There may actually be a few of you out there who collect American Art, but have still not made the trek to Philadelphia for the annual USArtists Fine Arts Show. Hang your heads low and mark your calendars for next year (October 20 gala preview, October 21-23 show), which will be the 200th Anniversary of The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. There is a chance that you may yet redeem yourselves for this gross oversight.
Each year USArtists brings to market singular pieces of American art. Choice pieces are carefully shepherded to the show by the 55 or so dealers. Works by artists who are household names are nicely sprinkled throughout the show – Mary Cassatt, Frederic Remington, Georgia O’Keeffe, Norman Rockwell, Andrew Wyeth, etc. Hundreds, if not thousands, of listed American artists are represented at USArtists. Importantly, there is a healthy presence of work that has never seen the inside of an auction house.
This year, the 13th annual show took place October 22 to 24, with a gala opening on Thursday evening, October 21. From beginning to end the show is expertly managed by The Women’s Board of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts to benefit the academy. There is no disconnect between the gala preview and the rest of the show, as there is in some shows where committee members disappear as soon as the gala is over.
Pia Halloran was the 2004 USArtists Chair. This year’s show was a huge success in every aspect – gala, attendance, the color catalog, presentation and the many fine works collectors were able to acquire. Many six-figure works sold from the show, and yet it was possible to find work in lower and middle price ranges, too. Museum curators were in attendance, buying for institutions and for their own personal collections as well.
“I believe our gate was up 20 to 25 percent each day. We had about 2,000 to 2,500 show up every day. It is not an enormous gate, but it is the right gate,” said Thom Duffy, director of the Women’s Board of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Godel Fine Art had a wonderful display of still lifes including “Basket of Plums on a table top” by Levi Wells Prentice, “Table Top with Fruit” by Robert Spear Dunning, “Still Life of Bird’s Nest, Fruits Flowers in a glass pitcher,” circa 1853 by Severin Roesen, William Mason Brown’s “Fruit and Wine,” as well as paintings by Paul Lacroix and Andrew John Henry Way.
As if the still lifes were just an appetizer, Godel brought a 25- by 35-inch oil on canvas by William Trost Richards done in 1865 entitled “Autumn in the Adirondacks.” The crowd could really relate to the glorious autumn day that Richards captured in this composition, which had the strength of large masses, and yet had detail lovingly bestowed on the foliage in the Pre-Raphaelite tradition.
Questroyal Fine Art, New York City, brought an eye-catching Herman Herzog, “Bear Approaching a Forest Stream,” and wonderful works by John Frederick Kensett, Sanford Robinson Gifford and Samuel Cole.
Reagan Upshaw, director of Gerald Peters Gallery, New York City, thinks highly of the vetting and screening of the show. “It is the premiere realist show in America,” he said. The gallery sold three Robert Bruce Crane paintings and a William Lathrop among others.
Debra Force, New York City, sold an Edmund Greacen (1876-1949) to a “Federal agency.” The 16- by 12-inch oil on canvas board painting was entitled “Reflections” and showed a lakeside view. The artist had traded the painting for a bust of Theodore Roosevelt by sculptor John Massey Rhind. The painting was inscribed “to my dear friend Massey.”
Jeff Cooley, The Cooley Gallery, Inc, Old Lyme, Conn., had a booth full of tantalizing art. From the heart of Connecticut Impressionism territory was Childe Hassam’s 1903 “Autumn Landscape,” a 24- by 30-inch oil on canvas. He also had a charming piece by Russell Patterson (1896-1977) entitled “My Villa in Normandy.” It had been red-dotted since opening night.
Opening night was very special, according to Jeffrey Brown of Brown-Corbin Fine Art. “The event felt friendly in that the people coming were enjoying themselves. They were not the ‘see and be seen’ group. There was a sense of ebullience and abandonment. It was not a feeding frenzy. They liked what they were doing and they were happy.” Brown saves up choice pieces of art for this show all year long. “What I bring is truly fresh and exciting.”
Philip Rosenfeld, Pennsylvania Arts Conservatory, Philadelphia, said, “Who was who of Philadelphia attended the gala. I sold a bunch of paintings. A lot of new people are entering the art market. More than I have seen in years.”
Levis Benton Fine Art, Boston, had a booth that freely mixed abstraction and realism. The visual impact was interesting and challenging to those who believe that there is a rigid wall fixed between the two. Not only were the colors harmonious, it really made you appreciate each work of art for its own merit. They had several sculptures by Albert W. Wein, NA (1915-1991), including “Safe” a 9- by 22-inch bronze of a baseball player sliding home. The dynamic piece was generic, so one could imagine the team of one’s choice. Wein’s sculpture has clean stylized Art Deco lines and a visual kinship with his peer Paul Manship.
“The crowd has been great. There is a strong focus for acquisitions this year. We are very happy,” said Carl David, of David David Gallery, Philadelphia. They sold American Impressionism at the opening.
Ernest Kramer, Ernest S. Kramer Fine Arts & Prints, Wellesley, Mass., sent out 35 tickets for USArtists to his regular customers. While only three of his regulars actually came and one ended up buying a nice piece, Kramer ended up selling mostly to new people. “It was good show. What is happening is that there is a preponderance of new people.” Stow Wengenroth, Thomas Hart Benton and Daniel Garber were among those artists whose work sold. This was Kramer’s 13th year at the show.
Mark Brock, Brock & Co, is a private dealer from Boston specializing in American art 1850-1950. This was his third year at USArtists and he said he would continue to participate “for as long as they will have me.” He appreciates the details like painted walls rather than the paper backdrop furnished at some antiques and art shows. “It is a first-rate show run like a business. The Women’s Board is really in control.” Brock also appreciates the loyal following the show has built, comparing it to the Winter Antiques Show, “and they’ve done it in just 13 years.”
Brock sold seven or eight pieces including a William Trost Richards seascape to a mid-Atlantic collector who he had never met before. It was one of two Richards that he had brought to the show. He publishes an annual color catalog in October, which means he can give it to potential clients at USArtists. “Follow up from USArtists is good,” said Brown. “I have had five- or six-month follow-up with clients from this show.”
Jim Alterman, Jim’s of Lambertville, Lambertville, N.J., had a gorgeous display of New Hope Impressionists, with a large Daniel Garber front and center priced at $4.25 million. Another Garber was priced at $1.95 million. Alterman considers these to be masterpieces by the artist, and brought them to USArtists so that collectors and dealers could see the difference between good, better and best.
“Everything in my booth was ‘best,'” said Alterman, who brought art from his own home. He sold two significant Garbers, one for $650,000 and one for $275,000. He sold an Edward Willis Redfield for $695,000. “I had three backup buyers for the Redfield if something happened to the sale,” said Alterman. A Redfield priced at $2.45 million has a hold on it from the show. Many other paintings sold. “I sold to people who have not bought from me before,” said Alterman. Three Robert Spencers have holds, for $275,000, $365,000 and $495,000.
“Spencer rarely comes up at auction. It is not surprising that the record at auction is $134,000 from eight years ago,” said Alterman. He cautions collectors about evaluating New Hope art based exclusively on auction records, because some of the best paintings are still in private hands, or there might be other issues – size, condition, quality and even authenticity – that would affect an auction price. “There are definitely Spencers out there that are worth $500,000 and I would be the buyer.” He considers Garber and Redfield to be the leaders with Spencer as the third most important New Hope artist.
Huntley Platt of Babcock Galleries, New York City, said, “I think a lot of business gets done between dealers at the show.” Babcock represents Will Barnet, a living legend, now in his nineties, who still paints at his New York City studio at the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park. Barnet’s “Midnight,” 1983-84 oil on canvas measured 481/4 by 29 inches and perfectly caught the love and peace of a mother attending to her infant in the middle of the night. The other Barnet, “Child Reading – Red,” 1967, was marked sold at the show.
Spanierman Gallery, New York City, brought a huge Daniel Garber entitled “Late Afternoon September,” 1915, 42 by 461/4 inches. They also had six charcoal sketches on paper by George Luks that were quite nice, an N.C Wyeth oil, works by Guy Wiggins, Arthur B. Carles, Childe Hassam, Edmund Darch Lewis and a Fitz Hugh Lane with atypical rough seas entitled “A Storm, Slipping Away, Vessel Breaking Her Cable,” 1858. This dramatic piece measured 231/2 by 351/2 inches.
Next year the show will be co-chaired by Anne McCollum and Pat Kermes, both energetic talented women. Galleries are likely to outdo themselves for the celebratory 200th anniversary of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Even so, USArtists 2004 will be a tough act to follow.