissions can be a tricky thing, but these pictures were a home run, and the minute I saw them on Elfering’s wall I knew I wanted to show them. Elfering liked the idea and passed it on to Andy Cowan. Cowan said Elfering had to work it out with Schaller. Elfering said Cowan would arrange it. And so it went for several months. With about three weeks left to the proposed opening date on what was literally the last day before I would have had to go with a different show, I finally got the go-ahead! Fortunately there was a complete extra set of the pictures in Miami so all I had to do was fly down to select the works I needed for the show and work out the shipping.
This is all a long way of saying that if all goes according to plan you can see these photographs in person at our opening on April 15. 6 to 8 p.m. And bring friends. There’s nothing we love more than a crowded opening.
If not here are a small selection of the pictures - and below those, a more formal press release. But trust me - it was all worth it.
“Elfering – 1642”
April 16 – May 22
Matthias Schaller was born in Dillingen, Germany, in 1965. Over the last decade he has been widely exhibited and published in Europe but “Elfering -1642” will be his first U.S. gallery show.
Beginning in 2000 with his photographic study of Andreas Gursky’s studio, Schaller has focused almost exclusively on people-less interiors. Whether photographing photographers’ and architects’ studios (series Werkbildnis I and II), Cardinals’ desks of the Roman Curia in the Vatican (Purple Desk), Venetian interiors on the Grand Canal (Controfacciata), 150 Italian opera houses (Fratelli d’Italia), artists’ palettes (Das Meisterstück), original astronaut suits (Disportraits), or the architecture of Oscar Niemeyer (As Curvas), Schaller’s series or sequences engage with the spirit of objects and place and convey the notion that the marks we leave, the objects used, or the environment inhabited says as much about the selected individual as their physical presence. All his different works follow this strategy of indirect portraiture.
The title “Elfering – 1642” refers to the famous German collector, Gert Elfering, and the number allocated by Christie’s to Elfering’s single owner sale in October of 2005. The auction comprised 135 works that Elfering had defined as the distillation of his interests, and featured the most famous pictures by the masters of fashion and editorial photography – Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon - as well as works by Man Ray, Thomas Struth, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Robert Mapplethorpe. The sale fetched over $7 million and its success signaled the ascension of the editorial/fashion genre to the highest levels of price and desirability in photography.
A longtime admirer of Schaller’s work, it occurred to Elfering that before parting with the masterpieces in his collection he should commission Schaller to photograph the work in Christie’s New York showrooms. In this way he would have an original new body of work as well as a unique souvenir. The idea resonated with Schaller who observing the work laid out on the floor prior to hanging saw this rather than the actual wall hanging as the singular metaphor for the event.
In this way and as a completed series, Schaller’s photographs encompass the many complexities and ironies of the concept while at the same time incorporating the power of the objects about to be sold into their own luminous interiors. The finished works – beautiful, compelling, and intriguing pictures in their own right - stand as a remarkable example of enlightened patronage while remaining resolutely true to Schaller’s own vision of creating a portrait of both a collection and a collector.