Collector's Roundtable: Round One
September 30, 2008
Eric Widing, head of the American Paintings and Sculpture Department for Christie's since 1998, kicked off the 2008 Collector's Roundtable series with his talk, "Buying at Auction," offering us a capsule of his years in the art business. At eleven years old he made his first purchase, an Andrew Wyeth catalogue, from the MFA Boston. That seemed to seal his fate not only in the arts, but as someone deeply committed to American art and artists.
The good news is that the art market is booming and recently has seen some of its best years ever. So, it's hard to determine if art sales can provide a kind of Rorschach test into the mood of today's economy. As Widing said, "the art market is counter-cyclical."
Widing told the audience of more than fifty gathered at SAAM's McEvoy Auditorium that the five determinants in buying at auction are provenance, rarity, condition, taste, and quality. When all come together in one work of art, it makes for a perfect storm at the auction house. This was the case for Thomas Moran's Green River of Wyoming, which sold for more than $17 million, setting a new record for a 19th-century American painting. Widing shared more stories with us, including that of an Albert Bierstadt that had been painted in 1874 and had remained in one family till the present time. It belonged to a Park Avenue family, and when Christie's was called in to assess the estate, the son discovered the painting under his mother's bed.
"It's been an exciting journey, and I'm sure it will be in the years to come," Widing added. Despite the high-end prices being recorded in the auction houses, there are still areas of American art that have not been fully tapped, African American art being one such area. As part of a lively Q&A with the audience after the talk, Widing provided the example of a Jacob Lawrence painting. Originally offered at an estate sale with a very small price tag on it, the painting went for many times that once it sold at auction.
The Collector's Roundtable series continues on October 28th with "My Second Career as a Collector" by Lewis Nerman, who is both a trucking industry executive and an avid collector of contemporary art. On November 18, Joshua Kaufman will speak on "Cutting through the Legalese: What Every Collector Should Know." For more information on attending these events here are the details.
Till then, continue to look at art, save your pennies to buy something you love, and once in a while, check under the bed.
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