Arbus auction preview — but no auction — in New York


Post by Christopher Paquette

I caught a special showing of the lost Diane Arbus photographs last April 5 at Phillips de Pury in New York. The works were being presented in the Phillips gallery as a prelude to the April 8th auction sale. (see previous post for more on the lost and found Arbus photos). I decided to make an entire day of it, visiting some of my favorite galleries on my way down to Phillips which is across the street from the Chelsea Market.

Main gallery room at Phillip's de Pury & Company
Main gallery room at Phillip’s de Pury & Company

The highlight of the day was the photographic three ring extravaganza I found at Phillips de Pury.  I expected to only see the lost Diane Arbus collection and was blown away by the display of photographs that previewed the week’s two auctions (Arbus on April 8th) and the collection of Corbeau et Renard (April 9th). The latter was a collection of photographs by big-names like Helmut Newton, Stephen Shore, Sally Mann, Harry Callahan, Bernd & Hilla Becher, Eugene Atget, Andre Kertesz, Walker Evans.  There were several rooms devoted to the Lost Diane Arbus collection — pictures the photographer took at the Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus that were recently discovered by Philadelphia book dealer Robert Langmuir.

Richard Del Bourgo…. “Richard the Great” performed at Hubert’s in the 60s.

Langmuir was on hand to discuss his discovery as well as Richard Del Bourgo who performed as magician Richard the Great at Huberts in the early 1960’s. Del Bourgo recalls Arbus as beautiful and charming and “there was something special about her”.  This quality in Arbus allowed her to connect to the performers in a way that other photographers who visited Huberts never could.

Robert Langmuir, discoverer of the photos, discusses them at Phillips.

Arbus maintained a long personal connection with Hubert’s manager/owner Charlie Lucas. It was Lucas’ personal collection of mementos and documents that Langmuir purchased that contained the 27 photographs now being presented for sale by Phillips. Saturday’s preview and lecture event was co-hosted by First Person Arts,  Philadelphia’s memoir and documentary arts company. First Person Arts president, Vicki Solot, was on hand to introduce Langmuir, and most in attendance had traveled to the event as a group bus tour, including Langmuir, PMA Photography curator Kate Ware, and filmmaker David Kessler.

 David Kessler on assignment

And this just in…

The official follow up to the Lost Diane Arbus auction comes from an article by Randy Kennedy in Sunday’s New York Times

“A lawyer for the owner of a group of rare, early prints by the photographer Diane Arbus said on Wednesday that the auction house Phillips de Pury canceled the sale because of concerns about a recent lawsuit filed by a man who claims he was duped out of the prints. Peter R. Stern, the lawyer for the prints’ owner, Bob Langmuir, a Philadelphia book dealer and collector, said the auction house told him that a private sale of the photos — estimated to be worth up to several hundred thousand dollars — was still a possibility. Phillips officials have not returned calls seeking an explanation for the cancellation of the auction, which was to be held on Tuesday. The photographs, from the late 1950s, show performers at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus, a basement freak show on 42nd Street in Manhattan, where Arbus honed her stark signature style. Mr. Langmuir was sued in federal court in Brooklyn by another collector, Bayo Ogunsanya, who claimed he was unaware of the value of the photographs when he sold them to Mr. Langmuir for $3,500 in 2003. Mr. Stern has argued in court that Mr. Ogunsanya’s lawsuit is frivolous.”

And finally, two quick picks from my travels through Chelsea:

International Center of Photography
Barbara Bloom – This was the first time I have been disappointed in a visit to ICP. This exhibit is confusing and dull, and I just don’t think ICP should venture towards mixed media shows that offer so little photographic work.

Luhring Augustine
Gregory Crewdson Beneath The Roses (April 5 – May 3)
Crewdson’s large scale photographs remind me of epic remakes of Stephen Shore‘s road trip photography.

–Christopher Paquette is both a photographer and a writer. Here’s a link to his blog C.H. Paquette Photography.


christopher h. paquette, david kessler, diane arbus



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