Observations and collecting advice from eight experts in galleries, events, and auctions
By Norman Kolpas
This story was featured in the October 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art October 2013 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
Five years after a financial meltdown that saw double-digit drops in stock markets worldwide and the largest year-over-year decline of home prices in American history, there’s no denying that the economy is recovering. Some may debate whether or not that recovery could be doing better, but none can dispute that the Dow Jones Industrial Average is now almost two and a half times higher than its March 2009 post-crash low, while housing sales and prices have recently seen an upswing.
But how has recovery manifested itself in the art market? And how does the economic turnaround impact collectors? What are some of the trends in the art world today? With those key questions in mind, we sought insights and opinions from the experts: gallery owners, event organizers, and auction heads. Their perspectives certainly differ, and their observations don’t always agree. But each has valuable advice to offer—guidelines you can use to help build a collection that will not only be more likely to help you weather future financial fluctuations but, more importantly, bring you pleasure regardless of the economy.
Gallery Owners: “Seek Out the Best Quality”
Galleries specializing in quality representational art definitely felt 2008’s impact. “We saw a slowdown in figurative, still-life, and contemporary cowboy and Native American paintings,” says Tim Taylor, who, with his wife, Pamela, opened Whistle Pik Galleries in Fredericksburg, TX, in 1995.
Other owners echo that observation. Nedra Matteucci, owner for more than 30 years of Nedra Matteucci Galleries in Santa Fe, adds that the decline seemed even more dramatic because “the high level of collecting we experienced before the recession was unprecedented.”
But today, along with the widespread recovery, galleries are seeing their own. “The art market in general seems to grow stronger each month,” Matteucci continues, noting that “buyers and sellers alike reflect more confidence in our economy.” In particular, she sees a “greater focus [on] making important acquisitions” of works from the gallery’s high-caliber contemporary roster, from life-size animal bronzes by Dan Ostermiller to new works by painters like landscapists Curt Walters and Walt Gonske, husband-and-wife plein-air painters John Moyers and Terri Kelly Moyers, and trompe-l’oeil artist William Acheff.
At Mark Sublette’s Medicine Man Gallery in Tucson and Santa Fe, Sublette similarly observes that “the best of the best continue to lead the market.” Lately, he’s witnessed a trend toward works of “a more modern aesthetic,” with collectors “more open now to imagery that is not photorealistic.” At the same time, he has witnessed a growing preference for somewhat smaller works, musing that “very large paintings are having trouble finding walls to fit them, as longtime collectors are simply running out of room.”
That trend is being bucked with some success, however, at the not-quite-year-old Maxwell Alexander Gallery in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Culver City. With “tightly curated shows of the highest quality by the new breed of fine artists,” in the words of director Beau Alexander, the gallery has been selling “more large-scale, and expensive, paintings than smaller-scale pieces.” By way of example, Alexander cites the recent sale, for $36,750, of a 60-by-60-inch painting titled THE RISING CLOUDS by atelier-trained modern realist Logan Maxwell Hagege. He is one of the gallery’s current roster of 18 that also includes painterly figurative realist Jeremy Lipking and Tim Solliday, who produces landscape and figurative works inspired by California Impressionism.
The gallery makes dynamic use of Facebook and Instagram to promote its shows and, says Alexander, “help us find buyers that may be new to the market,” in the process “bringing huge crowds to our openings.” A mid-July debut, for example, drew more than 400 attendees, resulting in an evening-long queue to enter the 1,200-square-foot space.
As that phenomenon illustrates, the Internet and social media have become prized marketing forces for galleries. But directors agree that technology offers more than just promotional power; it also enables collectors to educate themselves. “Do your research first,” suggests Sublette. “Visit the website of the gallery you’re thinking of purchasing from, [where] you can tell a lot about the company, the quality of art, and the business they run before you ever step into a brick-and-mortar location.”
Once galleries have passed that initial test, however, the smartest move for a collector is to develop real-world relationships. “Galleries sift through and represent the best that artists have to offer, thus making the collector’s journey more pleasant and efficient,” explains Whistle Pik’s Taylor. A good gallery’s purpose, adds Alexander, is “to provide you with all of the information that you would like in order to feel comfortable with a new acquisition.”
But don’t rush: You should treat collecting as a process. “Fine-tuning your collecting tastes is a personal endeavor that includes lots of time spent enjoying art and learning what is important to you,” concludes Nedra Matteucci, adding that it’s all about “finding your niche in collecting, where you are fulfilled and feel confident in the art, the artists, and the galleries you work with.”
Event Organizers: “Focus on Art’s Intrinsic Value”
You might think that the people behind nonprofit events and organizations promoting the arts would have a different perspective on the importance of galleries to collectors. But Gil Dellinger, current president of the Plein Air Painters of America, and Darell Tunnicliff, board president of Arts Without Boundaries, both see such traditional businesses as vital to collecting.
“Galleries work hard, and they bring people in to see artists’ work,” explains Dellinger, himself a plein-air painter and a distinguished professor retired from the art faculty of the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA. “They can absolutely build relationships between artists and collectors.”
Tunnicliff regards such relationships as essential as part of a broader perspective he urges collectors to pursue. He suggests that, in addition to visiting galleries online and in the real world, serious collectors should spend copious time reading magazines and books on the kinds of art they like, and going to museums. “Be patient,” he says. “Look at great examples of art. Try to think of the painting you remember out of all the ones you saw. That’s what you’re drawn to, and that’s the type you should collect.”
Arts Without Boundaries aims to introduce Montana schoolchildren to the aesthetic world through programs partially funded by two annual events. Artistic Horizons, an art show and sale that had its second outing in Bozeman this past June, features works by a select group of artists; the 14 participants this year included painters Brent Cotton, Glenn Dean, and Jill Carver. And Artistic Vision, held for the third time this past August, is what Tunnicliff describes as “a nonsale event designed to help collectors understand the artistic process and see art in a different light” through a series of intimate talks, demonstrations, and discussions led by top realist artists. This year’s presenters included contemporary classicist Jacob Collins, wildlife painter Tucker Smith, and landscape master Clyde Aspevig (whom Tunnicliff, a friend of Aspevig’s since the late 1970s, has also represented as agent for the past 12 years).
Tunnicliff ultimately sees art not as a commodity but as an essential part of a life well lived, and his primary message to collectors is not to get hung up on dollar signs. “Appreciating art matters,” says Tunnicliff. “It’s indicative of the health of our society. Art’s true value is what difference it makes in your life. One painting that means something to you will make more of a difference than a roomful of autographs”—by which he means paintings bought just because they’re by a big-name artist.
Along those same lines, Dellinger stresses the importance of resisting what he sees as a growing urge among collectors to bargain for their purchases—resulting perhaps in part from a trend among younger, less-experienced painters willing to sell their work for considerably less than what other artists demand. “Remember that the artist is creating something original, not some sort of mass-produced commodity. If a painting speaks to you, pay the price, because prices are established by the marketplace,” he says.
Auction Heads: “Educate Yourself”
If you want to watch the marketplace establish prices in action, head to one of the top annual auction events, like the Coeur d’Alene Art Auction, which celebrated its 28th year this past July in Reno, NV, and the Jackson Hole Art Auction, which had its seventh annual sale last month in Jackson, WY.
The heads of both events see the state of the art market as robustly recovered. Mike Overby, partner in the Coeur d’Alene auction for the past 18 years, believes collecting habits “are firmly back to pre-recession levels,” citing as compelling evidence the fact that his latest auction took in $30.5 million, “the highest since a $37 million auction in 2008.” Consider, as just one example of how robust sales were, Norman Rockwell’s A SCOUT IS LOYAL, which sold for more than $4.2 million, the highest auction price for a work by that artist in almost six years.
Roxanne Hofmann, managing partner of the Jackson event and also a partner at Trailside Galleries in Jackson and Scotts- dale, was looking forward to similar success on September 14 (after this issue went to press), fueled by her perception that the collecting market “is much broader than it was several years ago. A lot of new collectors have entered the market, not just nationally but internationally.” She foresaw strong demand from buyers across the United States and as far away as South America and Russia for such items as ESPRIT DE CORPS by wildlife artist Carl Brenders, with an auction estimate of $40,000 to $50,000; REMUDA, a 1945 Maynard Dixon classic, estimated to sell between $250,000 and $450,000; and VISITORS AT FORT CLATSOP by the late John Clymer—famed for portraying the Lewis and Clark Expedition—which is expected to take between $300,000 and $500,000.
Hofmann credits resurgent prices in part to the fact that quality works by deceased artists are growing scarcer. “Collectors recognize the rarity when an important painting comes on the market, and they’re more willing to push the estimate,” she says.
That eye for quality, in turn, also fuels auction sales of works by top living artists. “The contemporary market has some real strength again,” says Overby. “We just sold two paintings by Howard Terpning for over $1 million each, which is phenomenal for a living artist.” TELLING OF LEGENDS, estimated to sell between $600,000 and $900,000, fetched $1.7 million; SHIELD OF HER HUSBAND, which had a presale estimate of $300,000 to $500,000, went for slightly more than $1 million.
But collectors don’t need to spend such big bucks to buy quality art. Echoing the advice of their fellow art-world professionals, both auction experts boil down smart, successful acquisitions to a couple of basics. “Become as educated as you can,” advises Hofmann. “Immerse yourself in the kinds of art you’re interested in collecting, so you’ll recognize the very best when it comes available.”
Once you’ve learned as much as you can, adds Overby, “Pick some artists you wish to collect and be realistic with your budget. You’re much better off buying the best examples of an artist you can afford than you are purchasing a mediocre example by a bigger name.”
And that’s sound advice in any economy.
Featured in the October 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
Southwest Art October 2013 print issue or digital download
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