Director Katherine Baumgartner on the beauty of American art at Godel & Company Fine Art
IN THE BURST OF ECONOMIC EXPANSION AND PROSPERITY IN AMERICA FOLLOWING WORLD WAR II, ON THE CULTURAL FRONT, ITS ENERGY AND SPIRIT MANIFESTED IN THE POWERFUL ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONIST MOVEMENT. IN AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. WILLIAM H. GERDTS, A LEADING SCHOLAR AND EXPERT IN AMERICAN ART, IN HUMANITIES, THE MAGAZINE OF THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES, DR. GERDST ELOQUENTLY TRACES THE TRANSITION OF AMERICAN ART FROM “A STEPCHILD TO THE GREAT EUROPEAN TRADITION” TO AN SIGNIFICANT AREA OF COLLECTING AND SCHOLARSHIP IN ITS OWN RIGHT. MUSEUMS BEGAN ORGANIZING EXHIBITIONS OF AMERICAN ART, SCHOOLS OFFERED MORE COURSES ON THE SUBJECT, AND, AS A RESULT OF THE INCREASED ATTENTION AND MARKET FOR ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONIST WORKS, COLLECTORS TURNED THEIR FOCUS TO EARLIER PERIODS OF AMERICAN ART AS WELL, AS AREAS OF UNDERVALUED EXCELLENCE.
BY THE TIME KATHERINE BAUMGARTNER, DIRECTOR OF GODEL & COMPANY FINE ART, FOCUSED HER COLLEGE AND POST-GRADUATE STUDIES ON THE SUBJECT OF AMERICAN ART, THE FIELD INCLUDED IMPORTANT AMERICAN COLLECTORS SUCH AS DAN AND RITA FRAAD AND RAY AND MARGARET HOROWITZ. AS EARLY AS 1939, MARTHA AND MAXIM KAROLIK PRESENTED THE FOGG MUSEUM IN BOSTON WITH WHAT WAS THEN CONSIDERED ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT COLLECTIONS OF AMERICAN PAINTINGS, WATERCOLORS AND DRAWINGS, AND THE SPOTLIGHT SHINED BRIGHTLY ON AMERICAN ART.
KATHERINE, WHEN DID YOU JOIN GODEL & CO.? WHAT WERE YOUR INITIAL RESPONSIBILITIES AND WHAT WAS THE SCALE AND FOCUS OF THE GALLERY AT THAT TIME?
I joined Godel & Co. in September of 2000. Like many employees in small galleries, my responsibilities were, and still are, quite varied. I was expected to locate and sell paintings, but I also did research and wrote essays, edited gallery catalogues and helped implement and install the gallery’s inventory database. Godel’s primary focus was on nineteenth-century material, and I was especially happy to join the gallery for that reason.
When I arrived, there were five other full-time employees, and the gallery occupied one and a half floors in a townhouse on 72nd and Madison. In 2003 we rented and renovated a third floor, which gave us quite a bit more space for exhibitions, showrooms, staff offices, library, and storage. In May 2014, the townhouse, which had been home to the gallery for almost twenty years, was sold to a developer. After a long search, we located a wonderful space in a circa-1910 five-story building on East 74th Street, off York Avenue. The gallery is now on one floor, and the central space is perfect for presenting focused exhibitions.
HOW WOULD YOU CHARACTERIZE GODEL & CO? WHAT MAKES IT UNIQUE IN THE CONTEXT OF OTHER GALLERIES IN GENERAL AND THOSE IN PARTICULAR THAT SPECIALIZE IN AMERICAN ART?
Howard always says that what makes the gallery unique is that we own more than 85% of our inventory. He takes a long-term position because high quality works are so hard to find. He also prides himself on the fact that we strive to have something for everyone, in all price ranges, so our clients include those who are just starting to collect as well as seasoned collectors and museums. We are constantly being offered paintings because Howard has such a large and loyal network of colleagues around the country who know he is honest and straightforward. We also cultivate a relaxed and informal atmosphere here, and I think our clients appreciate that.
THE LRFA BLOG IS DELIGHTED THAT HOWARD GODEL IS CONTRIBUTING DIRECTLY TO SOME OF THE QUESTIONS POSED.
HOWARD, WHEN WAS THE GALLERY FOUNDED AND WHAT WAS YOUR BACKGROUND IN AMERICAN ART? WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO OPEN ON YOUR OWN?
HOWARD: I began as a “runner” and wholesaler in 1979. The early days were very challenging, and I spent a lot of time on the road, sometimes driving 40,000 to 50,000 mile a year. I had no background in American art, but was initially drawn to the work of the Hudson River School, and to the nineteenth-century marine and still-life specialists. Gradually I broadened my knowledge and interests to include American art from the Colonial period through Regionalism and modernism. I knew I needed to try my hand at a retail space in order to meet more collectors and dealers, so I opened the gallery in 1986, and never looked back!
IN OUR NEXT LRFA POST, KATHERINE BAUMGARTNER, AN EXPERT NOT ONLY IN AMERICAN ART BUT ALSO IN ITS MARKET, WILL DESCRIBE THE COLLECTOR PROFILE FOR 19th AND EARLY 20th CENTURY WORK AND HOW IT HAS CHANGED OVER THE YEARS.
YOUR QUESTIONS, COMMENTS AND READER SUPPORT ARE MUCH APPRECIATED!