HIGH STYLE AND SOPHISTICATION
PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE COLLECTION OF GERT ELFERING
Photographs have been a life-long passion for collector Gert Elfering. As a younger man he worked as a photographer and this practical involvement sharpened his appreciation of the achievements of the great image-makers who inspired him. He was particularly drawn to the world of fashion, beauty and high style that he discovered in Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and other leading international magazines -- striking and sophisticated images by a distinguished roster of photographers led by such masters as Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton and Irving Penn. In as much as Elfering was able to satisfy his instincts as a collector, it was at first through the acquisition of books -- the printed media that were a key point of interface between photographers and their audiences. For all these reasons he has preserved to this day a strong interest in the published image.
Elfering's enterprising spirit took his career in other directions and he eventually found himself in the fortunate position of being able to collect, in the form of rare original prints, the pictures that he had found so seductive. Trusting his passion and instinct, he built a remarkable collection that reflected the strength of a strong individual sensibility. Elfering recognised the quality and importance of so many images that had all too frequently been marginalised by traditionalist historians and curators. He challenged the received wisdoms that questioned the artistic integrity of photographers who worked to commissions in editorial and other commercial contexts. The reality that his collection so emphatically asserted is that major magazine publishers and commercial clients have been among the most important patrons of photography over the last half century or more. They have been enabling agents, providing extraordinary opportunities -- and a significant showcase -- within a highly competitive world in which talent and individuality can nonetheless truly flourish.
A first sale of photographs from Elfering's collection was held by Christie's in 2005, while a second sale in April last year focused exclusively on the work of Horst P. Horst. The October 2005 sale situated centre-stage in the art market exemplary works by the photographers Elfering admired. This critical mass of splendid images by Avedon, Newton and Penn, by Peter Beard, Robert Mapplethorpe, Herb Ritts and other influential practitioners shifted the balance of power in the marketplace, spotlighting the imagination, vision and creativity of this register of photographers, siting them emphatically at the very heart of the story of post-war photography, and confirming their claim to a high curatorial and commercial status. The tightly focused sale of work by Horst held last April presented iconic images in the form of the very finest prints available, many in platinum and a number of these the very rare versions on linen.
While collecting has been an obsession for Elfering, he realises with the passage of time that the satisfactions derived from this activity are not dependent on avaricious ownership. He values all that he has learned and enjoyed through the process of building a collection -- the research, the close appreciation of great prints, and of course the many privileged encounters with photographers. And he has come to recognise that his pursuit of knowledge and aesthetic nourishment through collecting is all the more enjoyable and worthwhile if he can find contexts in which to share his passion. It was to this end that he opened a gallery in Berlin, Camera Work, shortly after the re-unification of Germany. This gave him the chance to organise exhibitions, to define his articles of faith within the field and to reach out to fellow devotees.
But Elfering is by nature someone who cannot remain static. He has lived through an important and now widely influential phase as a collector, and is already pursuing other interests in photography, working more closely with younger artists -- such as Matthias Schaller -- and exploring publishing and other opportunities to communicate with wider audiences. This progression has a strong logic. It owes something to his early engagement with photography through magazines and books, and to his long-standing interest in great artist books of the last century. Elfering also graciously acknowledges that he has derived considerable pleasure from the process of making auction catalogues through which he can express and share his specific commitments to the medium. The present catalogue principally comprises works that Gert Elfering had decided to keep back for himself as a distillation of his interests. The decision to present these prints at auction was perhaps an inevitable one for someone who recognises that our relationships with works of art can be all the more satisfying for being both intense and fluid.