silverstein photo shoot
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As the son of renowned Westport photographer Larry Silver, Bruce Silverstein was raised tobelieve that photography was underappreciated as an art form. Experiencing art going to museums regularly,looking at art books, taking art courses, shooting with my father was ingrained in me from a very early age; col-lecting was a means to enrich our home that later evolved into a form of financial savings. At the age of 22, at thebeginning of what would become a successful career on Wall Street, Bruce began to collect important photographyaggressively. Much of the pleasure I got throughout my time on Wall Street was converting my earnings into art.When that was not enough, I left.
Bruce would never have conceived that within a remarkably short period of time, he would become one of theforemost photography dealers in the world, with a ground floor gallery in the heart of the Chelsea art district in NewYork City, and be representing his fathers work.
I have fond memories of sitting on the couch listening to my father while watching him gesture with his hands,as we looked at images by W. Eugene Smith, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Walker Evans. I was constantly learningthe language of seeing art, and talking about art, with my parents. This was not just limited to photography myparents interests were wide and diverse, and spanned the history of art and antiquities. Learning such a broad lan-guage from such a young age gave me a real visceral understanding for art that I believe is difficult to learn later inlife. Accompanying my father on shoots throughout my childhood, as well as my own drawing and sculpting, taughtme about the process of creating. So, when I began to look at collecting, it did not take me long to get my bearingsand to feel comfortable with my own abilities; I had a large enough visual vocabulary, as well as an understandingof historical artistic context to select images that were both important and to which I connected.
I made a decision to collect primarily original vintage photographs, which are the first prints that were made atthe time the images were taken. I also stuck to major photographers, as I found it remarkable that such importantmasterworks could be had for relatively affordable prices. One of the lessons I learned from my father was to buythe best I could afford and that I was better off buying fewer pieces of better quality.
Ultimately, Bruce decided to leave Wall Street to open a vintage photography gallery in a townhouse on West22nd street in Chelsea. With no prior experience, he taught himself each facet of running a galleryfrom design-ing the space on a limited budget, matting, framing, how to hang pictures, building and designing an internet site,and writing press releases.
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LARRY SILVER (B. 1934)SUNSET AT SHERWOOD ISLAND STATE PARK, CT
1978GELATIN SILVER PRINT
SIGNED AND DATED ON VERSO16 X 20 INCHES
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Photography was still being discovered and appreciated at thattime, eight years ago, and there was a unique opportunity even forsomeone who had no gallery experience. My earliest shows werefocused on classic photographers, both known and unknown... Mysecond show was called Aaron Siskind Transformation. AaronSiskind was the only photographer who was a member of theAbstract Expressionist Group. Siskind was influencing De Kooningand Kline and hanging in the same shows.
I began to realize, after seeing what many dealers had in theirinventories, that there was a certain portion of Siskinds work thatfew understood. These early pieces were transitional in nature,where he was exploring abstraction but wasnt quite there, yet it wasvery much an integral part of his entire body of work.
Dealers were willing to sell these photographs quite inexpensive-ly, which enabled Silverstein to build up a critical mass of prints.They would become the basis for his exhibition Aaron SiskindTransformation, which received a full-page review in the Times.Getting that review after my second show reinforced my decisionto leave Wall Street and open the gallery.
After five years, Bruce began to feel constrained by his space andstorage limitations. The space was 600 square feet perfect for ajewel-like vintage exhibition, but not a place to show larger con-temporary work. He relocated the gallery to a 5000-square-foot
space on the ground floor of 535 W. 24th St. With regards to historically important photographers, I look for
bodies of work that either have not been seen, or have been over-looked or misrepresented. For example, Andr Kertsz has alwaysbeen known within the art world as one of the great photographers,yet most of that focus has been on his early work, which was donein Paris between 1925 and 1935. In fact, he moved to New York in1936 and for the next 50 years took pictures of New York, butthose pictures were fairly unknown.
Except for a few key images, the majority of that work was reallyunappreciated and assumed to be secondary to the body of work hedid in Paris. I put together a show of his New York period images.For many, this was an insightful new approach into an extremelyimportant artist.
The Kertsz estate took notice, appreciated that I had addedvalue to the understanding of his work, and joined the gallery. TheSiskind Foundation would later join us as well. I enjoy taking artiststhat have been stereotyped, wrongly at times, and expanding theknowledge of that artist. We did the same thing for RobertDoisneau, an artist who is famous for the photograph Kiss by theHotel de Ville, 1950. I decided to call the estate in Paris. They saidto me, Im sorry we have no more images of the Kiss. I said, Imnot coming to look at the Kiss. They said, No one has ever come
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to look at anything else. I went there and found some incredible images that showedthe breadth of his work one of the great French photographers, but very unknownin America because he had become so famous for one picture.
Since the move to 24th Street, the gallery has expanded to representing contempo-rary artists, including Martin Denker, Todd Hido, Yao Lu, Maria Mameli, ShinichiMaruyama, and Michael Wolf, and now shows in all major art fairs around the world,including Art Basel Miami and the New York Armory Show.
Showing contemporary work feels natural to me. I used to think that in order tounderstand what is new, one must first understand what has been done before. But infact, it goes both ways, new work constantly redefines and reinvigorates works fromthe past. It is one system, past, present and future. Doing one without the other nolonger makes sense.
Silverstein is enthusiastic about his plans for the future. The gallery has expanded itsfocus to photographers who work in various mediums, but have been typecast solely asphotographers. For instance, Frederick Sommer, who is known for his photographs, alsoproduced significant abstract expressionist paintings, drawings, watercolors, collages andeven musical scores. I am finding the notion of moving into other art forms irresistible.I plan on doing this for a very long time, and building and growing is only natural.
535 West 24th Street, New York, NY. 212/627-3930; www.brucesilverstein.com.
SHINICHI MARUYAMA (B.1968)SELF-PORTRAIT
2006ARCHIVAL PIGMENT PRINT
57 X 43 INCHES
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BARBARA MORGAN (1900-1992)LETTER TO THE WORLD (KICK)
1940GELATIN SILVER PRINT
SIGNED, TITLED AND DATED ON RECTO16 X 20 INCHES
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MARTIN DENKER (B.1976)HOLLYWOODPESTCONTROLROYALPLUS2007CHROMOGENIC PRINT MOUNTED TO DIBOND51 X 38 INCHES
MICHAEL WOLF (B.1954)TRANSPARENT CITY #39
SIGNED AND DATED ON VERSO40 X 50 INCHES
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