Ellery Kurtz, dealer and appraiser of American Art, on the collector profile
IN JANUARY 2018, SEPH RODNEY, WRITING FOR HYPERALLERGIC.COM, ASKED AND ANSWERED “IS ART MUSEUM ATTENDANCE DECLINING IN MANY MUSEUMS ACROSS THE US?” THERE ARE SIGNS THAT ATTENDANCE IN MANY MUSEUMS ACROSS THE COUNTRY IS SLOWLY FALLING BUT THE REASONS WHY ARE STILL TO BE DETERMINED. ART AND CULTURE MUSEUMS MAY BE IN TROUBLE. STATISTICAL EVIDENCE COMING OUT OF THE SCENE IN BALTIMORE, WHICH SEEMS TO BE FINDING CORROBORATION NATIONWIDE, CONVEYS A NARRATIVE OF MUSEUM VISITING BEING ON THE DOWNTREND.
THERE IS EVIDENCE THAT PEOPLE ARE BECOMING LESS INCLINED TO VISIT MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES, AND FOR THOSE OF US WHO ARE INVESTED IN THESE INSTITUTIONS AS ONE OF THE KEY BULWARKS AGAINST THE ENCROACHING COLONIZATION OF CIVIC SPACE AND ENGAGEMENT BY THE RELENTLESS COMMODIFICATION OF EXPERIENCE,THIS IS DISPIRITING NEWS.
THE GALLERIES, EXCEPT FOR A HANDFUL OF “UBER-GALLERIES” SUCH AS DAVID ZWIRNER, PACE AND GAGOSIAN ARE EXPERIENCING A SIMILAR DECLINE OF VISITORS, AS REPORTED IN ARTNET IN JULY 2018 BY RACHEL CORBETT.
TODAY, DEALERS SAY THEY NO LONGER VIEW PHYSICAL GALLERIES AS THE PRIMARY SITE OF SALES AND NETWORKING. INSTEAD, THEY NAME ART FAIRS AS THE NUMBER ONE VENUE FOR MEETING NEW CLIENTS, FOLLOWED BY THE INTERNET, ACCORDING TO TEFAF’S 2017 ART MARKET REPORT. NEARLY A THIRD OF DEALERS EXPECT TO DO EVEN FEWER SALES AT GALLERIES IN THE FUTURE, THE REPORT SAYS—AND THEY EXPECT GREATER DROPS IN THIS AREA THAN IN ANY OTHER, INCLUDING PRIVATE SALES, AUCTIONS, ONLINE SALES, AND FAIRS.
IN TODAY’S LRFA BLOG POST, AMERICAN ART GALLERIST AND APPRAISER ELLERY KURTZ WILL ADD HIS INSIGHT TO THE CURRENT TREND AS IT APPLIES TO THE AMERICAN MARKET.
ELLERY, WELCOME BACK!
HOW DO YOU ACCOUNT FOR THE DOWNWARD TREND IN THE AMERICAN ART MARKET AND DO YOU SEE IT REBOUNDING AND WHY OR WHY NOT?
Younger generations want more modern material. Today’s younger generations of the Millennials, GenX are a sharing society. They rent rather than own, whether it is a place to live or a car. They enjoy without actually possessing. Galleries and museums put their inventory and exhibitions online which stops people from actually going to see the artwork. If you are looking for…say a Robert Henri painting, you don’t have to physically go from gallery to gallery anymore. You only need to look at various websites to see who actually has something available. This is, in my opinion, one of the things that affects the market most. It stops collectors from experiencing the true thrill of the treasure hunt. Walking into a gallery and “discovering” a painting on the wall or in a back room stacked among others. You may find your Henri on a website, but you miss seeing the amazing George Luks that the gallery has not yet put on its site or has held back for one reason or another. You miss seeing the texture, brushstrokes, true colors, and impact of size. It is a total disconnect from the paintings themselves. The acquisition of a work of art should be purely personal and up close experience.
WHAT WOULD YOU ADVISE A YOUNG EMERGING COLLECTOR IN TERMS OF COLLECTING AMERICAN ART?
How do we get young collectors interested when it takes enormous amounts of money to buy works of quality? That is a really tough question. Let’s say you are old enough and have enough money to start a collection. Upon leaving your local museum you are inspired to collect Hudson River School paintings. But where do you find such quality anymore? The one or two examples of a painting by say Bierstadt, or Gifford, or Heade, that come to market are not usually the quality you just saw at the museum. Instead they are second or third-rate works.
If you want a first-rate work you have to wait, sometimes years and if you are lucky enough to be notified by a dealer that such a work is for sale ahead of every other collector that the dealer has already established relationships with, then you will need to quickly marshal your finances to make the leap. Where does the next painting for your collection come from? You like modern work? You want an oil painting by Edward Hopper? Good luck. With less than a few dozen still in private hands, and some of those already promised to a museum, you may never get a chance. What is a young or new collector going to do? Turn their attention to some other field.
So I do not see the market rebounding regardless of a return to more affluent times. Dealers in American Art will become like dealers in Old Master paintings with fewer and fewer as availability of great works lessens.
WHICH AMERICAN ARTISTS DO YOU FEEL ARE MARKET-PROOF AND WILL SURVIVE AND BE VALUABLE DESPITE A DOWNWARD TREND?
I’m not sure if I would say that any artist is market-proof. I have never thought of value in that manner. That would be tantamount to saying that I think the price of IBM will always stay the same or go up. We all know how that goes. But there are artists whose reputation is untouchable and in general have seen a remarkable rise in price over the almost fifty years I have been in the art world. For instance, large landscapes by Albert Bierstadt would hardly fetch $100,000 fifty years ago. Today a large luminist painting by the artist would handily bring a million dollars or in some cases multi-millions. The same could be said of Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent. But I am talking about iconic paintings by the most famous artists America ever produced.
What seems to be moving in a positive way are modernism, illustration and post-war paintings. But if I were to give any advice to any collector young or old, new to the game or an old hand, it would always be, provided you have fallen under the spell of the painting, to spend more than you think you can afford if the artwork is significant for the artist. Stretch a little because those are the works that bring the greatest pleasure.
IN OUR NEXT LRFA BLOG POST, ELLERY WILL SHARE HIS EXPERTISE ON THE ART OF THE APPRAISAL, A HIGHLY RESPECTED FIELD THAT, WHEN DONE WELL, RELIES ON A GREAT AMOUNT OF DILIGENCE AND RESEARCH AND AN ASTUTE EYE. ELLERY HAS ALL THREE.
THANKS FOR FOLLOWING THE LRFA BLOG!