THE APPRAISERS ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA, ESTABLISHED IN 1949, IS THE PREMIER NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF PERSONAL PROPERTY APPRAISERS WHO FOCUS ON FINE AND DECORATIVE ARTS. WITH A MEMBERSHIP OF OVER 750 INDEPENDENT APPRAISERS AND AFFILIATED PROFESSIONALS IN 100 DIFFERENT AREAS OF SPECIALIZATION, THE APPRAISERS ASSOCIATION’S ROSTER OF WELL-ESTABLISHED PROFESSIONALS HAS THE WIDEST RANGE OF EXPERIENCE AND EXPERTISE IN THEIR RESPECTIVE FIELDS.
IT MAKES PERFECT SENSE THAT ELLERY KURTZ, WHO HAS BEEN DEEPLY INVOLVED IN THE WORLD OF AMERICAN ART AND ITS MARKET, WOULD DECIDE TO ADD TO HIS ALREADY IMPRESSIVE CREDENTIALS IN THIS FIELD BY BECOMING A MEMBER OF THE APPRAISERS ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA.
ELLERY, HOW DID THIS ALL EVOLVE?
I have worked in four major New York galleries over time, all of which specialized in American Art: Kennedy Galleries; Andrew Crispo Gallery; Spanierman Gallery; and Godel & Co. In some ways all of them were the same. The business process and marketing techniques were really quite similar. But each gallery had its own sense of style, some of which was due to the age of the gallery or the age of the owners. One of the main differences between Spanierman Gallery and Godel was that at Spanierman we changed the exhibition every 4-6 weeks. A catalogue was usually produced for each exhibition. With an inventory of literally thousands of works of art, which included a number of artist estates, the gallery had to employ 2-3 dozen people.
While at Godel, with an inventory of around 500 works of art, the gallery only required 6-7 employees. What was hung was usually a cross-section of different periods and styles which was pulled from the bins. As one came down for sale or loan, another work would be pulled from the bins to replace it. In my fifteen years at Godel only two special exhibitions were held with an accompanying catalogue, both still life exhibitions. Ira and Howard are about as different from one another as two people could be personality wise, other than their appreciation of American Art of course which is why we were all there. One similarity stands out. Both allowed a high level of autonomy to their sales staff which was extremely beneficial for both businesses.
YOU ARE ALSO A LICENSED APPRAISER AND A CERTIFIED MEMBER OF THE DISTINGUISHED APPRAISERS ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA. WHAT ARE THE SERVICES THAT YOU PROVIDE?
Yes, I am a Certified Member of the Appraisers Association of America. I do not believe there is such a thing as a “licensed” art appraiser. I think that term only applies to Real Property appraisers, those who appraise real estate. Mostly I have written insurance appraisals and appraisals for clients who are donating art work to an appropriate institution and several estate appraisals.
HOW DO YOU EVALUATE A WORK FOR INSURANCE PURPOSES OR FOR ESTATE PURPOSES?
When I first became an appraiser in 2003 I struggled a bit with the fact that the same painting can have different values based upon the circumstances and purpose of the appraisal. Coming from a strictly commercial side of the art world I always understood that there was an asking price and then there was a selling price. But the difference was arbitrary and ambiguous. For assorted reasons a seller would not take less than…. while a buyer would not pay more than. Sometimes it depended upon current bank account status and cash flow, while at other times it might depend upon what a spouse might think.
As an appraiser, I am always looking at that spread, both at private galleries and auctions. Drawing comparisons and deciding upon proper valuation is determined as much by the artwork and the market as it is by the current circumstances. An appraisal for insurance purposes is always going to be the highest value that can be assigned, while an appraisal for a work of art being donated will usually be assigned a somewhat lower value. With an estate appraisal you have to also consider the market at the time of death which usually has me looking back a little bit in time to understand the market at that moment.
HOW MUCH DO CONDITION AND PROVENANCE AFFECT THE VALUE OF A WORK?
For me condition is a crucial factor. Sometimes even more than the artist of the painting. If a painting is a wreck then, as a dealer, I have zero interest in the painting. None. As an appraiser I must take condition into consideration to place a value on it and naturally that greatly affects value. Most collectors and museums are very picky about condition and they should be.
Provenance is important but that falls below who the artist was and the overall quality of the painting itself. Who owned the painting or where it might have been exhibited or illustrated might give a greater level of importance because of how it was accepted by famous and sometime astute collectors as well as how well-known it became. But you can be sure that there are private collectors and families who own magnificent paintings that have not been seen for many decades which are equally important and often in much better condition because they have been treasured objects hidden away from public view for so long.
HOW MUCH DOES THE PERIOD IN WHICH THE WORK WAS CREATED AFFECT ITS VALUE?
Paintings of the Hudson River School can be as valuable as a Modernist work. So period is important when you apply it to how it can be placed. Obviously, a collector who concentrates solely on Hudson River School paintings will place a higher value on a great luminist work, while a collector of Modernism will be willing to place similar or higher values on a well composed and brilliant work by one of the Stieglitz Group. I only see period as relevant to a collector’s personal taste or a certain direction that a museum is focusing on to grow their collection.
HOW MUCH DOES SCALE OF THE WORK AND MEDIUM AFFECT THE VALUE?
Scale varies too as a value factor. But all things being equal, such as condition, artist, quality, and provenance, then usually the larger works do have greater value. When an artist is known for working in a certain medium then that does require additional consideration as well. Many artists are known for their watercolors and those can sometimes bring prices as high as an oil painting, while others did watercolors more for sketching immediate impressions. Some excel at one, some at the other. You have to take each artist independently when you consider medium.
YOU LECTURE ON AMERICAN ART. PLEASE TELL US ABOUT THE APPRAISERS ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA SERIES.
The AAA has a lecture series each year which are given at The National Arts Club. Last October, I gave a lecture entitled American Modernism: 1900-1950, in which I discussed the beginnings of the movement and its rise as well as discussing values of paintings, both long past and recent by focusing on similar paintings sold at various times or even the same painting being sold repetitively.
I like to think that I have a different take on the art world than some dealers because I have been on all sides of the business. I started out as an art lover, became an artist, moved on to becoming a “gallerist” with many different positions from entry level to directorship, became a collector and finally an appraiser. Joan Collins once sang, I have looked at love from both sides now. If I could sing, which I can’t, I might sing I have looked at love from all sides now.
THE LRFA BLOG APPRECIATES THE OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THE GALLERIES AND MARKET SPECIALIZING IN AMERICAN ART FROM SOMEONE SO WELL-VERSED WITH ALL ITS ASPECTS. ELLERY, THANK YOU SO MUCH!
IN OUR NEXT POST, WE WELCOME JULIA WEHKAMP, THE CO-FOUNDER OF ONE ART NATION, A WONDERFUL ONLINE SOURCE FOR ART–RELATED EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS, INTERVIEWS AND SEMINARS BOTH FOR THE COLLECTOR AND FOR PROFESSIONALS IN THE ART WORLD.
PLEASE JOIN US!