Looking back- the revolutionary effect of the 1913 Armory Show
IN FEBRUARY 1913 A MONUMENTALLY INFLUENTIAL ERA OF MODERN ART WAS LAUNCHED IN AMERICA. THE INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION OF MODERN ART OR THE ARMORY SHOW OPENED AT THE 69th REGIMENTARMORY ON EAST 26th STREET AND CAUSED AN ENORMOUS REACTION – A NEGATIVE CRY OF HORROR FROM MORE CONSERVATIVE ARTISTS AND COLLECTOR TRADITIONALISTS AND AN ENTHUSIASTIC CHEER OF SURPRISE AND FASCINATION FROM THE AVANT-GARDE CONTINGENT. FAUVIST WORKS BY MATISSE, MODERNIST SCULPTURE BY BRANCUSI WERE JUST TWO EXAMPLES OF A SPIRIT OF MODERNISM THAT CHANGED OUR PERSPECTIVE OF THE DEFINITION OF WHAT WAS “ART”. OF NOTE, IN HONOR OF THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE 1913 EXHIBIT, “THE ARMORY SHOW AT 100” IS SCHEDULED TO OPEN IN OCTOBER AT THE WONDERFULLY RENOVATED NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY MUSEUM THAT WILL INCLUDE 90 WORKS FROM THE ORIGINAL EXHIBITION.
ANDY SCHOELKOPF, CO-PARTNER WITH SUSAN MENCONI, OF MENCONI SCHOELKOPF FINE ART, AT 13 EAST 69th STREET, IN NEW YORK, http://www.msfineart.com/ IS AN EXPERT IN BOTH 19th AND 20th CENTURY ART, WITH A VAST KNOWLEDGE AND APPRECIATION OF THE MODERNIST PERIOD. AS FORMER HEAD OF AMERICAN ART AT CHRISTIE’S AND AS A GALLERIST WITH A STRONG INVENTORY IN AMERICAN MODERNISM, WE ARE FORTUNATE TO HAVE ANDY’S PERSPECTIVE ON THE EFFECTS OF THE ARMORY SHOW ON AMERICAN MODERNISM
ANDY, WHAT DO YOU VIEW AS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE 100th YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THE ARMORY SHOW? PLEASE DESCRIBE THE ORIGINAL EXHIBITION AND ITS PROFOUND IMPACT ON AMERICAN ARTISTS AND COLLECTORS WHEN CUBISM AND ABSTRACTION WAS INTRODUCED TO THE AMERICAN ART-GOING PUBLIC.
We are seeing a remarkable resurgence in interest in the work of the American Modernist artists and some prices that may already outpace the prices that were achieved in 2007 at the “height of the market”. I think there are a number of reasons for this and while the anniversary of the Armory Show may have an impact on this, I don’t think it is the primary influence.
The boost in that portion of the market seems to have more to do with two important issues. First and foremost, I think that a number of collectors have come to realize that there is tremendous intellectual and financial value in Modernism. And, frankly, when you look at the values versus the work of the Abstract Expressionists, Pop artists and those that stand on their shoulders in the 1970s and beyond, Modernism starts to look very inexpensive relative to the current prices. I feel very strongly that we are just now seeing the first stages of a very steep appreciation in the value of American Modernist works. They are much more valuable than they were 20 years ago, but I think the pace of appreciation will probably accelerate over the next 20 years.
It is also important to point out that we have a steady influx of new buyers and sellers. We still have families that are first generation owners of important works of art and with all the wealth transferred over the past 5 years, more and more of those families are considering selling valuable works of art. We also have quite a few new buyers over the past 12-18 months who are more settled in their business and personal lives after the 2008 market turmoil and they are now confident to start collecting or to turn back to collecting in a more ambitious way. Many of our best clients are referred to us by existing clients and museum curators and directors and there seems to be an increase in the number of referrals that are coming our way recently. The influx of new buyers and sellers ultimately is what pushes the market to a new level of activity and prices.
HOW YOU WOULD DESCRIBE BOTH THE STYLISTIC CHANGES THAT TOOK PLACE DURING THAT PERIOD WITH RESPECT TO THE WORKS OF ART THEMSELVES AND TO THE WAYS IN WHICH THE FINANCIAL LANDSCAPE OF THE ART MARKET WAS ALTERED?
During the quieter moments in the market over the past handful of years, I have taken advantage of the time to try to place the events in a broader context and I learned a lot and gained additional perspective. The fact of the matter is that the stylistic changes that have been evolving recently are part of a pendulum that swings back and forth from historical to modern; abstract to real and back. Right now, people favor newer more conceptual and abstract art and that means that there is great opportunity for those of us who are devoted to an historical context. When I look at a great painting by Georgia O’Keeffe from the 1920s, I still see extraordinary technique, skill, talent and innovation and I suspect that will never change. If you look at Modernism, that art still seems avant garde and as you note, the Armory Show was a century ago. Amazing.
We wrote about this in the introduction to our Fall 2012 catalogue, Looking Back, Looking Forward which was titled to reflect our sense that the market and our business were at a turning point. Of course, if any of your readers want a copy of this, they can just shoot you or me an email and we will send one to them straight away. That catalogue focused on about 20 works of art from 1817 through 1982 and with values in the range of $100,000 to $3,500,000 for a very fine Mary Cassatt painting that we sold on behalf of the Art Institute of Chicago. Happily, the reception to that catalogue was terrific and we sold most of the works in a short period of time.
THE AMERICAN ART MARKET IS UNIQUE AS IT IS PREDOMINANTLY SUSTAINED SOLELY BY AMERICAN COLLECTORS. THAT BEING SAID, OF COURSE, A PHENOMENAL EXCEPTION IMMEDIATELY COMES TO MIND, THE BARON VON THYSSEN, SWISS BILLIONAIRE INDUSTRIALIST, WHO APPRECIATED AND COLLECTED FIRST-TIER AMERICAN 19th CENTURY PAINTINGS. IN THE NEXT BLOG, ANDY WILL ANALYZE THE UNIQUE DIFFERENCES INHERENT IN COLLECTING AMERICAN AND THE WAYS IN WHICH THIS AREA IS A REFLECTION OF THE GLOBAL ART MARKET AT LARGE.
I WELCOME ANY QUESTIONS, COMMENTS OR SUGGESTIONS YOU MAY HAVE, ON THIS TOPIC, AND ON OTHER AREA OF THE ART BUSINESS THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO EXPLORE.
MANY THANKS FOR READING!