Hirschl and Adler’s Eric Baumgartner on the American art market
OVER THE PAST DECADE, AMERICAN ART HAS COMMANDED OVER 100 WORLD RECORDS AT AUCTION. AT THE SOTHEBY’S SALE OF AMERICAN ART LAST NOVEMBER, GEORGIA O’KEEFFE’S EXQUISITE JIMSON WEED, WHITE FLOWER NO. 1 SOLD FOR $44.4 MILLION, BREAKING THE PREVIOUS RECORD FOR A FEMALE ARTIST AT AUCTION. http://www.sothebys.com/en/news-video/blogs/all-blogs/sotheby-s-at-large/2014/11/female-artist-record-iconic-okeeffe-flower-painting.html AT CHRISTIE’S IN DECEMBER 2013, THE DEPARTMENT SET A NEW WORLD RECORD FOR EDWARD HOPPER WITH THE SALE OF EAST WIND OVER WEEHAWKEN AT $40,485,000 MILLION. http://www.cnbc.com/id/101249817#.
AMERICAN ART HAS BEEN AT THE FOREFRONT OF THE MARKET FOR MANY YEARS AND HAD GAINED A PRONOUNCED UPTICK IN RECENT YEARS. IT IS AN EXTREMELY SELECTIVE MARKET AND THE DEPARTMENTS AT BOTH AUCTION HOUSES ARE REAPING THE REWARDS OF CAREFUL EDITING OF THE WORKS FOR SALE AND EQUALLY JUDICIOUS ESTIMATES. THERE HAVE BEEN A “HANDFUL OF PEOPLE OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES, WHICH IS VERY EXCITING”, ACCORDING TO ELIZABETH GOLDBERG WHO HEADS SOTHEBY’S AMERICAN ART DEPARTMENT. FROM MY PERSPECTIVE, THERE IS DEFINITELY CYCLICAL INTEREST IN DIFFERENT PERIODS OF AMERICAN ART. OF LATE, AMERICAN IMPRESSIONIST MASTERS SUCH AS WILLIAM MERRITT CHASE AND CHILDE HASSAM HAVE TAKEN A BACKSEAT TO THE ENERGY AND MORE AVANT-GARDE SPIRIT OF THE AMERICAN MODERNIST MASTERS.
OF COURSE, QUALITY IS THE NORTH STAR OF ALL COLLECTING.
THE LRFA BLOG IS VERY PLEASED TO HAVE AMERICAN ART EXPERT, ERIC BAUMGARTNER OF HIRSCHL AND ADLER GALLERIES SHARE HIS ASTUTE KNOWLEDGE OF THE AMERICAN ART MARKET. THE GALLERY IS LOCATED AT THE CROWN BUILDING ON 57th AND FIFTH IN NEW YORK, THE EXHIBITIONS REFLECT THE GALLERY’S EXTENSIVE HISTORY, KNOWLEDGE AND LOVE OF AMERICAN ART AND FURNITURE. http://www.hirschlandadler.com/
ERIC, DO YOU SEE AN EBB AND FLOW OF INTEREST IN DIFFERENT MOVEMENTS AND AREAS OF COLLECTING OF AMERICAN ART AND, IF SO, IN WHAT WAYS?
As far as American art is concerned, most definitely! For instance, middle-range 19th-century American paintings are more challenging to sell today, while on the other hand, interest in a broad spectrum of American modernism is growing. Collectors of modernism are moving beyond the core group of artists associated with Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery stable—Demuth, Hartley, Marin, O’Keeffe, Sheeler—and embracing surrealism (John Atherton, Charles Howard, Kay Sage) and early abstraction (Howard again, Henry Fitch Taylor).
Another branch of modernism that is seeing market growth is Regionalism. As great works by the core Regionalists Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood have gotten nearly impossible to find, deserving attention is being paid to artists who, in their day, didn’t break through to a national audience: Marvin Cone of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Alexandre Hogue of West Texas; Joe Jones of Saint Louis, Missouri; and John Rogers Cox of Indiana come to mind.
Having said that, however, we still feel that there is a viable and competitive audience for blue-chip works by such 19th-century artists as Thomas Cole, Sanford Robinson Gifford, Martin Johnson Heade, and Winslow Homer; it’s an example that buying into real quality never goes out of fashion.
WHAT IS THE NATURE OF THE GALLERY SYSTEM? IS EVERYONE ON STAFF AN EXPERT IN A PARTICULAR AREA AND HOW DOES THE CURATORIAL/EXHIBITION CALENDAR EVOLVE? DO INDIVIDUAL STAFF MEMBERS PROPOSE EXHIBITIONS OR DO YOU HAVE A CURATORIAL TEAM?
Hirschl & Adler Galleries is organized by department: American art, European art, American furniture and decorative arts, and contemporary art. I head the American department, Gregory Hedberg leads our European department, Stuart and Liz Feld head our decorative-arts program, and Shelly Farmer runs our contemporary division, Hirschl & Adler Modern. However, none of us are pigeonholed; for example, I can bring in European paintings on consignment for sale, and have done so on many occasions. Of course, the entire sales staff has full access to our extraordinarily large and diverse inventory, so when it comes time to offering—and, we hope, selling—each sales person can tap into works from any department to meet the needs and interests of our clients. Our gallery exhibition calendar is generally established on a six to nine-month lead, and anyone on our very talented staff can propose and curate an exhibition that fits our program. In fact, two of our more popular and successful summer exhibitions—Duets (2013) and Our American Life (2014)—were organized and curated by our support staff.
DO YOU HAVE A PARTICULAR PERIOD OF ART THAT RESONATES THE MOST WITH YOU?
My love of Hudson River School landscape paintings began in my college years when I wrote my senior honors thesis on John Frederick Kensett’s luminist pictures. Kensett painted many traditional landscapes—scenic views of the Catskills, White Mountains, and Adirondacks—in a picturesque style that prevailed at mid-century, but when he hit the New England coast, particularly the coast of Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, his compositions turned remarkably spare. I find this dichotomy in his work utterly fascinating, and have often wondered what drove him to adopt such a different style. Kensett, one of the most traditional pictorialists in the Hudson River School, quite suddenly switched to a revolutionary compositional technique of expansive sky, open horizon lines, and an accentuated awareness of atmosphere. Kensett was not alone, of course, as his contemporaries Sanford Robinson Gifford, Martin Johnson Heade, Fitz Henry Lane, and occasionally William Trost Richards, also embraced this compositional formula that we today call luminism.
DO YOU AND YOUR WIFE, ALSO A KNOWLEDGEABLE AND DEDICATED AMERICAN ART GALLERIST, COLLECT?
My wife, Katherine, and I collect New England furniture from the first half of the 18th century, the so-called William and Mary era. “Collect” is perhaps too generous a term. We own a handful of pieces and enjoy living with them. I personally love photography—I have been pursuing photography myself in a serious way since about 1972—and hope to one day collect vintage photographs. At the moment, our vintage photography collection numbers a grand total of one: a black-and-white photograph of the Norfolk & Western railroad by O. Winston Link. I suppose it’s a start!
IN OUR NEXT LRFA BLOG, ERIC BAUMGARTNER WILL INTRODUCE US TO HIRSCHL AND ADLER MODERN. WE WELCOME ALL COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS, AND APPRECIATE YOUR CONTINUED READERSHIP AND PARTICIPATION!