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What Happens When the Kids Don’t Want It?
Part 1: Auctions Happen

by Leslie Ferrin, director, Ferrin Contemporary, specialist in ceramics from 1950 to the present.

Auction Records Matter
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Michael Lucero lot #110

For both artists and collectors who are afraid of what happens to their collections when “the kids don’t want it” or are considering “lightening their load” by de-accessioning artworks through public auction, the results from two estate auctions this spring indicate that to do so successfully, the auction houses need help. Two collections, passionately acquired and left to their families to disperse, ended up in two different auction houses in the last two months, with mixed results. While they did achieve the goal of getting the estates sold, these collections were subjected to a variety of avoidable and unfortunate outcomes. Besides generating funds from the sale for the estates and emptying the houses, new public records were established from prices realized during these sales.  These records will now be used to establish values for insurance, replacement, and estimates for future sales and have important implications for the artists and collectors who are still actively creating and buying.

“More than 20 auction records were attained during the five-hour sale, artfixdaily, April 19, 2016

For artists whose works are being sold for the first time on the secondary market, it is indeed the wild-west era.  After the Fire & Form: Fine Art and Ceramics, Part 1 sale, Artfix Daily reported that: “More than 20 auction records were attained during the five-hour sale, with competitive bidding in a full auction room, online, and on the phones.” However and despite the appearance of success, these new public records are now available for the next auctioneer, appraiser, and potential buyers to inform their buying decisions, estimates, and for appraisals for tax purposes for museum donations. The “20 records attained” is not so much a measure of success as it is a statement about the lack of public records for many artists offered in these two estate sales, as their artwork had never been through a public auction and these are their first and only public records.

When Records Beget Records

Both artists and collectors can impact the value and outcome of what they leave behind by keeping, organizing, and sharing their records. The sad and untimely deaths of Candice Groot and Sylvia Elsesser meant that the families and the auction house specialists struggled under pressure to empty houses and settle estates. These two collections involved large numbers of works by both passed and living artists, and many had never been sold publicly. To compound the task, without access to orderly systems, complete records, and a clear de-accession plan, the resulting sale catalogs included objects that were mis-identified, minimally documented, partially shown, and in comes cases bulked in a group of objects as a group lot. Would a bundled lot have sold better had Bonhams known what was in it?

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MODERN CRAFT Group of sterling silver articles, late 20th/early 21st centuries – Bonhams

In both cases, record keeping is only partially to blame. Original documentation, provenance, and publication history may have been separated from the objects or possibly lost entirely.  Valuable information, only known by the collector was no longer accessible. Families may or may not have been involved in decision making along the way or been given the opportunity. But as we learned with these two estates, when the time comes, the family needs to know how and where the records are kept and preferably be involved with the planning for de-accession. Would the auction houses use this information if provided? Would the interest in the artwork from buyers be greater had they known ? Would the sale price achieved been higher? One would think so.

The Nature of the Beast
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Linda Cordell lot #43

However, the nature of the auction system is such that they receive their commissions regardless of price achieved and this works against spending time on objects whose values are still low or unknown. The business model balances the costs of handling, time, and marketing dollars spent against their profit margin. This means that they are not necessarily motivated to use their resources to seek out additional information that may or may not affect the sale price achieved.  They may not consider additional paid advertising and marketing resources as cost effective for a sale that will take place regardless of how much is spent to offer it. In terms of research, the auction houses often use Wikipedia and Google to quickly learn about an artist identity and establish estimates.   For many artists, if their identification marks are not registered with listing services such as The Marks Project, The Dictionary of American Studio Ceramics, 1946 to Present, then they may end up mis-identified or sold in a lot of “articles, late 20-21st centuries” for much less than they are worth.

Mistakes Happen
Robert Arneson "Portrait of the Artist as a Clever Old Dog" 1981 from Groot Estate Auction 4-2016

Robert Arneson “Portrait of the Artist as a Clever Old Dog” lot #16

In addition to the inaccuracies generated by these records, and despite the occasional use of amended information, the nature of the auction process means that when the final gavel bangs down, a public selling price record is established. The auctions create a dialog between buyers and auctioneers who are juggling simultaneous and occasionally competitive bidding that involve bids left with the house, buyers in the room, telephone calls coming and going, and multiple live internet platforms delivering bids from far and wide. Mistakes that can involve thousands of dollars get made when the auctioneer who asks “all in?” does not sense how long to wait or how high the sale might progress past a stalled bidding process. This individual’s experience as an auctioneer, knowledge of their material, and familiarity with the buyers is another unknown factor that plays into the final price achieved.

Since this first wave of selling a group of living, and less than well-known artists is taking place under extreme conditions, most if not all works are selling for a fraction of what they were sold for originally and in most cases, much less than comparable works currently offered through the primary market.  How much less was raised than could have been for the Groot and Elsesser estates had another method of de-accession been planned or chosen? Water under the bridge now but questions are now raised and new awareness of the pitfalls could have a positive impact on the future.

What can be done about it?
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Deborah Butterfield lot #254

What we do know is — if collections are prepared and outcomes planned whether sold or given, they will achieve better results and make it easier for families and those involved. Whether you are an artist with a life of work in private collections or your attic, or a collector seeking to downsize or de-access, everyone can make choices that will have an impact on what happens if “the kids don’t want it.”

Continued … Check back for part 2 for what you can do when “the kids don’t want it” and examples of how artists, foundations and collectors are finding ways to work with collections and lifetimes of artwork and seeing positive results from their efforts.

Click here for more on Ferrin Contemporary’s collector services.

 

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Peter Held

Read Appraiser Peter Held’s blog post. Fire & Form Part I: The Estate of Candice Groot Auction or the Showdown at the Mudslingers Ball

See results of  Fire & Form: Fine Art and Ceramics Part1 from the Estate of Candice B. Groot, April 16, 2016 Auction at Treadway Tooomey

See results of selected works from the estate of Sylvia and Eric Elsesser in the auction The Modern House Bonhams, Los Angeles, May 4, 2016

Click here for a downloadable-printable version of this blog post.

Slide show of the April 16th Auction Fire & Form – photos courtesy Leslie Ferrin.

Bill Rogers, Managing Editor of C-File, reviews RE-Reanimate, Repair, Mend and Meld at Ferrin Contemporary. 

“The aesthetics of and philosophical questions surrounding repairs were explored in-depth with RE-Reanimate, Repair, Mend and Meld. The exhibition, originally presented at the New York Ceramics & Glass Fair, explored different inventive ways people have repaired ceramics in the past. It pushes that thread into discussions about repairs that rise above their station and make a work more unique and pleasing. There are even a few works that border on Theseus’ paradox, with some “repairs” being two entirely different plates fused together like a porcelain Frankenstein.”

Click here to read full article.

Click here to see more about the exhibition.

C-File: Exhibition | Forms by Peter Pincus See Clay as Canvas in “CeramATTACK”

Bill Rogers reports from St. Louis, Missouri, “New York artist Peter Pincus works in colored porcelain as a way to create “three dimensional paintings” out of pots. How can these visitors between the second and third dimensions enhance one another? How can the form of a vessel aid the painter and vice versa?”

Click here to read full article.

Click here to see more work by Peter Pincus.

VISIT

Visit Ferrin Contemporary in the heart of the Berkshires.

soaringslide978x300pxFERRIN CONTEMPORARY, located on the campus of MASS MoCA, is in the heart of the Berkshires, about a three-hour drive from New York and Boston. Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow, The Clark, galleries, and many great restaurants make the Berkshires the perfect art vacation destination along with the amazing natural beauty of the mountains themselves.

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“Since the turn of the 20th century, urban creatives have flocked to the Berkshires—a quiet, mountainous region in Massachusetts—as a fresh air summer retreat. Over the years, these fair-weather tourists have left their mark on the area, establishing a rich assortment of arts institutions and seasonal programs highlighting every conceivable discipline, from theater to sculpture.” — Artsy

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Ferrin Contemporary  1315 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA

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MUSEUMS

The Clark

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A 15-minute drive west of Ferrin Contemporary and MASS MoCA, is the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute—recently renovated by Tadao Ando. The permanent collection features European and American paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, photographs, and decorative arts from the Renaissance to the early twentieth century. The collection is especially rich in French Impressionist and Academic paintings, British oil sketches, drawings, and silver, and the work of American artists Winslow Homer, George Inness, and John Singer Sargent. Click for more.

Williams College Museum of Art

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Only a short drive from The Clark, the college town of Williamstown is unexpectedly buzzing each summer thanks to the Williamstown Theatre Festival. These intimate seasonal performances are matched by the school’s impressive art museum. The museum’s mission, “to advance learning through lively and innovative approaches to art for the students of Williams College and communities beyond the campus” means visitors from outside the college are met with a warm welcome. And, there is no admission fee. Click for more.

MASS MoCA

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MASS MoCA is one of the world’s liveliest centers for making and enjoying today’s most evocative art. With vast galleries and a stunning collection of indoor and outdoor performing arts venues, MASS MoCA is able to embrace all forms of art: music, sculpture, dance, film, painting, photography, theater, and new, boundary-crossing works of art that defy easy classification. Click for more.
“A Wall Drawing Retrospective” by Sol Lewitt is worth the trip alone. Click for more. The long-term installation of sculpture and paintings by Anselm Kiefer is housed in a specially repurposed, 10,000 square-foot building at MASS MoCA. Click for more.

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MUSIC & PERFORMING ARTS

Jacobs Pillow Dance

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Jacob’s Pillow Dance is lauded worldwide as a “hub and mecca of dancing” (TIME Magazine), “one of America’s most precious cultural assets” (Mikhail Baryshnikov), and “the dance center of the nation” (The New York Times). “The Pillow” is a treasured 220-acre National Historic Landmark, a recipient of the prestigious National Medal of Arts, and home to America’s longest-running international dance festival. Each year thousands of people from across the U.S. and around the globe visit to experience The Festival with more than 50 dance companies and 200 free performances, talks, and events. Click for more.

Williamstown Theater Festival

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Since 1955, the Williamstown Theatre Festival has brought America’s finest actors, directors, designers, and playwrights to the Berkshires, engaging a loyal audience of both residents and summer visitors. Each season is designed to present unique opportunities for artists and audience alike, revisiting classic plays with innovative productions, developing and nurturing bold new plays and musicals, and offering a rich array of accompanying cultural events including Free Theatre, Late-Night Cabarets, readings, workshops, and educational programs. Click for more.

Tanglewood

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Further south, Lenox, Massachusetts, thrives during the summer thanks in part to the legendary Tanglewood Music Festival, which brings acclaimed contemporary classical acts to the rural bandshell. Tanglewood has been the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1937. Pack a picnic and head to Tanglewood for a starlit night of world-class music. Click for more.


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For a detailed listing of current exhibits, performances, events, and other local offerings, click here to visit Destination Williamstown.

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Ferrin Contemporary

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Housed in an airy building on MASS MoCA’s 16-acre campus, this contemporary art gallery is only a short walk from the museums’s front door. A joint venture between Ferrin Contemporary and Cynthia Reeves Gallery, the shared space serves as a flexible platform for both galleries to stage large-scale exhibitions and programming. Our gallery features contemporary ceramic work in themed exhibitions and solo shows.

“Don’t expect local kitsch—the outpost boasts a rotating program of internationally acclaimed talents like Ron Nagle and Betty Woodman.” Kat Herriman, Artsy Editorial

Ferrin Contemporary’s Art Concierge Services

Let us help plan your visit with a curated itinerary.  We can help you arrange studio visits, navigate various museum exhibitions and performance offerings, as well as recommend trails and outdoor adventures. Click here to contact us by e-mail. Or give us a call.

Click here to view a sample itinerary for a group of 10 visiting the Berkshires. The tour is filled with art in museums, galleries, and artists’ studios along with live entertainment and good food.

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Book Your Stay Today

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Don’t leave your booking until too late. Make your reservations and get the special treatment at PORCHES INN — use the code ARTNA when booking best available rates.

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Kathleen Whitney, in her article “Cristina Córdova: Involuntary Dialogs” in Ceramics Monthly, February 2016 issue, writes, “For centuries, both painting and sculpture were synonymous with the representation of figures; the earliest images we know are figurative. The foundation of Cristina Córdova’s work lies squarely within this global tradition.”

Click here to read full article.
Click here to see work by Cristina Cordova.

“Multifaceted” by Sebby Wilson Jacobson, September 2015, American Craft Magazine

Jacobson explores Peter Pincus’s elaborate process, his path to clay, and his motivationto create.
Peter’s work grabs your attention and makes you think, “How the hell did he do that?” But it just sits there and says, “You don’t have to know. Just look at me.” — ceramic sculptor Anne Currier

Click here to read full article.

Jacobson expanded on Pincus’s detailed and painstaking process of creating vessels with a second article,  “Pincus’s 12 -Step Process.”

Click here to read full article.

“It is inevitable. As we watch an artist’s work change over time, we also watch the artist’s life unfold.”
In his review, “Family Affair: Isupov and Pärnamets,” Anthony Stellacio brings insight into the work and life of this complex family of accomplished artists.
Ceramics: Art and Perception No. 103 2016
Click here to view full article.

The exhibit, “FAMILY AFFAIR: Sergei Isupov, Kadri Pärnamets, Roosie Isupov,” was presented by Ferrin Contemporary in its gallery at 1315 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA, in the spring of 2015.
Click here to view works in the show.

FireFest, now in its fourth year, is celebrated at STARworks in Star, NC. Each year, it focuses on clay, glass, and metal as they are transformed by intense heat and the hand of the artist. Ferrin Contemporary’s Sergei Isupov is a key player in this year’s festival of fire.

“If all goes according to plan on April 2, a massive, specially designed kiln in this little town 90 minutes east of Charlotte will open like a flower, revealing a 7-foot-tall ceramic sculpture still wreathed in flames.” — Mark Leach, correspondent

Click here to read full article, enjoy a short video, and see more images from FireFest.

April 1 & 2, 2016
FireFest at STARworks
Star, NC