Meredith Ward, Modernist dealer, informs us on the dynamics of managing an artist’s estate and museum sales
In working with historical material, a gallery often represents the artist’s estate and not the living artist. It is crucial to honor the family’s best interests and, at the same time, make works available to the collecting public and maintain the quality of works and prices that will further enhance the artist’s reputation and currency in the market. An art form in itself! Meredith Ward represents the estate of John Marin, a master of watercolor and painting and one of the first artists to be represented by Albert Stieglitz’s celebrated modernist 291 Gallery in New York City. Marin had been introduced to Stieglitz by photographer, Edward Steichen, and his association with this pivotal advocate of modernist art and spirit, would last nearly forty years. It is a great insight into the nuances of the modernist art market to have Meredith share her knowledge of artists’ estate management with us.
YOU REPRESENT ONE OF THE MOST DISTINGUISHED MODERNIST ESTATES, THAT OF JOHN MARIN. TELL US HOW THIS REPRESENTATION CAME ABOUT. WHAT ARE THE PARTICULAR RESPONSIBILITIES OF A GALLERY WHEN IT REPRESENTS AN ESTATE? WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS AS ITS REPRESENTATIVE?
I met the Marin family while I was at Richard York and we developed a very good working relationship. They decided to come with me when I opened my gallery, which was an enormous honor and privilege for me. As the estate representative, I am responsible for placing the work and maintaining and increasing his market. From a market standpoint, Marin has a long track record of steady growth. He’s in the canon of American art history. At the same time, we are always looking to introduce his work to a new audience, to people who are discovering his work and wanting to acquire one of their collection. One way we try to do this is to mount exhibitions that shed new light on the work, or show it in a way that hasn’t been done before. With an artist like Marin, it is endlessly fascinating.
YOU HAVE A STRONG RELATIONSHIP WITH MUSEUMS. HOW DOES THAT EVOLVE OVER THE YEARS? WHAT ARE THE BUYING AND SELLING PATTERNS OF MUSEUMS? IN A TRANSACTIONAL BUSINESS, HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM A SALE TO A PRIVATE COLLECTOR?
Having been in the gallery world for thirty years now, I’ve established good relationships with museum curators and directors around the country. When they are looking to acquire a new work for their collections, they contact me and I try to help them fill that gap. It’s very rewarding to place a work in a museum collection, although it is definitely a slower process than working with a private collector who can make a decision right away. museums usually have an extended acquisition process that can take several months.
WHETHER PLACING WORKS IN A MUSEUM OR PRIVATE COLLECTION, I ASSUME THAT THE QUESTION OF THE QUALITY OF THE WORK IS ALWAYS THE FIRST CONSIDERATION. DO YOU HAVE THE SPECIAL CRITICAL JUDGMENTS THAT EMBRACE THE MODERNIST PERIOD? DO THEY DIFFER OR ARE THEY THE SAME AS 19th CENTURY OR MORE CONTEMPORARY WORKS THAT YOU DEAL IN?
For historical works, I look for examples that are most representative of that artist, taking into consideration subject, style, medium and period. It is also important, though, to keep your eyes open for the unexpected, like identifying a period in an artist’s work that has been overlooked, or finding an undiscovered talent. With contemporary works, there is always something new to see, so it’s a bit different.
As an advisor to private collectors, Meredith and I have often shared our observations and perceptions about the nature of collecting. I look forward to exploring her great instincts and insights about the collecting “bug” with you next.