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Man Ray's Surrealist Minotaur leads Sotheby's Photographs Auction
Man Ray, Minotaur, dated and numbered '36' in pencil and with the photographer's '31 bis, Rue Campagne Première' studio stamp (Manford M6) and posthumous copyright stamp (Manford M30) on the reverse, 1933, 5 7/8 by 9 1/4 in. (14.9 by 23.5 cm.) Estimate $150/250,000. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s spring auction of Photographs on 10 April in New York comprises a wide selection of exceptional works tracing the beginnings of the medium to innovations of the present day. Of special note are masterpieces of early photography by William Henry Fox Talbot, E. J. Bellocq, experimental 1920s and 1930s photographs by Man Ray, Stefan Themerson, Pierre Dubreuil, as well as important contemporary works by Brigid Berlin, David Wojnarowicz, Vito Acconci, Cindy Sherman, Sandy Skoglund, Katy Grannan, and Thomas Demand. More than 160 works with estimates ranging from $1,000 to $250,000 will be on view in Sotheby's New York galleries beginning on 4 April.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Man Ray experimented with imagery in which the sitter’s gender is intentionally ambiguous and, in some cases, the human body is wholly transformed into a sexually-charged object. In his 1933 interpretation of the Minotaur (estimate $150/250,000), Man Ray goes well beyond classic mythology, fashioning the bull’s head out of the shadowy contours of a woman’s body; her breasts act as eyes, the concavity of her stomach as mouth, and her raised arms as horns. Now an icon of Surrealism, Minotaur has been included in nearly every major modern exhibition about Man Ray and illustrated in all significant monographs on the artist. Though highly reproduced, no other print of this image has been located.

Pierre Dubreuil was one of the most inventive photographers in the early decades of the 20th century. A technical master of the medium and a brilliant aesthetic innovator, Dubreuil continually experimented with the full range of photographic processes available to him. In La Cloche à Fromage (estimate $30/50,000) Dubreuil's use of light creates a visual vibration, echoing the literal translation of the title (The Cheese Bell).

The auction also features a dozen works from famed Swiss-American photographer Robert Frank, including eight masterworks from his seminal photobook The Americans, such as New Orleans (Trolley) (estimate $100/150,000), Hoboken (Parade, New Jersey) (estimate $80/120,000) and Jay N. Y. (Fourth Of July) (estimate $60/90,000).

American Modernism is well represented throughout the sale, with rare photographs by both Edward and Brett Weston, and standout works by Ansel Adams, Harry Callahan and Minor White on offer.

At only 13 years old, Brett Weston had already started to absorb information on composition, while developing and printing for his father Edward. While the repeated patterns and shapes found in natural subjects such as Untitled (Lily Leaf, Carmel) (estimate $30/50,000) held a special fascination for the young photographer, Brett also turned his camera to man-made objects, capturing thoughtful abstractions and noteworthy tonal studies, as seen in Untitled (Truck Window, Deluxe U. S. Company, San Francisco) (estimate $12/18,000).

Comprised of 87 photographs, Mr. Clatterbuck (Maquette For A Photo Book On The Homesteads Resettlement Community At Flint Hill, Shenandoah Valley) is the result of a collaboration between artist Ben Shahn and Inslee A. Hopper, who were commissioned by the Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts under President Franklin D. Roosevelt to document the successful rehabilitation of the inhabitants of the Shenandoah Valley (estimate $25/35,000). The text by Hopper is a first-person narrative told from the point of view of the homesteaders, and the images are rare examples of Shahn photographs taken after the mid-1930s. No other prints, or similar book mock-ups with photographs by Shahn, are known.

Issued in 6 parts between 1844 and 1846 and comprised of 24 photographs, The Pencil Of Nature by William Henry Fox Talbot was the first photographically illustrated text to be commercially sold and the culmination of more than a decade of experimentation (right, estimate $150/250,000). This set of The Pencil of Nature comes originally from the collection of the photographer’s granddaughter. Only a handful of individual fascicles have appeared at auction since 1970.

In addition, the sale features a unique, handmade book of early photographs from Robert Frank’s time in Peru. Comprised of 39 photographs, Peru (estimate $100/150,000) reveals a documentarian’s expert timing, sensitivity, and a genuine fascination with the people encountered. One of only two examples in existence, it belonged to Frank’s mentor, the art director Alexey Brodovitch and was later owned by another great American photographer, Joel Sternfeld.

Stefan Themerson is considered one of the most important 20th-century Eastern European Surrealist photographers and filmmakers. His entire artistic output was all but completely destroyed when the Nazis invaded Poland during World War II, thus the offering of the artist’s photo collages comprised of film stills such as Enlarged Film Stills From Europa are extremely rare (estimate $20/30,000).

Rarely does one have the chance to acquire an early image by E. J. Bellocq, the mysterious photographer of the red-light district of New Orleans. While another early print is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Storyville Prostitute, New Orleans (right, estimate $50/70,000) is the only early print by the artist to appear at auction.

In the late 1970’s, David Wojnarowicz completed his first photo project, Arthur Rimbaud in New York. ‘Rimbaud in New York’ (in Diner) is believed to be the only lifetime print of the image and the first from the series to appear at auction (estimate $12/18,000). The sitter wears a mask of the young Romantic poet Arthur Rimbaud whose homosexuality and bohemian lifestyle alluded to the photographer’s own youth. The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York will open a major Wojnarowicz retrospective in July.

Brigid Berlin moved to the Chelsea Hotel in the early 1960s and met Andy Warhol when she went to the Factory for the first time in 1964. They became close friends and Berlin appeared in several of Warhol's films, including 'Chelsea Girls' (1966) and 'Ciao! Manhattan' (1972). 'Blue TV' (estimate $50/70,000) is a unique album of psychedelic, blue-hued Polaroid 360 prints of televised images and portraits (including some of Warhol). It shows not only the artist’s obsession with documenting everyday occurrences, but also how the artists in Warhol’s circle were fascinated with television culture.

The sale also includes numerous important contemporary photographs, including works by Cindy Sherman, Katy Grannan and David Hockney among others. Notable highlights include Cady Noland’s Untitled Xerox Cut-Out (Patty In Church), a unique work with notorious publishing heiress Patty Hearst as its subject (estimate $15/25,000) and Thomas Demand’s impressive, large-scale Büro (Office) (estimate $60/90,000) from 1995.

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