Christie’s American specialist on the process of assembling an auction

by leslierankowfinearts

Georgia O'Keeffe Two Calla Lilies Together 1923

Georgia O’Keeffe
Two Calla Lilies Together
1923

THE AMERICAN ART DEPARTMENT AT CHRISTIE’S, NEW YORK, OFFERS THE FINEST IN AMERICAN PAINTINGS, SCULPTURE AND WORKS ON PAPER FROM THE COLONIAL PERIOD TO 1950. THE HUDSON RIVER SCHOOL, AMERICAN IMPRESSIONISM,  THE ASHCAN SCHOOL, WESTERN ART AND AMERICAN MODERNISM ARE WELL-REPRESENTED IN THE  TWO MAJOR SALES  AS WELL AS IN  SALES OF MORE MODEST WORKS THAT TAKE PLACE IN THE EARLY SPRING AND FALL.

ON DECEMBER 5, 2013, HIGHLIGHTS OF THE SALE HIGHLIGHT MASTERWORKS OF AMERICAN MODERNISM, SUCH AS THE EXTRAORDINARY EDWARD HOPPER, East Wind Over Weehawken,  FROM THE PRESTIGIOUS PENNSYLVANIA ACADEMY, AND THE ICONIC GEORGIA O’KEEFFE Two Calla Lilies Together,  ILLUSTRATED  HERE, WILL COME UP FOR SALE.

Emily Hage, from Masterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Impressionism and Modern Art (2007), p. 212, writes eloquently on this subject matter in the work of Georgia O’Keeffe.

Georgia O’Keeffe once remarked, “What is my experience of the flower if not color?

The artist’s abstracted floral studies from the 1920s and 1930s have strong sexual overtones, although she denied that this was her intention. O’Keeffe, who was familiar with the photographs of Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, and Charles Sheeler, was intrigued by the aesthetics of photography and adopted the compositional device of isolating certain details and magnifying close-up angles, an approach she applied to her abstracted, expressive paintings. In 1929, she began spending her summers painting in New Mexico, and in 1949 she moved permanently to the former Native American village of Abiquiu, near Santa Fe, where she pursued her fascination with the striking forms of the natural world.

TODAY, SENIOR SPECIALIST ELIZABETH BEAMAN OF CHRISTIE’S AMERICAN PAINTINGS, SCULPTURE AND WORKS ON PAPER DEPARTMENT WILL INFORM US OF THE UNIQUE FOCUS AND PROCESS THAT IS A REQUISITE IN ORCHESTRATING   AUCTION SALES  OF THIS CALIBER.

LIZ, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR CONTRIBUTION TO THE LRFA BLOG!

I KNOW YOU SPENT ABOUT 10 YEARS AT SOTHEBY’S AS THE VICE PRESIDENT SPECIALIST OF AMERICAN PAINTINGS. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THAT EXPERIENCE AND IN WHAT WAYS ARE THE TWO DEPARTMENTS SIMILAR AND IN WHAT WAYS DO THEY DIFFER?

I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to work at two of the most successful auction houses in the world. Both have presented tremendous rewards and challenges and in each case, no two days are ever alike.  Christie’s is such an exciting and dynamic work environment and I consider myself lucky to work with such talented, creative and engaging colleagues.

Christie's May 2013 preview

Christie’s May 2013 preview

ONE OF THE CHALLENGES, FROM MY VANTAGE POINT, OF THE NATURE OF AUCTION IS THAT THE DEPARTMENT IS ESSENTIALLY STARTING “FROM SCRATCH” EACH TIME WHEN BUILDING A SALE.  OF COURSE, THE RELATIONSHIPS WITH COLLECTORS ARE CRUCIAL AND ON-GOING BUT WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT CONSIDERATIONS IN PUTTING TOGETHER A SALE?

The process of putting together a sale is certainly a dynamic one and no two seasons are alike.  There have been occasions where there might be a big estate coming to the market and you have the bulk of a sale tied up nicely with one consignment.  More often than not, however, the sales are built work by work.  When you are able to acquire a major lot for the sale early on in the business gathering season, such as Edward Hopper’s Blackwell’s Island which we sold for $19.2 million this past May, for example, that can help to convince sellers to offer their work in the same sale context as that major masterwork.  Many of the works in the sales might come from clients contacting Christie’s to offer their piece in the upcoming sale but we also do more than sit and wait for the phone to ring.  Our team of specialists is constantly traveling the country in search of material that is fresh to the market to include in our sales.

HOW DO YOU DECIDE THE ORDER OF THE LOTS IN THE CATALOGUE? I THINK THAT IS AN ART FORM IN AND OF ITSELF, TO DEVELOP THE MOST EFFECTIVE  MOMENTUM IN THE SALE, TO VARY THE MATERIAL TO ITS BEST ADVANTAGE,  BE IT WESTERN ART, AMERICAN IMPRESSIONISM OR MODERNISM, THROUGHOUT THE SALE?

Ordering the sale is one of the most challenging yet exciting parts of the process of preparing the auction catalogue.  While we try to group works together in terms of style or time period, the order of those smaller groups is really based on how we think we can create the most momentum for the auction. The more energy and excitement we can create in the pace of the auction, the better the results.  While a survey of past catalogues may reveal a few trends, we really do start from scratch each season, evaluating the particular strengths and nuances of each sale.

MODERN MASTERS HIGHLIGHT CHRISTIE’S DECEMBER 5th SALE,  AND INCLUDE SUCH MASTERWORKS AS CHARLES DEMUTH’S  COMPELLING In The Key of Blue, OSCAR BLUEMNER’S EXQUISITE  Surprise (May Moon), AND MILTON AVERY’S MAGNETIC Mandoline with Pears. THE MARKET FOR AMERICAN ART IN GENERAL, AND FOR AMERICAN MODERNISM IN PARTICULAR, IS THRIVING. THE AUCTION HOUSE IS A VENUE FOR BOTH PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SALES AND IN THE  NEXT LRFA BLOG, WE ARE PRIVILEGED TO HAVE LIZ’S EXPERIENCE AND EXPERTISE IN NAVIGATING A COURSE THROUGH THESE OTHER IMPORTANT ASPECTS OF THE AUCTION MARKET.

I APPRECIATE YOUR COMMENTS AND SUPPORT AND WELCOME YOUR SUGGESTIONS FOR TOPICS THAT YOU WOULD BE INTERESTED IN EXPLORING. MANY THANKS!