Modernism, a period rich in both figural and abstract works, enriched by Meredith Ward’s expert knowledge

by leslierankowfinearts

One of the most enjoyable and engaging collections that I work on focuses on Modernist art. It begins with an artist the clients first collected themselves, a great collection of prints by  the American regionalist, Thomas Hart Benton, and has developed in the last ten  years to include works by painters Gallatin, Joseph Stella, and John Marin and sculptors  Paul Manship, Frishmuth and Jennewein, to name a few . The reason this collection is such a pleasure to develop is two-fold. The collectors are a wonderful couple who have become not only dedicated and extremely knowledgeable clients but also wonderful friends. The period of works in the collection,  dating from the 1920s through 1950s, is a fascinating one since it is rich in both abstract and figural styles and affords us the opportunity not only to explore a variety of mediums- sculpture, watercolor, gouache – but also the diversity of subject matter, both representational and abstract.  Meredith Ward, an impassioned dealer and expert in American modernism, is extremely well-versed in the art of this period and its many facets and is a source of great information and work.

In our first blog, Meredith compares the qualities and criteria in evaluating both modern and contemporary art. Here we continue the dialogue.

WHEN YOU ARE LOOKING AT CONTEMPORARY WORK, DO YOU HAVE THE SAME AESTHETIC CHECKLIST? IN WHAT WAYS DOES LOOKING TRANSCEND THE PERIOD AND IN WHAT WAYS IS IT CHARACTERIZED BY THE MOMENT IN WHICH IT IS CREATED?

For me, it’s a very similar process. Just like with a modernist work, I look for contemporary art that is not only emblematic of the time in which it is created but also has a capacity to go beyond passing fashion. It’s my experience that works of the best quality by definition have a kind of timelessness.

YOU HAVE CREATED A WONDERFUL NICHE IN THE AREA OF THE AMERICAN ABSTRACT ARTISTS OF THE 30s and 40s. WHAT ARE THE SIGNATURE CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PERIOD?

The American Abstract Artists was a group of artists that established themselves in the mid-1930s to promote abstract art in America. It is generally non-objective, that is without a clearly identifiable subject, and focuses on pure color and pure form.

WHICH ARTISTS DOES IT INCLUDE? IN WHAT WAYS ARE THEY SIMILAR AND IN WHAT WAYS DO THEY DIFFER?

Artists in the group include Charles Biederman, Werner Drewes, Frederick Kann, George L.K. Morris, and Charles Shaw. Each of them had a signature way of working. Some were more influenced by international artistic trends,while others had a very distinct American inflection. Morris, for example, painted works with Native American themes, and Shaw used the New York City skyline as inspiration. Biederman and Kann were very international in their sources and later influence.

YOU HAVE A STRONG AND SERIOUS COMMITMENT TO THE AMERICAN MODERNIST SPIRIT? WHAT ATTRACTS YOU TO IT?

American modernism is fascinating because it is the earliest expression of the avant-garde in this country, which, prior to the second World War, had not been a particularly welcoming place for “the new”. Most institutions and collectors in the United States were pretty conservative in their taste, so it was really a courageous thing for American artists in the early 20th century to venture out into these radical new styles.

ON A BUSINESS NOTE, HOW DO YOU FIND WORKS TO BUY AND SELL AS THIS MARKET IS OBVIOUSLY FINITE EXCEPT FOR THE FLOW IN THE SECONDARY MARKET OF WORKS THAT COME FROM SELLERS OR AUCTION?

I have relationships with private collectors who from time to time decide they want to sell something in their collection. I also get requests from clients who are looking for something specific and help them acquire it either from other collectors, dealers, or at auction.

Next time, Meredith will enlighten us on the specific demands and considerations that the management of an artist’s estate requires. If you have any questions or comments, please join in the dialogue!