May 2014



Lucien Clergue, Nu de la mer, Camargue, 1966, Gelatin silver print, vintage


Spencer Throckmorton owns one of the most exciting art galleries in the United States. Located in New York, Throckmorton Fine Art exhibits, among many other art works, outstanding photographers from around the world. Spencer’s personal collection of photographs, from classic to contemporary, is extensive and remarkable. He was kind enough to share some of his history and discuss their next exhibition of Lucien Clergue’s photography via telephone with SXSE contributor Victoria Amador.

SXSE: Thanks for taking time to talk with us, Spencer. So let’s begin by discussing your background. I know you studied at Virginia Commonwealth University. 

Spencer Throckmorton: I was studying art history.

SXSE: What drew you to Mexican and Latin American culture? Had you travelled there? Is that how you became interested?

ST: I just became interested in survey courses at the college and I took one and became interested in Latin America. Also, I really liked the surreal and magical quality of the works and the use of color and portrayal of the everyday there. After graduation, I went to live in Latin America; I went to live in Guatemala.

SXSE: What year was that? What was that like?

ST: 1972. It was like going back in time. It was very, very sleepy and it was before the war with the indigenous peoples and guerrillas, so it was a sleepy time. Then at the end it became dangerous because of persecution of the Indians. So I left in 1976.

SXSE: Did you travel all over while you were there? Is that how you got to meet some of the photographers you’re interested in?

ST: Yes. I was travelling all over. I would go and visit Manuel A. Bravo, Graciela Iturbide, and Flor Garduno in Mexico and started to collect their work in the ‘70s. I didn’t become a photography dealer until 1993.

SXSE: Were you aware of Frida Kahlo at that time? And what about her father, Guillermo?

ST: I started collecting in the ‘70s photographs of Frida Kahlo. I was buying images of Frida for years, before many had any interest in the works. At the time, more focus was placed on her paintings, so this gave me an opportunity to buy and buy which grew to become one of the largest holdings of images of the artist. As with Frida I also purchased her father’s work. It would also seem that after so many years of buying images of her and seeing a span of her life, that I knew her personally, as if seeing her life in motion via photographs, she was not camera shy. And I published the book Portraits of an Icon in 2002. And it became a travelling exhibit that ended up at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

SXSEI saw it! I was living in Britain at the time and so lucky to see it. It was wonderful.

ST: Wow! You saw it! That’s great.

SXSE: Did your interest in Frida lead you to her father’s work?

ST: Well, I got interested in him because I was interested in the churches in Mexico and loving them; I then came across his work in the ‘70s. I was able to acquire his actual large album of all of his work that he kept. I got it from Simon Lewinsky at his gallery. And he carried Guatemalan photographers, so then I bought Luis Gonzales Palma’s work from him and then carried on.

SXSE: You’re also interested in sculpture and pre-Columbian art. Did you by any chance know Vincent Price, who was a major collector of that work in the 1950s and ‘60s?

ST: I didn’t, but I know he was an avid collector and one of the first in the 1950s to collect. So was John Huston. But they were in LA and I was in New York and didn’t get out there very often then.

SXSE: So from your undergraduate studies and your time in Latin America, you decided to be a gallery owner? 

ST: I wanted to be a dealer, and I didn’t know I would end up being a gallery owner and gallerist. But I worked for other galleries and then I moved to New York in 1978, and in 1980 I opened my first gallery. I also started with my own collecting, as with most dealers we all are collectors at heart!

SXSE: Has the profession changed?

ST: The profession has changed a lot over the years; there is certainly more interest in Latin arts.

SXSE: What brought you to New York? Was it the art scene at that time?

ST: Yeah, it was the art scene. Everything was happening in New York. It is the center of the art world, so….it drew me here and I was able to survive and stay and expand. I moved from 86th Street to 61st in ’93. And in 2001, I was able to move to 57th street.

SXSE: Were you very much a part of that scene at the time? Did you know people like Mapplethorpe?

ST: No, the person I knew in photography at that time was Daniel Wulz, and then Erin Rose. Through their contacts came my entry into the photography world and being a dealer in photography.

SXSE: Who was the big gallerist at that time? Was it Leo Castelli?

ST: Yeah, he was the big one for fine art, but for photography, Daniel Wulz was on 57th Street. He was major. And after him came Howard Greenberg and Edwynn Houk and the whole development of the photography market.

SXSE: Do you work as an artist yourself?

ST: No!

SXSE: Well that was very succinct! 

ST: No! (laughing)

SXSE: Obviously you’re a creative person to do what you do, so do you think that collecting has a kind of artistry to it?

ST: Yeah, I do. I think it does.

SXSE: Which photographers do you feel are the most representative of your own personal aesthetic? 

ST: This one is a hard question, because overall I feel that my taste is diverse, I would not be in the field if I did not enjoy it. The art work represents my own personal aesthetic, eclectic.

SXSE: In terms of your aesthetic, then, what do you bring to your collecting?

ST: I’m interested in things that are rare. I’m interested in things that are unique, and as a collector, you learn that early on. So you look for the hidden values and the hidden qualities of a photograph.

SXSE: What is it about the hidden qualities then of Latin American and Mexican photography? Do you think that’s linked to religious iconography or landscape?

ST: Yes, both. But it’s also related to surrealism.

SXSE: Lucien Clergue’s artistry is the focus of your next exhibition. What draws you to his work?

ST: He is a master of light and form.


Lucien Clergue, Habillé de lumière, Santa Barbara, 2002, Gelatin Silver Print

SXSEHow did you first meet him?

ST: I started collecting his work in the nineties, and when his former gallery here in New York closed, I approached Lucien and said we would love to represent him. He came on board, and we’ve been doing really well with his work.

SXSEWhere is he located now?

ST: He’s in Arles. He’s also the president of the French Academy this year. He’s an amazing photographer. And one of the interesting things about him is that MOMA bought one of his photographs in 1961, and they were the first U.S. museum to acquire his work.

SXSEWhat drew you to him?

ST: I liked his female nudes in the water because of the interplay of the water and the human body and the skin. There was a great originality to it and playfulness that great photographers sometimes have. He is in the tradition of Man Ray, [Henri] Cartier-Bresson. To me he is France’s greatest living photographer at the moment.

SXSECan you share a personal story about him with us?

ST: What I can say about Lucien is that for someone that has met everyone that is anyone in the last century he is the most humble and charismatic person you will ever meet, a gifted storyteller and a witty personality.

SXSEHow has the perception of photography as an art form changed over the past 35 years?

ST: It seems collectors want and are buying larger format works of art. As young people become more aware of the image…we’ve always been so accustomed to images that they’ve become a part of our daily lives. We’re exposed to so much of it that it’s reassuring to collect photography because you have it around you, and it sort of fills that void of modern day—way we’re going. It’s very comforting in a way.

SXSEBut you don’t take photographs yourself?

ST: I do, but mine are more documentary photographs than they are art photographs.


Lucien Clergue, Un été en Toscane, Italie, 1993, Gelatin Silver Print, Vintage

SXSEDo you have any favorite Southern photographers you’ve collected, since we’re doing this interview for SXSE magazine?

ST: I like Jack Spencer. I like his work a lot; I think it’s very, very strong, very iconic, and I think in a way it relates to the South very clearly.

SXSEWhat advice can you offer then for future photography collectors? What should people do if they want to start? Because I was in a gallery in Santa Fe a couple of months ago, and an Annie Leibovitz of the Blues Brothers was going for $65,000.

ST: Buy what you like and what you can afford, in the end you need to enjoy the works! It’s interesting that photography has risen to such heights in price. But there is still a lot of photography out there that’s reasonably priced for under $5,000. You can acquire Mapplethorpes for that, Annie Leibovitz, Stephen Shore, so it’s still possible. And there are so many young, good photographers coming onto the scene, and that to me is very exciting. We are always looking at work every day.

SXSEFinally, Spencer, here’s an “interviewer’s question” for you. There’s a fire. You can only save three images from your collection. Which three would they be?

ST: If I had to choose just three photographs from my collection, one would be Imogen Cunningham’s photo of Frida Kahlo from 1930. One would be Edward Weston’s “Pepper,” and I would think of one of my favourites – Lucien’s zebra series, his initial New York zebra series, which is a play of shadows on nudes. They are phenomenal.