Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Art of Investing in Art

(Thanks AJ). According to this article, yearly art sales are now reaching an estimated $10 billion in the United States alone, and "While money invested in the stock market's S&P 500 Index -- a conservative bet on Wall Street's top 500 companies -- has earned an annualized 11 percent return over the past decade, that same money sunk into the contemporary art market would have produced a whopping 29 percent return."

That's impressive, but I want to know where the figures to determine these claims come from? Secondary art market sales? Examining the IRS returns of all art galleries in the US? Reviewing all the appraisals of artwork done over the past decade?

And I got my answers to those questions; not from the article but from doing a bit of digging on the web.

This all comes from a team of Wall Street analysts behind Fernwood Art Investments, a new firm with offices in Boston, New York, and Miami (I can understand New York and Miami, but Boston?).

According to their website Fernwood Art Investments is a

"...research and investment company focused on the art economy. We are the first independent firm to develop a comprehensive suite of art-focused investment research, advice, financial products and services for sophisticated investors and collectors. Our work generates new ways to participate in the art market and, in the process, brings significant new capital to the art economy.

In short, Fernwood is employing rigorous portfolio management techniques traditionally applied to equities, bonds and commodities, in combination with academic and art trade expertise, to derive investable art insight. We invite you to explore our vision of art investing."
Anyway, their website has some pretty impressive, if Wall Streetish sounding documentation and references and studies and words that show me that these guys seem to know what they are talking about.

And yet "investing" in art is such a fungible science (at best). I mean, basic investment means buy low sell high. Or to be safe, buy a steady, safe investment and keep it for a loooooong time and then sell it.

In art, to me that means something akin to buying a Cindy Sherman set of photos 20 years ago (and sell them now!), or a Jack Vettriano painting in 1989 (when I was offered one for 300 pounds) and selling them now for a couple of million... you get my point? The buy "low" is done at the early point in an artist's career, when more often than not, he or she is under the "radar" of most people that I imagine as "investing in art."

And the "safe art guys" are the masters, and they are already pricey, so only investors with bucks could buy a Picasso, or Van Gogh, or Renoir, etc. Buy one one, keep it for 20-30 years and it is certain to increase in price (less the 10% auction house commission).

And this is where it gets intriguing.... because, maybe... and just maybe... if a firm like Fernwood could gather a dozen rich investors, and acquire a Picasso oil with their funds, and then hold it for them, and when the time was right, sell it at a good profit... then this could work!

But the hard work for Fernwood will be to identify the up and coming emerging artists about to make it big, and buying their artwork early on, and holding onto it while it increases in price. That's a formidable task.

My tip to them? If anyone from Fernwood is reading this: Buy Tim Tate.

James W. Bailey's Top Five DC Shows of 2004

Leave it to James W. Bailey to take a simple listing of the top visual art shows from our region and end up with several thousand words on the subject.

Bailey’s had quite a good year in 2004 himself, with several national level group exhibitions, plus his premiere Washington, D.C. area solo exhibition, "The Death of Film," which opened in August of 2004 at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center in Alexandria, Virginia. Bailey’s "Rough Edge Photography" will also be featured in two solo exhibitions in 2005: "Stealing Dead Souls," which opens in January at the Black Rock Center for the Arts in Germantown, Maryland, and, "Burnversions," which opens in August in Reston, Virginia. Bailey will also be curating a found photography exhibition, "i found your photo," that will open in November of 2005 in Reston, Virginia.

Bailey won three major national art awards in 2004: An Honorable Mention Prize for "Circle Theatre – New Orleans" at the 3rd Bethesda International Photography Competition, awarded by William F. Stapp, the first Curator of Photography for the National Portrait Gallery; The Albert J. Turbessi Award at the 47th Chautauqua National Exhibition of Art for "Woman at the Tomb," awarded by Dr. Donald Kuspit, considered as one of America’s leading art critics and art historians; The Juror’s Choice Award at the Peninsula Fine Art Center Biennial 2004 for "Angel of Death," awarded by curator for the High Museum of Art, Carrie Przybilla.

Here's his Top Five List:

2004 – The Year a Small Army of Mississippi Rebel(lious) Artists Invaded Washington, D.C.

For the last couple of years I have enjoyed some success (well, some might say so!) as a critically acclaimed experimental photographer who has been exhibited across the country, internationally, as well as right here in the Washington, D.C. area. As a native son of Mississippi, I have been proud and honored to represent my home state with my art.

I currently live in Northern Virginia and my wide range of artistic activities keeps me in constant contact with many independent visual artists, as well as with a large number of arts professionals who work with some of the most important museums, art centers and art galleries in the country.

Wherever I travel to exhibit my photography, my Mississippi background seems to quickly become the subject of intense conversation. Art knowledgeable people outside the South are fascinated by Mississippi; yet, the question I get asked most often lately by non-Southern art elites goes something like this: "How did an open-minded liberal white artist like you ever manage to develop in such a backward state that is on the bottom of every list that is so steeped in racist attitudes with such a hate filled history and populated with so many ignorant conservative Republican Christians?"

Of course, the art sensitive people who ask the above question are usually far too sophisticated to use such crude and direct language (the way we routinely do in the South!) so I’m forced to try and translate their unspoken thoughts... but I’m sure you get the point.

The negative stereotypes about the people of Mississippi are incredibly pervasive in the cosmopolitan world of high art. Many educated arts professionals that I deal with in the Washington, D.C. area seem to operate under this absurd media induced stereotype that the average white Mississippian is a dangerous gun-toting NRA member NASCAR-fan racist redneck Republican who drives around in a beat-up pick-up truck with Rebel Flag bumper stickers plastered all over his vehicle cruising the back roads of the state looking for liberal democrats to beat up.

Many people in the rarified heights of the art world don’t know, and don’t really want to know, anything about the real Mississippi. That’s a shame because this place called Mississippi, with a population less than 3 million, has produced more creative people than any other place in the United States of America.

But despite the condescending comments mouthed by those art snobs who soar in the thin air of high altitude art with the rest of the enlightened and seasoned cultural elite, the meaningful cultural legacy of the grounded dynamic multi-cultural vibrancy of artist heritage of Mississippi will be around long after these people have passed into historic obscurity and, indeed, long after the United States of America even ceases to be united. And no matter what happens in this world, no matter how bad things get, the creative energy of artistic Mississippians will continue to be one of the major forces of passion, hope and love of life that will inspire the world to be a better place.

Black or white, race doesn't matter, artists from Mississippi have a deep love for the world and have longed shared their talents (talents born from a reality that many of the elites in the world of high art will never understand) in a genuine effort to make the ordinary genuine person who lives in every neighborhood in America, and in every neighborhood of every country in the world for that matter, laugh or think or smile or cry.

This is what being a passionate liberal Mississippi artist and proud conservative Southern person is all about for me.

If you don’t get it, you never will... I guess it’s just a Southern thing.

There were 4 deceased Mississippi artists who have had a profound artistic impact on the world who were exhibited and/or noted in a major way in Washington, D. C. in 2004.

There was also a 5th living Mississippi artist/photographer who may have had (some are saying he did!) a certain impact in the D.C. area as well; I will let someone else comment on that fella’s contributions, if any, when that glorious day arrives:

1. Samuel "Sambo" Mockbee - "Samuel Mockbee and the Rural Studio: Community Architecture" at the National Building Museum.
"A true architect practices all three professions simultaneously. The role of an architect/ artist/ teacher is to challenge the status quo and help others see what the possibilities can be." – Samuel "Sambo" Mockbee
Only in the South could a white man get away with insisting that he be referred to as Sambo!

Sambo worked in architectural practice for many years prior to founding the Rural Studio. In 1977, immediately after completing his internship, he founded Mockbee Goodman Architects with friend and classmate Thomas Goodman. The firm quickly built a regional reputation for utilizing local materials in its exceptional designs, winning more than 25 state and regional awards in four years.

Architect Samuel Mockbee was convinced that "everyone, rich or poor, deserves a shelter for the soul" and that architects should lead in procuring social and environmental change. But he believed they had lost their moral compass. The profession needed reform, he believed, and education was the place to start. "If architecture is going to nudge, cajole, and inspire a community to challenge the status quo into making responsible changes, it will take the subversive leadership of academics and practitioners who keep reminding students of the profession’s responsibilities," he said. He wanted to get students away from the academic classroom into what he called the classroom of the community.

Architecture students enrolled in the Rural Studio actually live in and become a part of the community in which they are working. This "context based learning" format teaches them critical architecture skills with an eye towards social responsibility. It is said that to his students, Mockbee presented architecture as a principle that must be committed to environmental, social, political and aesthetic issues.

Samuel Mockbee was awarded the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant in 2000 shortly before he died at the age of 57. He was post-humously awarded the 2004 AIA Gold Medal by the Board of Directors of the American Institute of Architects.

I considered Sambo to be a friend, an inspiration, a humanitarian and a consummate artist.

2. Walter Inglis Anderson – "Walter Inglis Anderson: Everything I See is New and Strange" at the Smithsonian Institution's Arts and Industries Building.

"I am continually arriving from some strange place and everything I see is new and strange." – Walter Inglis Anderson

Southern museum goers and art collectors have known of Walter Anderson for more than 50 years. They were introduced to him in 1948, when Memphians John and Louise Lehman persuaded Louise Bennett Clark, director of what was then the Brooks Memorial Art Gallery, to mount the first show ever of Anderson’s work. Art critic Guy Northrop, writing in The Commercial Appeal, instantly declared him a "genius." Memphians saw that genius at work again in 1950, when the Brooks focused on Anderson’s block prints, watercolors, and ink drawings, and again in 1967, when the museum put together a major retrospective.

Southern artists knew of Anderson too. Burton Callicott, painter and instructor at what would become the Memphis College of Art, traveled to Ocean Springs in 1948 for a crash course in pottery under Peter Anderson, the artist’s brother and head of the family’s business, Shearwater Pottery. (Walter’s "gift" to Callicott? A mound of clay, no note attached, one morning at Callicott’s door.) MCA students still camp every summer on Horn Island, Anderson’s Gulf Coast retreat 10 miles offshore from Ocean Springs, and the work they do there is still exhibited at the start of every school year.

Did Anderson have an "uneasy" life? Yes, to judge from Anderson’s difficulties as a breadwinner and also from the history of his sometimes fragile mental health — periodic verbal and physical violence, sudden disappearances, incidents of self-mutilation, cryptic utterances, and near-catatonic states, until Anderson, in a series of hospitalizations, underwent treatment at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield.

But it was Horn Island that, in a sense, saved him.

3. George Edgar Ohr – "The Mad Potter of Biloxi" by Bruce Watson in the February 2004 edition of the Smithsonian Magazine.

"I am the potter who was." – George E. "The Mad Potter of Biloxi" Ohr

Despite his reputation for eccentricity, George Ohr was a hard worker. In the later part of his life, he produced quality art pottery that will be appreciated and remembered for centuries. George cultivated the idea that he was crazy, calling himself "The Mad Potter of Biloxi." He said that he was "unrivaled" or "unequalled" and was, by his own estimation, the "world's greatest potter." His antics, self-promotion, and playful spirit are what people remember, rather than what was more likely the case, a determined artist who sought to create attention to his creative production through his eccentric character.

Ohr's skills exploded when he became an "artist-potter." His claim there were "no two alike" was true. The pinched, folded and twisted clay forms, thinness of the clay wall, fluidity of form, tendril-like handles, and freshness of Ohr's creations illustrate a technical skill that is still unrivaled. One hundred years later, potters marvel at his skill and cannot rightly say exactly how it was done. Critics of the day praised Ohr's glazes, but as his admiration for pure forms executed in clay increased, he left many pieces unglazed in bisque form. He believed only in this state could the form be clearly perceived.

Ohr's serious creations did not find popularity with the public. And because the Victorian art pottery of the day was carefully controlled and decorated, Ohr’s energetic and expressionistic treatment of clay was too wild even for refined tastes. Ohr was passionate about his work and supremely confident in his talent. He wrote to an art critic, "I am making pottery for art’s sake, God’s sake, the future generation, and — by present indications — for my own satisfaction, but when I'm gone my work ... will be prized, honored and cherished." In l899 he packed up eight pieces and sent them to the Smithsonian Institution. One of the pots was inscribed, "I am the Potter Who Was."

4. Eudora Welty – Passionate Observer: Photographs by Eudora Welty at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
"I traveled the entire state of Mississippi taking pictures. I saw so many people who had nothing.. . . But even as people struggled, I was aware at a deep level of the richness of life going on all around me. I felt something about this time so strongly that the image stayed with me always." — Eudora Welty
Welty’s career as a photographer comprised a brief part of a long life, but it complemented her later work as a writer. In the late 1930s, Life magazine published Welty’s photographs. She also had exhibitions of her more artistic photographs in New York in 1936 and 1937. In the early 1940s, Welty’s career as a photographer for the most part ended after she decided to instead concentrate on writing.

The photographs that Welty took while traveling through Mississippi for the WPA didn’t get published until nearly four decades later in the book "One Time, One Place: Mississippi in the Depression." However, Welty’s photographs were never widely exhibited during her lifetime, besides a few limited-edition portfolios. In fact, most people did not even know of her years as a photographer until after her death in 2001.


The above 4 artists from Mississippi have all passed away and gone on to art heaven. Their living spirits collectively exert a tremendous influence on me and my art and my philosophy of life and art.

As I mentioned above, there was also a 5th Mississippi artist, a certain experimental photographer who will remain unnamed, who also exhibited around and made his presence known in the metro Washington, D.C. region during 2004.

I won’t mention his name or comment on his place in the pantheon of great artists because my Mississippi momma and Mississippi grandmothers raised me to be too humble to be so rude! I’ll leave it to the certified art critics, professional art historians and other credentialed art experts to decide what page, if any, this eccentric Mississippi photographer gets to occupy in the official art canon at the end of his life.

What does it mean to be an artist from Mississippi? Simply this: It means being true unto yourself and your vision and trying to do the right thing.
Where am I going?

What am I doing?

I don't know I don't know

Just try to do your very best

Stand up be counted with all the rest

Cos everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

Mississippi Goddamn by Nina Simone

New Gallery to open in Dupont Circle area

JET Artworks will be opening January 7, 2005 in Elizabeth Roberts' old space at 2108 R St. NW.

The gallery will feature contemporary paintings, photography and sculpture. Their first exhibition is a group show by several of their gallery artists including Conor McGrady (whose work was seen in the 2002 Whitney Biennial), Gregory Euclide, Greg Murr, Michel Tsouris and Ken Bucklew.

DC Art News sends a welcome aboard to JET Artworks!

Bring in the New Year with ArtRomp!

Molly Ruppert announces ArtRomp #17 on December 31 at Warehouse on New Year's Eve 6-9pm. Meet old friends, meet new friends, watch performance and performance art (Performance artists Larkin and Ed at 7 & 8 PM), see art, hear music, see more art. Food, drinks, a picnic in the parking lot. And it's all Free!

1021 7th Street NW
btwn NY Ave and L Street
202 783 3933
Metro: Gallery Pl & Mt Vernon Sq.
ArtRomp runs 6-9PM
Warehouse cafe/bar, theaters & music run 9-2am.