Tina Modotti - Passion & Humanity: The Susie Tompkins Buell Collection New York Thursday, April 4, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    From the photographer to Diego Rivera
    Private Collection
    Sotheby’s, New York, 14 April 1992, lot 217A
    Page Imageworks, San Francisco, as agent

  • Exhibited

    Tina Modotti: Photographs, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 17 December 1995 - 25 February 1996, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 28 March - 30 May 1996
    Object Lessons: Masterworks of Modernist Photography from Three Bay Area Collections, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 7 December 1995 - 10 March 1996
    Mexico as Muse: Tina Modotti and Edward Weston, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2 September 2006 - 2 January 2007
    Collected, Pier 24 Photography, San Francisco, 2 May 2016 - 31 January 2017

  • Literature

    Pier 24 Photography, Collected, pp. 111 and 113 (this print)
    Telegrafica Mexicana, Num. 30, April 1929, cover
    Lowe, Tina Modotti: Photographs, pl. 28
    Schultz, et al., Tina Modotti: Photographien & Dokumente, p. 53
    Hooks, Tina Modotti, pl. 5
    Sullivan, Women Photographers, pl. 48

  • Catalogue Essay

    In 1923, the Italian-born film actress and budding photographer Tina Modotti moved to Mexico City with her lover Edward Weston, and their time there was transformative for them both. In three crucial years in Mexico, Weston was introduced to a wholly new visual world that he would absorb and use in his work going forward. Modotti, who had lived in the city once before and already moved in the city’s artistic and political circles, was influenced by Mexico in a different way. While Weston had far more photographic experience, Modotti was a quick study and was soon creating images which were distinct in both content and aesthetic from her mentor’s.

    Modotti’s Telephone Wires, made in 1925, exemplifies how independent an artist Modotti had become during her time with Weston in Mexico. With its bold repetition of diagonal and crisscrossing lines, Telephone Wires has more in common with the Constructivist explorations of Alexander Rodchenko or László Moholy-Nagy’s New Vision than with Edward Weston’s brand of American Modernism. Modotti’s composition is infused with the energy coursing through its wires, and is as dynamic a symbol of the modern age as any she would create.

    Modotti made two studies of telephone or telegraph wires, and both were celebrated by the Estridentistas, a collective devoted to modernizing Mexico culturally. Modotti’s images of wires were perfect metaphors for the modernization and communication that the movement espoused. The Estridentistas’ goals were first articulated in the November 1926 issue of the journal Horizonte, which illustrated Modotti’s work alongside revolutionary Mexican artists such as José Clemente Orozco, Gabriel Fernández, and Diego Rivera, the original owner of this photograph. Modotti’s inclusion in this company was a sign of her acceptance within the visually and politically radical Mexican avant-garde.

    As of this writing, early prints of this image have been located in two institutional collections: The Museum of Modern, New York, and the Baltimore Museum of Art.


Telephone Wires, Mexico

Palladium print.
9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. (24.1 x 19.1 cm)
Signed and dated in pencil on the mount.

$250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for $692,000

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Passion & Humanity: The Susie Tompkins Buell Collection

New York Auction 4 April 2019