AT THE AMERICAN ART AUCTIONS, FINE PAINTINGS, SCULPTURES AND WORKS ON PAPER ARE OFFERED FROM THE COLONIAL TO THE POST-WAR PERIOD, INCLUDING WORKS BY THE HUDSON RIVER SCHOOL, THE AMERICAN IMPRESSIONISTS AND THE ASH CAN SCHOOL. OVER THE PAST DECADE, THE AMERICAN ART DEPARTMENT AT CHRISTIE’S STATES THAT IT HAS SET MORE THAN 100 WORLD RECORDS, ACHIEVING RECORD PRICES FOR IMPORTANT NAMES SUCH AS EDWARD HOPPER, ANDREW WYETH AND GEORGIA O’KEEFFE. HOWEVER, BOTH THE AUCTION HOUSES AND GALLERIES SPECIALIZING IN THIS AREA HAVE SEEN A DOWNTURN IN THIS MARKET.
ONE OF THE EXCEPTIONS WAS THE CHRISTIE’S SALE OF THE EXTRAORDINARY DAVID AND PEGGY ROCKEFELLER COLLECTION THAT REPRESENTED ONE OF THE BEST SINGLE OWNER COLLECTIONS TO COME TO MARKET. HIGHLIGHTS OF AN AMERICAN ART COLLECTION DESCRIBED AS “VIRTUALLY ENCYCLOPAEDIC” INCLUDED EDWARD HOPPER’S CAPE ANN GRANITE, PAINTED IN THE SUMMER OF 1928 ($8.4m), GEORGIA O’KEEFFE’S NEAR ABIQUIU, NEW MEXICO ($8.4m) and MILTON AVERY’S WOMEN WITH REBOZA ($2.5m). THIS SALE, HOWEVER, WAS AN EXCEPTION TO THE GENERAL CLIMATE OF THE AMERICAN MARKET.
WE ARE FORTUNATE TO HAVE DEBRA FORCE, OF DEBRA FORCE FINE ART, A SEASONED EXPERT IN AMERICAN ART OF EVERY PERIOD, PROVIDE HER ANALYSIS OF THE PRESENT AND FUTURE MARKET IN AMERICAN ART.
DEBRA, HOW DO YOU VIEW THE AMERICAN MARKET AT THE PRESENT TIME AND HOW HAS IT CHANGED IN THE LAST DECADE?
The traditional American art market is stable. It had been at its height up to 2008, but became much softer after that date. As collectors become older, they are no longer buying as much and younger people do not seem to have an interest in this aspect of Fine Art. Thus, we are dealing with a more limited market base and of course, do not have international interest in this area.
Prices for many things are much reduced from what they were over ten years ago, particularly for early and historical material, genre painting, Hudson River painting, and Ashcan artists. However, we are seeing some revitalization with certain artists in these areas as well as with the American Impressionists. For those looking for this type of material, there are more reasonable prices and, in some cases, bargains to be had. Museums are finding that they can now buy artists on their wish lists that fall into these categories.
American Modernism and Regionalism, as well as works by African-American and women artists, are very hot, while Surrealism and Magic Realism are rising in popularity. Many of the post-war second- and third-tier Abstract Expressionists are also coming under the umbrella of traditional American art as we move more solidly into the 21st Century.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE FUTURE OF THE AMERICAN ART MARKET? DO YOU FEEL THAT SOME OF THE LESSER KNOWN ARTISTS WHO WERE WILDLY COLLECTED BY THE LAST GENERATION WILL REBOUND IN TERMS OF PRESENCE AND PRICE?
It is my hope that younger people will turn to and revere traditional American art, which suffers somewhat like the American furniture and decorative arts market, as time marches on. To do so, American history needs to be taught at both secondary and college levels, museums need to exhibit this type of art and not just focus upon what is “sexy” or of the moment, and auction houses and galleries need to embrace it, rather than shying away from it.
Much of the material that is less collectible today does not receive adequate recognition in the marketplace and is routinely relegated to lesser sales or online auctions rather than in the mainstream or in prominent sales. [Certainly, although the provenance had added cache to the works sold at the Rockefeller sale at Christie’s, the overwhelming exposure did wonders to attract buyers to much of the 19th-century material that sold for double or more what they had been making.] The validity of the past that has much to teach us in understanding the world today as well as the evolution of Contemporary art, needs to be made apparent to younger generations.
The other challenge is garnering international interest in American art, as we head toward a more global society. This is already happening to a degree as the Terra Foundation and others sponsor exhibitions of American art abroad that have been well received to the audiences there; hopefully, this will translate into the market as well.
As older collectors divest their collections, more major works of art will presumably enter the market and therefore, should generate renewed interest among known buyers as well as attracting new ones.
Presently, buyers are more attracted to well-known artists rather than those less renowned. Until the market for traditional American art is more buoyant overall, I fear that more minor artists will continue to be neglected. The only departure from this state is the collectability of lesser Modernist and Post-War artists who are now embraced, as prices for the more blue-chip works from this era are escalating.
DEBRA, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR KNOWLEDGE, EXPERTISE AND ANALYSIS OF AMERICAN ART.
IN OUR NEXT LRFA BLOG, I AM HONORED TO INTRODUCE WENDY CROMWELL, WHO SERVES ON THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE ASSOCIATION OF PROFESSIONAL ART ADVISORS (APAA), AN OUTSTANDING NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION MADE UP OF LEADING ART ADVISORS, CURATORS AND CORPORATE ART MANAGERS. APAA IS DEDICATED TO ESTABLISHING AND MAINTAINING THE HIGHEST PRINCIPLES AND GUIDELINES FOR ACQUIRING, MAINTAINING AND SELLING ART.
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