By Carol Sims
BOSTON, MASS. – Take an attractive historic building (The Cyclorama) in quiet and accessible neighborhood of a major East Coast city (Boston); throw in a worthy fundraiser (Gillette Centers for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber/Partners CancerCare); add an exhibition by women faculty members of the reigning art school (School of the Museum of Fine Arts); invite an eclectic mix of art dealers from very near and very far; hold a standing-room-only lecture (Erica Hirshler) and present everything concurrently with an important local museum exhibition (“A Studio of Her Own: Women Artists in Boston 1870-1940,” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). What do you get? The fifth annual Boston International Fine Art Show.
The site of the Boston Center for the Arts, the Cyclorama at 539 Tremont Street (on the South End) is a bright airy brick building with a large center rotunda, vaulted ceilings and skylights. The Boston Ballet is right around the corner, and artists live and work in the area. From November 15 to 18, the Cyclorama was brimming with an eclectic mix of international art from 42 galleries. Dealers hailed from Boston and New York City, other points in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and one each from San Diego, Calif., Fairlawn, Ohio, Scarsdale, N.Y., and Chicago, Ill.
This year dealers also traveled from Calgary, Canada, as well as London and Wimbledon, England. It was not unusual to see Japanese or European art coming from dealers in the United States, or for that matter, to see a British gallery with American artists on their roster.
The show opened Thursday evening with a fundraiser for Gillette Centers. David Cowan of Acme Fine Art, Boston, had a very good opening night, selling a number of paintings. He specializes in Modernism from about 1913 to 1960. When asked the secret of his success Cowan said, “Good quality works at good prices.” Cowan knows he is reaching new collectors in spite of the fact that his gallery is right on Newbury Street. “We’ve met some of our most loyal customers at that show.” This was their fourth year.
Co-producers Tony Fusco and Robert Four work hard on the eclectic and international mix of art. “Boston is a very international city,” said Fusco. “We think the comprehensive nature of the show fits the Boston market.”
“We try to keep the show about 50/50 with traditional fine art dealers and contemporary dealers,” said Four. “We have a waiting list in some categories,” he added.
Tom Veilleux, of Tom Veilleux Gallery, Farmington Me., sells traditional work. “The show was terrific this year. I made several significant sales including an important work by William Zorach. I have exhibited at this show since the first year and feel that it is finally beginning to draw dealers and collectors from outside the Boston area. I did notice that there were a number of people from New York attending the show, perhaps because so many of the New York shows were cancelled this year. It felt, to me, that this show is finally coming into its own and has the potential to become not only an important show in the Boston area, but a show that could eventually have a national following,” said Veilleux.
According to Four, the gate was down from last year, with slightly more than 3,000 attending. “We expected tourism would be off this year,” said Four. Every hotel room in Boston gives away Panorama, the magazine that lists everything to do in Boston. Fusco & Four had advertised in Panorama, and sent comp tickets to concierges all over town. The cover of the magazine featured a painting of Boston by Andrew Burgess who was represented at the show by The Cynthia Corbett Gallery, Wimbeldon.
Aside from a good selection of Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century art, as well as emerging artists, there were further specialties represented at the Boston International Fine Art Show – marine art, photography, Eastern European prints and illuminated manuscripts to name a few. Walking through the Cyclorama you did not know what you were going to see next. One minute you could be dazzled by Andrew Burgess’s wonderful large, colorful, cityscapes, and the next you could be pondering a rare Buddha statue, or an Edward Steichen photograph.
Art Depot, Lexington, Mass., is a co-op with about 25 emerging artists. They all took turns staffing the booth. They sold about ten works under $1,000, according to Natalie Warshawer. This was their second year at the show. “The quality of the whole show was really great. We took care to jury our own works. It was successful for us as far as publicity and getting our name around,” said Warshawer.
A good example of the variety that could be found within a single display was Countess and Goat Ancient Art, Southborough, Mass. Their booth had a stone-carved Buddha from Afghanistan, a set of painted ceramic sculpture portraits of an Indonesian royal family, a very old carved figure of Joan of Arc and examples of ancient Roman glass. They offered coins with Alexander the Great and bronze rings from ancient Rome for $35 to $350, and important statuary for $5,000 to 15,000 or more. “The Chinese artifacts drew the most attention,” reported Peter Rosier of Countess and Goat Ancient Art, after the show.
Questroyal Fine Art, New York City, brought superb examples of the Hudson River School, including a beautiful painting by Samuel Colman (1832-1920) entitled “Twilight, Valley of the Genesee.” It was painted in 1865 and was priced in the low six figures. Questroyal had a very large display area at the entrance to the rotunda. They also brought dozens of fine unframed Nineteenth Century drawings by John Embury that were priced at $300 each. At this show no one had to walk away empty handed. If you were at all interested in buying, there was plenty to choose from.
Ronny Cohen carried works of Clara Davidson, one of the artists in the Museum Of Fine Arts exhibition “A Studio of Her Own.” She said, “I was very pleased with the sales I made and with the interest there was in the material I brought. Clara D. Davidson, whose drawing ‘Reading’ was reproduced in at least two local newspaper articles on the show, was the artist who attracted the most interest at my booth. Others who got lots of responses included early 1900s illustrator Charles Grunwald, and contemporary painter Jim Zhang. The ‘Studio of her Own’ exhibition was a good thing since it did bring in people related to the Museum School [School of the Museum of Fine Arts]. I definitely hope to come back next year.” Cohen was a first-time show participant.
“This was the best year we’ve ever had,” said Sarah Hardy, of McGowan Fine Art, Concord, N.H., about the Boston International Fine Art Show. They sold about 25 pieces, all under $1,000. The Boston International Fine Art Show gives them an opportunity to expand into the Boston market, only an hour and a half away from Concord. They look at the expense of the show as an advertising cost, a chance to put more Boston clients on their mailing list.
“Boston collectors are sophisticated, and more apt to spend money on art,” said Hardy. The gallery carries a mix of traditional representational art and contemporary pieces. “The owner of the gallery, Mary McGowan, feels strongly that we need to bring contemporary work to New Hampshire,” continued Hardy. While it was the traditional that sold at Boston, and provides most of their sales in New Hampshire, McGowan Fine Art would not be complete without the edgy contemporary art that gives them, well, an “edge.”
Otto Peter Erbar, Peterborough Fine Art, Peterborough, N.H., was tickled to have discovered a floral pastel by Laura Coombs Hills (1859-1952). The owners had had it in the family since 1930 when it came into their hands as a wedding present. Even under cobwebs, dust and cracked glass, Erbar recognized it as a Hills immediately. With a little TLC, “White Irises” looked absolutely stunning at the show. Erbar started off strongly with the sale of a 1908 Arthur Carles painting on opening night. He also sold a Nellie Littlehale Murphy and a Marcia Oakes Woodbury at the gala.
Quite a few dealers did not experience substantial sales this year. For them the show was a bittersweet experience. Fred Al-Nakib of F.A.N. Gallery in Philadelphia was mortified by the attendance. “Three thousand people is nothing. I get over 1,000 at my openings. They have to get more people there.” He managed to make his costs, but thought the art at the show warranted more interest from the locals.
Marine Arts Gallery, Salem, Mass., brought only high-end new and old marine paintings, and did not sell from the floor. They had a beautiful painting by living artist Roy Cross “who is in the same league as Montague Dawson and John Stobart” according to gallery owner Don Kiernan. He also brought classics like a ship portrait by Antonio Jacobsen and half a dozen Chinese Nineteenth Century ship portraits. Kiernan was happy to see some important collectors on Sunday, and expects to see some follow up business.
While some customers may have been a bit capricious, dealers were mostly steadfast in their praise of Fusco & Four. “Bob and Tony run a seamless production you can really appreciate,” said David Cowan. He has done shows in New York City and considers Boston’s Cyclorama to be ideal. Out of town dealers like Ronny Cohen from New York City also had good things to say, “I really enjoyed the fair – it was extremely well run and a lively event with lots of enthusiastic and serious-about-art type visitors.”