EVEN on an empty afternoon in Georgetown, no weekend aesthetes Volvoing in from the suburbs, no crowd shuffling from picture to picture here at Lunn Gallery, Harry H. Lunn Jr.'s blue eyes snap, bald head gleams, beard bristles. He scrunches up in a burgundy velvet baronial chair and keeps tugging at his socks. Energy! If there were any more of it he'd be grinding his teeth and mopping the palms of his hands on his gray flannels.
Says a recent issue of Art in America: "Lunn is an anomaly in Washington, the city's only example of a powerhouse international [art] dealer, but he shows that it can happen here."
An anomaly: in a business which is stupid-got with gentility and smarmy with dilettantes, Harry Lunn has a humongous vitality.
"There are 2,500 Robert Frank photographs," he is saying. "We'll sell them at 250 a year. I may have already sold 83 of the first 250, 83 gone [Snap! go the fingers]. I've bought the first two years' worth, and I have options on the last eight years, at increasingly higher prices. Since I'm going to be paying more, you're going to be paying more."
And here they come, Lunn dealing them out like gin rummy cards, Frank photographs all over the library table Lunn got when he bought the entire inventory of the Peter Deitsch galleries in New York.
But civility always prevails, the well-channeled appetites of a 45-year-old man who likes little better than a three-star restaurant in France, or an evening of roulette in Deauville (Harry Lunn never gambles in this county). Or the memory of his first show of Ansel Adams photographs in Georgetown, in January 1971, when the little kid came in with the piggy bank and smashed it and picked $150 out of the shards to buy an Adams. Which is now worth at least $1,000. Harry Lunn laughs and laughs to think of it all.
And he's just done it again. He's cornered the market in Robert Frank, who was kind enough (to investment-minded collectors) to stop taking photographs in the '60s, after defining the postwar American zeitgeist like no one else.
"I prefer to say that I organize the market," he says.
And what will the photographs be selling for?
"About $700 to $1,200. But by the time I get through with a few years of merchandising, they'll be more," Lunn says, with the air of a man for whom mere existence is enough to provoke a licking of chops.
"I think I was the first to make large markets. I organize the market, I invest in it, I define it. So other dealers know then exactly where they stand. I send out announcements, I make phone calls, I sit back and wait to see who buys."
Lunn is famous, now, for buying 1,000 Ansel Adams photographs in 1974 and 1975, back when they still cost as little as $350 at retail. "Ansel had been with Witkin in New York. But Lee Witkin didn't want to make that kind of commitment."
Lunn is also principal dealer for the estates of Diane Arbus and Walker Evans. For Lee Friedlander and Washington's John Gossage. For the drawings of Kevin MacDonald, whom he's put on monthly retainer, and the oil paintings of Michael Clark, whose entire show he bought, five days before he hung it last year. (And eschewed the customary Gallo Hearty Burgundy for a hard-liquor opening.)
Lunn opened his first gallery on Capitol Hill in 1968, under a dark but glamorous cloud. Art world gossip even went so far as to hint that Lunn, as a CIA agent, had ripped off some South American or Asian or African village for huge amounts of money and brought it back to invest in art.
"It would have been a lot easier," Lunn says, but the closest he got to an underdeveloped country with the CIA was Paris. Not that Harry was in the CIA, mind you. But: "I'll give you the facts and you can think what you want."
After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1954, Lunn spent the next 15 years in an odd shuttle between the Pentagon and yes, the good old National Student Association, rising to the directorship of something called the Foundation for Youth and Student Affairs, which quietly collapsed after the famous Ramparts article of 1967 detailing CIA funding and manipulation of student organizations.
Fortunately, he'd been dabbling in Capitol Hill real estate since 1958 - "I've had two great ideas in my life - Capitol Hill and photography." And along with his French wife he'd been buying prints in Paris since the early '60s. So he came back to Washington, to deal property and prints.
"I sold real estate like mad. I'm responsible for getting McDonald's that location on Pennsylvania AVenue, a nice fat commission," Lunn says, triumph igniting his face again. "I rented a gallery space with an upstairs neighbor whose bathtub kept overflowing. I grossed $62,000 that first year. I've always been in the black."
This past fiscal year, Lunn grossed $1.38 million, which is why he wishes he hadn't had to sell 85 percent of the business to backers to capitalize it in the beginning. Then again, Harry Lunn has always relished leverage, cornering - or organizing - whole markets with somebody else's money.
He also like collecting art. He likes collecting anything, he says, starting with silver snuffboxes when he was 12 and is so fascinated with Paul Revere and the American Revolution he took silversmithing lessons. His personal taste in photography runs to the Photo-Secession, and to one of its obscurer members, Heinrich Kuhn. On the other hand, he isn't afraid of old chestnuts either - a copy of Stieglitz's "The Steerage" hangs in his home.
He doesn't handle many local artists, but he likes and supports the ones he does, putting his money where his taste is.
On this particular afternoon, for instance, he flips through Kevin MacDonald's latest Portfolio of drawings: "I like that," he says, making judgements crisp as celery snapping. "The chain-link fence in that one is a little busy - what I like is the water in the pool," he says, floating the drawing back into the portfolio.
They agree to negotiate sometime in the future.
"I have two positions," MacDonald says. "My first position and my last position."
"Let's start with your last position," Lunn says. "Then I'll give you my last position." Everybody laughs. Lunn means it, but everybody laughs and laughs.