Philanthropist and collector Henry Buhl owns nearly 1,100 photographs of hands. His collection, which features works from the likes of Gregory Crewdson and Diane Arbus, has been presented in institutions around the world, including New York’s Guggenheim and the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg.
Did you set out only to buy works featuring hands?
It was purely by accident. I was a wedding photographer, and one day a girlfriend showed me a silver gelatin print of Georgia O’Keeffe’s hands called “Hands with Thimble” (1920) by Alfred Stieglitz, which was for sale at $75,000. In October 1993, Christie’s had a palladium platinum identical image estimated at $100,000-$150,000 (€71,000-€106,000). The seller [we were dealing with] took half of the high-end estimate of Christie’s $150,000 to arrive at our $75,000 price (a silver gelatin generally sells for half that of a palladium platinum print). The Christie’s Stieglitz sold for $398,000 (€283,000), pricing my Stieglitz theoretically at $200,000 (€142,000). A great two-day profit. Six months later I purchased my second photograph of hands. It went on and on.
Something about them struck me. They are beautiful and utilitarian. Our brain signals our hands to do almost everything we have to do. They are necessary to life.
How do you buy?
We get most from Hans P Kraus Jr Fine Photographs in New York. I have also been going to Art Basel in Switzerland and Miami for years. When most galleries see a hand they know I don’t own, they send it to me. I say yay or nay. I collect emotionally.
What will you do with your collection?
I can imagine it will eventually be sold individually or as a unit. The money will go to a foundation that I’ve set up.