The photography department at Lempertz auction house in Cologne, Germany, is run by the two-person team of Dr. Christine Nielsen and Maren Klinge, who joined the firm within a month of each other in 2007.
Born in Düsseldorf, Nielsen earned a PhD in art history from the University of Bonn, where her dissertation focused on modern architecture in Germany in the 1920s. “I came into contact with photography as a scientific source early on,” she says. After a two-year traineeship at an agency that supported regional museums, she worked on a German/Polish research project on arts and architecture, researching late 19th- and early 20th-century photographs and materials at the Herder Institute in Marburg.
Klinge, who was born in Hanover, was captivated by photography early on. She received her first camera as a gift from her father when she was 14 years old. “I was fascinated by the ‘magical’ work in the darkroom,” she says, “so I finally installed a darkroom in my home.” Klinge also had a high school art teacher who was interested enough in photography to take her students to exhibitions of work by Umbo and Hans Finsler, among others. Klinge studied art history with a focus on the New Vision photographers of the 1920s, eventually writing her masters thesis at the Humbold-Universität in Berlin on the Bauhaus photograph Moï Ver. A stint as an intern at the Kicken Gallery followed. “Rudolf Kicken was very inspiring for me,” she says. “Working in his gallery opened my eyes to what the word ‘quality’ in photography really means.”
Given her background in New Vision photographers, it is not surprising that a László Moholy-Nagy portrait of the actress Ellen Frank, which sold in 2013 for €52,000, was a particular highlight for her. “It’s a strong close up, very direct, very cinematic,” she says.
Both experts point to the sale of Albert Renger-Patzsch’s 1929 The Bäumchen as a highlight of their careers: the work sold last fall for €136,400, after a bidding war. “It is not only one of the most beautiful and most important works by this photographer,” says Klinge, “but here we had this large-format print in absolutely excellent condition, matted and signed by the photographer himself.”
“Lempertz has been offering works by contemporary photographers in the contemporary art sales for seven years now,” adds Nielsen, and German-born artists often do well in those sales, including Thomas Demand, Wolfgang Tillmans, and photographers from the Düsseldorf School who studied with Bernd and Hilla Becher. But on the other end of the market, Nielsen says she has noticed a growing interest in early abstract photography from the prewar and postwar eras, including photograms, chemigrams, and light drawings. When the firm offered a sale of vintage NASA photographs in 2013, says Klinge, “the interest from the media and collectors was overwhelming, and the collection was completely sold out.” The total for the sale was €109,500.
The Lempertz sale on June 3 will include vintage architecture photographs from the 1920s and ‘30s as well as another great image by Renger-Patzsch, his 1925 Natternkopf, which Klinge calls “a great example of his ability to condense reality to very strong, graphic structures.”