Master Collector Shows His Hands

“Hand Picked: Selections From the Buhl Collection,” will open Saturday at the Southampton Arts Center
Henry Buhl with a portion of his vast collection

In 1973, after 30 successful years in the financial industry, Henry Buhl brought a new camera to his cousin’s wedding. The bride and groom preferred his photographs to the ones taken by the professional photographer they had hired, and a second career was born. He began to receive commissions to photograph art and fashion events for society magazines, and he opened a studio in SoHo.

Twenty years later, he started collecting photographs, the first being a 1920 image of Georgia O’Keeffe’s hands taken by Alfred Stieglitz. In the ensuing years, he amassed a collection of more than 1,000 images of hands and 150 hand sculptures. 

“Hand Picked: Selections From the Buhl Collection,” which will open Saturday at the Southampton Arts Center, includes 111 photographs and 33 sculptures of hands selected by Mr. Buhl and Ryan Russo, an artist and curator of the collection. An opening reception will take place Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m., and Mr. Buhl will lead a gallery tour on Sunday at noon.

With works dating from 1840, the collection encompasses the history of photography. In part because of its theme — hands — and Mr. Buhl’s commitment to represent as many artistic styles as possible, the collection is considered a unique example of the vast range of 19th and 20th-century photographs.

A major exhibition of photographs from the Buhl Collection was held at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and subsequently traveled to Spain, Germany, and Russia. Other exhibitions from the collection have been mounted at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach and museums in Korea, Taiwan, and Macao.

In 2016, Sotheby’s sold most of the collection at auction for $12.3 million, the highest ever for a private collection of photographs. However, Mr. Buhl continues to collect. The photographs in the center’s exhibition were not part of the sale, and they include works by Fernando Botero, Man Ray, Pablo Picasso, August Rodin, and Bruce Nauman.

While Mr. Buhl, who has a loft in SoHo and an estate in Southampton, had been approached by many museums to donate his collection, he opted to sell it and give the proceeds to the Buhl Foundation, which supports the homeless, the arts, and education for the underprivileged.

His history of philanthropy includes the founding of the SoHo Partnership, which is dedicated to providing “employment readiness training and job placement to recovering homeless individuals through community improvement projects in SoHo,” according to its website.