Friday, January 13, 2006

Missing Close Calls with Big Money Art

Martin Bromirski at Anaba has found a piece of art in a Richmond Thift Shop by an artist apparently included in the 1973 Whitney Biennial.

Makes one wonder about the path for that piece, or what has happened to that particular artist (Lester Van Winkle). Read it here.

Finding (and sometimes missing) great artwork at unexpected places is one of the great thrills of an art lover's life... I think.

It has crossed my path a few times in the past.

First time: And I'll admit that I am not sure if this is a great piece of art, but it sure is an interesting and challenging one! Here's the story: When I was a student at the University of Washington School of Art from 1977 to 1981, as most of you know, I was already a rare but active Kahlophile, seeking and loving everything dealing with Frida Kahlo.

I can't recall where, I think it was in Bellevue, Washington, or perhaps in Richland (or one of the other Tri-Cities) in the desert area of Washington state, in a thrift shop, I found a large oil of Frida Kahlo (not by Frida Kahlo, but of Frida Kahlo) done in 1956.

The oil was framed, and inscribed on the back of the frame, was the notation (in Spanish) declaring that it was a portrait of Frida Kahlo de Rivera, commenced in 1949 and finished in 1956 (a few years after her death). I've spent countless hours trying to track down the artist who did the piece to no avail. But when I do find out who did this really early oil portrait of Kahlo, I hope that it will be big.

Oh yeah... (in case someone out there can help), it is signed by someone named "S. Goldbar" or "S.Golbor."

Second Time: Now it's 1986 or 1987... and I am at Post Graduate school in Monterey, California. And my then sister-in-law Donna came to visit, and we dropped by a small auction house in Monterey.

Donna liked a framed piece that was identified in the auction catalog as a poster by R.C. Gorman.

I looked at it and told Donna: "This looks like an original to me."

We discussed it for a while, and after me admitting that I wasn't a fan of Gorman (and she was), I agreed to bid for her (as the auction was to take place after she would have left Monterey).

To make a long story short, I won the lot for her for around $10; and it was - once I took it home and unframed it - an original piece just as I had suspected.

I took a Polaroid of the piece, and shipped it (along with the art) to Donna, telling her that she now owned an original R.C. Gorman, and she should contact the artist and send him the Polaroid and ask about the piece.

So I shipped it to her, and she apparently contacted Gorman, who wrote back (happy to find out where his original pastel was), confirming the piece's provenance.

That pastel must be worth a few tens of thousands Benjamins now...

Third Time: I think that it was in 1989, and I was living in Scotland and went for a weekend stay in Edinburgh and while there I visited the Royal Scottish Academy’s annual exhibition, which was opening on the same day that I arrived at that beautiful city.

They had two paintings by an unknown Scottish ex-miner named Jack Vettriano, and they reminded me of a very tough Hopper. I actually tried to buy them but at the last minute I chickened out.

They were around 300 pounds each (maybe $500 each at the time), and (as I had just received a huge heating oil bill), I talked myself out of buying it. They both sold on the first day of the exhibition.

Those two Vettriano paintings are probably each worth around a couple of million dollars today.

Fourth time: And Donna comes to visit me in Scotland, where I lived until 1992.

I am living at the Little Keithock Farmhouse, near Brechin, and I was hooked on going to the bi-monthly auctions in Panmure Row, Montrose by Taylor's Auction Rooms.

And we went to Taylor's Auction Rooms while she was visiting, and she liked one of the lots.

As I recall, it was a dirty mezzotint, correctly identified as a 19th century mezzotint by Landseer, with the subject of horses. It was framed in a handmade frame with broken glass, which had punctured and cut the mezzotint.

"Ah..." says Donna, "bid five pounds for me."

Donna leaves... auction comes up.

And I win it for her. Only one bid for five pounds.

And I bring it home.

And I take it out of the frame.

And (hidden by the moulding) I see a pencil note (and the seal) by Landseer's printmaker asking how Landseer likes this proof of the mezzotint, and I see Landseer's response, essentially approving the proof.

And (later after I ship it to her), Donna finds out that the Landseer proof of the mezzotint is worth a few thousand pounds (after it was restored).

Fifth time: And later on I became a good friend of Ian Taylor, who was the owner of the auction house.

And they even auctioned off several of my originals works of Scottish landscapes that I painted while I lived near Brechin in Angus.

And because of him (well, because of his auctions) I subsequently met Catriona at the auction house. And at the moment and and in the process of meeting her, I missed my bidding opportunity to win a sweet deal in winning an auction of an original watercolor by Jack Butler Yeats that sold for fifteen pounds!

Anxiously waiting for the sixth time.

Another story: Chris Goodwin relates that

My story isn't quite so dramatic, but was fun nevertheless.

In late 2004, I was at Weschler's auction house and saw a large portfolio of posters, most of which were worthless and in poor shape. On top, though, and there for everyone to see, was an austere black and white geometrical image of Tony Smith's gargantuan sculpture "Gracehoper."

The poster was from the Detroit Institute of Art and commemorated its installation. Anyhow, I noticed in one corner what appeared to be a small signature by Tony Smith in white conte crayon.

I got the lot of posters for $35. I contacted a couple of his dealers and they verified that it was his signature and one of the dealers bought it for $450. Not too bad....
Email me your stories if you have some good one!