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Stripped Bare: Photographs from the Collection of Thomas Koerfer

The Swiss filmmaker explains his decision to part with more than 70 photographs from his exceptional collection — featuring works by the likes of Man Ray, Diane Arbus, Robert Mapplethorpe and Nan Goldin — and why ‘art needs to move on’

‘In my view, art is for certain times with certain people, and art needs to move on,’ says Swiss filmmaker Thomas Koerfer of his decision to part with more than 70 photographs from his extensive collection of mostly 20th-century art, which also includes painting and sculpture.

Koerfer began acquiring art in 1991. Today, the majority of his photography collection focuses on human bodies, often in sexually charged situations. He explains that this focus initially developed by instinct. ‘I didn’t have a clear idea of what direction the collection could take,’ he reveals. ‘But being a film director means that you are very close to actors, to emotions. I think a part of these photographs reflect this closeness to people.’

Man Ray (1890-1976), Noire et Blanche, 1926. Estimate €1,000,000-1,500,000. This lot is offered in Stripped Bare Photographs from the Collection of Thomas Koerfer on 9 November at Christie’s in Paris

Man Ray (1890-1976), Noire et Blanche, 1926. Estimate: €1,000,000-1,500,000. This lot is offered in Stripped Bare: Photographs from the Collection of Thomas Koerfer on 9 November at Christie’s in Paris

It was after acquiring two seminal photographs, Man Ray’s Noire et Blanche  (1926) — ‘the non-living mask actively stares at you, unlike the alive Kiki de Montparnasse, who seems to be asleep’ — and Paul Outerbridge’s Reclining Nude on Dark Green  (1937), that Koerfer became more interested in representation of the body. Over the next 25 years of his collecting career, it was ‘often the analytical quality’ of photographs that drew him towards them, the filmmaker explains.

Diane Arbus (1923-1971), Identical Twins, Roselle, N.J., 1966. 50.7 x 40.8  cm (20 x 16⅛  in). Estimate €400,000-600,000. This lot is offered in Stripped Bare Photographs from the Collection of Thomas Koerfer on 9 November at Christie’s in Paris

Diane Arbus (1923-1971), Identical Twins, Roselle, N.J., 1966. 50.7 x 40.8 cm (20 x 16⅛ in). Estimate: €400,000-600,000. This lot is offered in Stripped Bare: Photographs from the Collection of Thomas Koerfer on 9 November at Christie’s in Paris

Among the key works in his collection are prints by some of the medium’s most important female photographers: Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, Francesca Woodman and Nan Goldin. ‘I love that Arbus goes so far into the hidden part of society, the strange people, the outsiders, for whom she developed an obsession,’ Koerfer explains. ‘With these encounters and her taste for staging, she created such sharp and relevant images.’

Cindy Sherman (b. 1954), The Drunken Wife from the series Untitled (Murder Mystery People), 19762000. 25.5 x 20.2  cm (10 x 8  in). Estimate €8,000-10,000. This lot is offered in Stripped Bare Photographs from the Collection of Thomas Koerfer on 9 November at Christie’s in Paris

Cindy Sherman (b. 1954), The Drunken Wife from the series Untitled (Murder Mystery People), 1976/2000. 25.5 x 20.2 cm (10 x 8 in). Estimate: €8,000-10,000. This lot is offered in Stripped Bare: Photographs from the Collection of Thomas Koerfer on 9 November at Christie’s in Paris

‘Cindy Sherman represents different women in society, with her body always appearing in the photograph,’ observes Koerfer. ‘Nan Goldin is more open perhaps. [Hers] is another way of photography, depicting couples making love, drug addicts close to death….’ He is equally admiring of the sensitivity of Francesca Woodman, and the ‘intimate relationship between the camera and her body’ that her work presents.

‘I’m not sure whether it’s a gene or a neurosis to collect,’ Koerfer says with a laugh. Either way, collecting comes with a responsibility. ‘I've had the privilege to collect these photographs, to live with them, and now they will find new homes. It's good that this art can move on.’

Stripped Bare: Photographs from the Collection of Thomas Koerfer  will be offered on 9 November at Christie’s in Paris.