Passion and Knowledge, Elizabeth Beaman, Christie’s American art senior specialist
19TH AND EARLY 20TH CENTURY AMERICAN ART IS RICH IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY, A CELEBRATION OF OUR INNOVATIVE PIONEER SPIRIT AND UNIQUE IN ITS INTERPRETATION OF EUROPEAN IMPRESSIONISM, CUBISM AND MODERNISM. IT IS AN EXPANSIVE AREA NOT ONLY IN TERMS OF ITS AESTHETIC DEPTH AND BREADTH BUT ALSO IN THE ICONIC CHARACTER OF THE WORK AND THE NATURE OF ITS COLLECTORS.
MY FOCUS IN SCHOOL WAS MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY AND MY KNOWLEDGE AND APPRECIATION OF AMERICAN ART CAME LATER WHEN I WENT BACK TO SCHOOL TO ATTEND A TWO-YEAR PROGRAM IN AMERICAN ART. THERE WAS INCREASING INTEREST IN THIS AREA AT THE TIME AND MANY CLIENTS WERE RESPONDING STRONGLY TO THE AESTHETIC AND TO THE HISTORY. I NEEDED THE FIRM GROUNDING AND BIOGRAPHICAL AND ANECDOTAL INFORMATION I LACKED. THE PROGRAM INCLUDED LECTURES BY SUCH LEGENDARY SCHOLARS AND CURATORS IN THE FIELD SUCH AS JOHN WILMERDING AND BARBARA WEINSTEIN AND EDUCATED ME IN AN AREA THAT HAS BROUGHT ME GREAT ENRICHMENT AND PLEASURE EVER SINCE.
NO ONE APPRECIATES THIS AREA OF ART MORE THAN ELIZBETH BEAMAN, SENIOR SPECIALIST IN THE EXCELLENT AMERICAN ART DEPARTMENT AT CHRISTIE’S, NEW YORK, LOCATED IN A LANDMARK BUILDING ON 49th STREET AT 20 ROCKEFELLER CENTER ON 49th STREET.
WHEN ANTICIPATING THE ADVENT OF THE AMERICAN SALES, I ALWAYS LOOK FORWARD TO THE PLEASURE OF WORKING WITH LIZ, HER ENTHUSIASM AND DEDICATION AND HER INSIGHTS AND GUIDANCE. I AM VERY PLEASED THAT ELIZABETH WILL SHARE HER KNOWLEDGE OF THIS PERIOD WITH US.
LIZ, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SPEAK WITH ME AND CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR MARVELOUS MAY 2013 SALE OF AMERICAN ART, SO MANY BEAUTIFUL LOTS, AND PARTICULARLY THE TWO WORKS BY EDWARD HOPPER.
HOW DID YOU FIRST BECOME INTERESTED IN AMERICAN ART?
My interest in American Art was really an accident of history but a very happy one. Throughout the course of my undergraduate studies and during my summer internships with both museums and auction houses, I had focused primarily on Contemporary Art. When I was hired in 2000 as part of a training class at Sotheby’s, I was placed in American Art for a three month period. While I was at first disappointed not to be in the Contemporary Department, I quickly fell in love with so many of the artists whose works we sell and have been in the field ever since.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO JOIN THE WORLD OF THE AUCTION HOUSE AS YOUR WAY TO PROFESSIONALLY ENGAGE IN THIS INTEREST
I spent a summer in high school as a summer intern for Richard Armstrong, now the Director of the Guggenheim Museum but formerly the curator for the 1995 Carnegie International, an exhibition of Contemporary Art held at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, my hometown. One of my summer projects was to file his auction catalogues in chronological order. There was something so exciting to me about the glossy pages of the catalogues, filled with such fascinating items with storied histories and all available for purchase. I was hooked. After two summers with Richard Armstrong, and a subsequent summer at the Andy Warhol Museum, I interned for Sotheby’s.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB AND WHEN DID YOU BEGIN YOUR AUCTION CAREER?
As I mentioned earlier, I joined Sotheby’s as part of a training program, which meant that in addition to my time in American Art, I also briefly worked in Financial Services and Regional Operations, neither of which were for me. My first official position at Sotheby’s was in the Fine Arts Department. We acted as the first point of contact for many clients new to the firm and as a result, I met with nearly every client who walked in with a work of art they wanted to have evaluated. It was a wonderful way to see a lot of art from every different time period and of varying quality. I often was the bearer of bad news, sharing with clients that their work was by the hand of a “gifted amateur” or perhaps a photo mechanical reproduction after a Picasso.
IN OUR NEXT BLOG, LIZ WILL DISCUSS AMERICAN AUCTIONS AND WHAT I CONSIDER TO BE THE HERCULEAN TASK OF OBTAINING FIRST-TIER MATERIAL FOR EACH AND EVERY SALE, AN ART FORM IN AND OF ITSELF.
LIZ IS INFORMED AND INFORMATIVE AND WELCOMES ANY QUESTIONS YOU HAVE ON THIS SUBJECT. I LOOK FORWARD TO THE OPPORTUNITY OF SHARING HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE FORTHCOMING AMERICAN SALE TO BE HELD AT CHRISTIE’S NEW YORK ON THURSDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2013 IN THE NEXT LRFA BLOGS. THE MATERIAL I HAVE PREVIEWED IS FRESH TO THE MARKET AND OF EXCEPTIONAL QUALITY FOR A DIVERSITY OF SPECIAL INTERESTS OF COLLECTORS OF 19TH AND EARLY 20th CENTURY AMERICAN ART.
UNTIL THEN, THANK YOU ALL.