Sotheby’s to auction the Buhl Collection of photographs in New York

Sotheby’s will offer the Buhl Collection of photographs in a single-owner sale in New York, on Dec. 12 and 13, 2012.

The collection explores the theme of the human hand, encompassing works from the art form’s early 19th century pioneers to the masters of 20th century photography and beyond. It was assembled over the course of 20 years by the visionary philanthropist and collector Henry M. Buhl. The collection was the subject of the critically-acclaimed exhibition Speaking With Hands: Photographs from the Buhl Collection at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in 2004, and has since been featured in many of the world’s most renowned institutions from Moscow to Macau. Overall, the auction will comprise approximately 400 lots and is estimated to bring $8/12 million, with a significant portion of the proceeds benefiting The Buhl Foundation. Prior to the exhibition and auction in New York, highlights from the collection will be shown in Zurich at the time of Art Basel, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London and Paris to coincide with Paris Photo.

Denise Bethel, Director of Sotheby’s Photographs Department said: “The sale of photographs from the Buhl Collection will rightly take its place alongside the greatest auctions ever held in our field including Photographs from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, including works from the Gilman Paper Company Collection, Photographs from the Museum of Modern Art, Photographs from the Private Collection of Margaret W. Weston and The Polaroid Collection. Henry Buhl’s singular focus and passion for the theme of the hand was equaled by the iconic quality of the images he selected.”

Images of hands, whether depicted literally in the context of portraiture, or more figuratively in terms of gesture or concept, are the leitmotif as we explore the great masters featured in the Buhl Collection. We see Georgia O’Keeffe’s delicate fingers in Alfred Stieglitz’s 1920 masterpiece (est. $1/1.5 million), a two-dimensional photogram of hands given dynamism and movement by Man Ray (est. $300/500,000), Charles Negre’s ghostlike Hand Study from the 1850s (est. $50/70,000), and Andreas Gursky’s ecstatic sea of hands in May Day II (est. $500/700,000).

As Mr. Buhl recalled in his preface to the Guggenheim exhibition catalogue, the collection was born with the purchase of Hands with Thimble by Alfred Stieglitz. The 1920 print is a compositional portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe – the photographer’s future wife – showing only her hands poised with needle and thimble against a drape of dark fabric. Prints of the celebrated image are in the collections of major institutions including The Museum of Modern Art in New York and The Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Buhl Foundation was founded in 1992 by Henry Buhl to enhance the quality of life of underprivileged individuals by supporting education, the homeless and the arts. The Foundation supports a number of not-forprofit organizations and programs including the Association of Community Employment Programs for the Homeless (A.C.E) that works to enable New York City’s homeless men and women to re-enter the workforce and achieve long-term economic self-sufficiency.

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