Alan Klotz was a photography dealer who was deeply passionate about his stock in trade.
He once wrote: “I rarely regret buying a photograph, but I am often sorry about selling some of them. And it’s not just because I feel the picture is under-valued, although at times that’s part of it. It’s often that somehow the picture has touched me in some real and vital way, and letting it go ( for “30 pieces of silver” ), makes me feel somehow diminished. I am, after all, I tell myself, a dealer…if I kept what I bought, I would be a collector…and I can’t afford to be a collector.”
Alan died on August 22, 2022 of heart failure. He was a beloved teacher, a photographic historian, a founding member of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD), and a dealer in contemporary and vintage photography for more than 42 years.
He received an M.F.A. in Photography with a specialization in History and Museum Practices from the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, NY where he studied under America’s pre- eminent photographic historian, Beaumont Newhall, Director of the George Eastman House. He rubbed shoulders with such notables as Nathan Lyons, Joan Lyons, Robert Frank, Frederick Sommer, and David Heath, acquiring a deep technical, historical, and philosophical appreciation of the medium.
Alan went on to teach history and criticism of photography at Rochester Institute of Technology., and later at Rhode Island School of Design, New York University/International Center for Photography, and Pratt Institute. He was a gifted teacher. He was erudite but never pedantic. His former students describe him as a captivating lecturer, a spellbinding storyteller, who motivated many of them to pursue careers as photographers, curators, and historians.
In 1980 he opened his first gallery, mounting exhibitions on the walls of his spacious Upper West Side apartment. Later he would establish public galleries first on 72nd street and Madison Avenue for three years and then for ten years in the heart of Chelsea on 25th Street off tenth. He was comfortable in neither place. He wrote about this in an unfinished memoir and the passage conveys a good sense of his keen observation and humor:
The first [gallery] was in a neighborhood of shoppers (my neighbor was Ralph Lauren Sport), and nannies from many elsewheres, were pushing other people’s babies in strollers. When I would go out to get lunch, the sidewalks were jammed with people burdened with logo festooned shopping bags, while the streets were curb to curb taxis, limos, and a steady stream of city buses. Yet, when I would leave the gallery at 7pm, there was hardly anyone to be seen. It was as if there had been an evacuation order which somehow had not reached me. You could shoot a cannon up Madison Avenue at 7:30 and not hit anything. I found it creepy…where was everybody?
Chelsea was a different story entirely, but equally discomfiting, and eventually equally off- putting. It had been a neighborhood of “light industry”, on Manhattan’s far west side. It was bordered by. . .the Meat-packing district on the south with flayed carcasses on hooks, which moved in ghostly procession on a chain-belt, two feet off the ground, from truck to warehouse where they would be trimmed and cut and packaged for your dinner table. The smell of blood, and dead meat was in the air everywhere. You couldn’t get it out of your nostrils. The backbone running up the middle of this “zone” was a disused and weed-choked elevated railway spur, soon to be “reimagined” as The Highline…a true miracle of urban reclamation. It used to bring trains, loaded with raw materials, into the local small factories which turned them into finished goods. These goods were then picked up by the returning trains and taken back through a tunnel under the Hudson to the Pennsylvania railyards in New Jersey, and from there shipped out to the rest of America. Various pressures caused the factories to close. The Highline saw its last train in 1969…then it just sat there, waiting and rusting.
Most of West Chelsea was made up of storage warehouses, taxi garages, scrap metal junkyards, abandoned, derelict buildings, and the west side highway, whose traffic tried to get past it as fast as it could without stopping. On the other hand, if you were interested in a transvestite hooker, and you weren’t averse to carrying a gun, this was the place for you. Storage warehouses were renting storage space for a mere $3/ square foot, and still the buildings were half empty. It was a shunned place.
Then one day, the DIA Art Foundation came around looking for cheap real estate to exhibit its art collection in a neighborhood not yet tainted by gentrification. A couple of galleries, priced out of the lofts of Soho, soon joined them…and the rest, as they say, is history.
When Alan’s lease expired and his landlord wanted to raise his rent by 50% Alan returned to his apartment and once again became a private dealer.
He made a special point of handling both contemporary and vintage photography, exhibiting international examples from all three centuries of photographic creativity. Although he intended to make a living buying and selling photographs, turning a hefty profit was never Alan’s forté. Dealing was an excuse to surround himself with pictures he loved, and dealing allowed him to continue his work as an educator and mentor, instructing collectors and curators to read more deeply into images.
He wanted people to see that photographs could be understood in many ways: aesthetically as works of art, with their own internal logic and coherence; as human artifacts embodying the lived experiences and idiosyncratic interests of individual photographers; and as historical artifacts embedded in the circumstantial web of a particular time and place – wellsprings of rich insights into the societies, cultures, and technologies that produced them.
Alan was a brilliant, lovable, exasperating character. He was omnivorously curious. He was a thespian, a comic, an opera singer manqué, a marvelous mimic and raconteur with a charming sense of whimsy. He was an avid reader and a gifted writer. He enjoyed the precise and arcane terminology of different professions, and relished the delicious mouth-feel of the right word and the right expression. He was a concertgoer and cinephile; an afficionado of baseball and football. He had an awesome memory for song lyrics, poetry, sports trivia and performance stats.
He was fiercely loyal to his friends and generous despite his chronically precarious finances.
He also had a short fuse. He could be easily provoked, by bureaucratic idiocy, or if he thought he was being disrespected or his lifetime of professional experience and historical knowledge was being undervalued. But, except for a few rare instances, he could never nurse his anger or grievance for long. His fundamentally genial nature would soon sweep away the negativity.
He was a hopeless romantic, easily moved to empathetic tears by tales of tenderness, love, and self-sacrifice, and the innocence of children, or moved to tears of rage and exasperation by stories of cruelty, injustice, and stupidity.
He was a social being. He craved the company of friends and lovers and after the demise of his marriages he fretted about living alone bereft of touching and being touched. He reached out constantly by phone and text message to knit together a global community of friends and he treated the employees at his gallery like a surrogate family.
He loved to cook. He loved to eat. He was a gourmet and a gourmand. He could rhapsodize at length about the attributes of different dishes. He loved entertaining and being entertained. To set out a feast and revel in the hubbub and effervescence of lively conversation was the height of happiness for him.
He was a big person (he fancied himself a large, huggable, bear) with a big imagination and enormous appetites for life and all its pleasures. Those who were close to him would urge him to curb his appetites because they knew sooner or later, they would doom him. His appetites were his undoing, but they were also his essence. He wanted to devour everything interesting life had to offer.
Even as a gathering cascade of health problems limited his mobility, stamina, vision and hearing he never ceased being an optimist. He loved being alive and he didn’t want to spend time thinking about death and dying, or taxes and utility bills. After a day of attending to gallery business he would settle himself in his capacious armchair with his dinner on a side table and stream a mystery drama or watch nature documentaries that delighted his sense of wonder.
Although he could no longer play sports himself, he took visceral pleasure in watching a well- executed pass, or a neatly turned double play. He loved to garden. As his ability to labor in a garden diminished, he became a dedicated fantasy gardener, browsing mail-order nursery catalogues every winter and cultivating beautiful flowerbeds in his imagination. In his mind, spring, both literally and figuratively, was always just around the corner, until, at last, it wasn’t.
Honoring the work and generosity of Alan Klotz:
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