Published: November 6, 2001
By Carol Sims
PHILADELPHIA, PENN. – There was tight security on October 18, opening night of the 10th anniversary of USArtists, held at the 33rd Street Armory. Once admitted, attendees found themselves in a haven of food, drink and art. The gala has become a social highlight of Philadelphia’s fall season. Red dots on big-ticket rdf_Descriptions were bountiful on opening night. Some gala attendees even dashed past the wine and hors d’oeuvre to purchase art from their favorite dealers. Art in the low five figures sold within the first ten minutes of the gala, and most dealers were gratified by well-versed and enthusiastic art buyers. The show ran through Sunday, October 21.
The idea for USArtists was formed in 1990, when members of the Women’s Board (formerly known as the Women’s Committee) sought a fundraising event that would introduce the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) to a larger audience. The concept of an exposition and sale focusing exclusively on American art seemed a natural fit for an annual event that would benefit the nation’s oldest continuing school and museum of fine arts.
Committee members visited galleries, collectors, and museum professionals in New York, Chicago, Boston and Miami. The first show, co-founded by Jane Fortune and Elizabeth Grubb Dolan, included 46 galleries. Now the show attracts about 60 galleries. The financial success of USArtists over the past nine years has enabled the Women’s Committee to support numerous programs at the Academy. Last year the Board donated over $200,000.
Debra Force, New York City, sold a Robert Spencer painting, a Janet Scudder bronze, and Oscar Bluemner watercolor, a William Hart landscape, and a genre painting by William Snyder of an African American woman. Collectors have put a few other works on hold. “We have never sold so much on the floor at USArtists. Usually it is more residual,” said Force. She noted customers from New Jersey, New York, Florida, San Diego, and Boston in addition to locals. “The show looked good this year. There was a lot of good material on the floor – a lot of variety.”
While Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century art is still the mainstay of the show, contemporary art was presented by about a third of the dealers. Some carry only contemporary art and some carry a mix. It is important to note that the word contemporary means different things to different people. That is especially obvious at this show. To some, it means a “living artist” painting representational art with traditional realism, impressionism, etc. To others it means cutting edge, something you haven’t seen before, perhaps figurative, but not borrowing too heavily from past artists or artistic movements. To others it is any art after about 1940, 50 or 60; whether the artists are living or dead, their art is still “new” to many collectors. Contemporary art, by any definition, is building momentum at USArtists.
Snyderman Gallery of Philadelphia showed just three artists in a well-hung corner space that gave the art plenty of room to breathe. Tula Telfair’s muted landscapes had a certain sophistication. The artist painted panels in gray, blue, green and beige as framing elements for her pieces. Abstract artist Jason Spivack created rich organic surfaces that had a translucent depth, and Larry Spaid, a Vietnam vet, did large canvases in harmonious patterns that were reminiscent of textiles, something that he has studied.
Michele Birnbaum Fine Art, LLC, New York City represents Modern and contemporary art in all media. Gleason Fine Art, Boothbay Harbor, Me., brought contemporary painters and sculptors in addition to late Nineteenth Century work. Dolan/Maxwell Inc., Philadelphia, brought the work of eight artists, five living. While they did see some of their regular customers, “the majority of our sales were to new clients. We sold across the board and did very well,” said Margo Dolan.
The display of Valley House Gallery & Sculpture Garden, Dallas, Tex., didn’t look all that contemporary, but they had a few living artists represented that blended in well with the other works they offered.
By contrast, you knew you were looking at “new” when you saw the striking work of landscape artist Stephen Pentak at the booth Kathryn Markel Fine Arts, New York City. “The show was surprisingly good. Given expectations, any sales these days are good, but I made about 12 sales, and had lots of interest. Several people mentioned that they couldn’t think of anything better to do for themselves these days than buy a picture,” commented Katharine Lord of Kathryn Markel Fine Arts.
Lord voiced some concern about the presentation of contemporary work at USArtists. “I think that the guys that deal in historical material did better than the contemporary people, but that’s the way this show is. They have so few contemporary dealers, and rarely advertise to those folks who like contemporary art. You might have noticed that the graphics for the show had no contemporary work, and I really don’t think folks in Philly who like contemporary work know that good contemporary art is there,” she continued.
There was no mistaking the freshness of the art Pepper Gallery, Boston. Audrey Pepper had a few cityscapes by Diana Horowitz that were very well done. Horowitz is a master at capturing the values and hues of city buildings through the bright hazy atmosphere of the city on a sunny day. Two of the paintings at USArtists showed views of New York City that are no longer possible to see – one painted from the 90th floor of the WTC and one with the WTC towers in the distance.
Other contemporary dealers were: The Edward Carter Gallery, Lewes, Del.; F.A.N. Gallery, Philadelphia; Sande Webster Gallery, Philadelphia; J. Cacciola Galleries, New York City; Jerald Melberg Gallery, Charlotte, N.C.; Arcadia Fine Arts, Inc. New York City; Newman & Saunders Galleries, Wayne, Penn.; Pentimenti Gallery, Philadelphia, Penn.; Chase Gallery, Boston; Rosenfeld Gallery, Philadelphia; and Madelyn Jordon Fine Art, Scarsdale, N.Y.
“The quality of the art was outstanding, and the show was very well attended. I’m sure that was due to the tremendous efforts of the Committee, which obviously worked tirelessly to promote the show. We did extremely well in both Modern and Contemporary areas, and we’ll be back next year,” reported Madelyn Jordan of Madelyn Jordan Fine Art, Scarsdale, N.Y.
International visitors (if there were any) probably would have noticed, that while the art was American, the show was not (and never has claimed to be) a comprehensive review of all of our best and most famous artists. As a commercial endeavor, USArtists attracts the best of what is available from participating dealers, geared for the Philadelphia marketplace, including out-of-state collectors who regularly troll the show. Given those parameters, the selection was awe-inspiring.
Naturally, anything related to the rich heritage of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts was expounded. Regional art flourished, whether grouped as Bucks County, New Hope School, The Philadelphia Ten, Boston School, North Shore, Cape Ann, Charleston Renaissance, Taos, Texas painting, Brandywine School, or Hudson River. Art movements and other groupings included the Ashcan School (The Eight), American Impressionism (including The Ten), WPA, Modernism, and – here is that word again – contemporary.
Gregory and Peter Rainone are glad that their parents purchased the collection of Dean Cornwell, Norman Rockwell’s mentor. This collection helped get them started in the business. Last year Rainone Galleries, Arlington, Tex., was one of the leading sellers at USArtists. They specialize in Nineteenth through Twenty-First Century American art including Taos and early Texas painting and sculpture since 1995. Their booth was hung top to bottom with prize works edge to edge. Philadelphians found their Western demeanor, boots and hats, nice for a change. After the show the Rainones personally delivered art to Lancaster, Penn., the Brandywine area, and Memphis, Tenn. They prefer to drive their own van, rather than shipping their art to and from the show.
Peter Rainone was very impressed with the security at USArtists. “The Women’s Committee has always been very conscientious about security. This year was particularly good.” He noted that there was only one way in and out of the show for patrons. During unloading, dealer vans and delivery vans were searched. Camo-uniformed National Guards hovered nearby during unloading and loading. The armory was sealed before the 5 pm gala opening for a thorough security sweep. City police were visibly present during the security sweep. A private security team was present throughout the show to check photo IDs. “People in Philadelphia are pretty tough,” remarked Rainone. “Attendance was down a little, but Friday was good, Saturday was pretty good and Sunday was great.”
Louis Salerno, Questroyal Fine Art, LLC, New York City did better than they had anticipated This was their third year at the show. They did on par with last year, with a great deal of interest in one of the stars of the show, “Cherokee Rose in a Glass” by Martin Johnson Heade. Private collectors and museum curators stopped by to see the painting. Questroyal had several direct sales, plus residual activity. New Philadelphia customers came to his New York gallery to visit just days after the show. “Philadelphia has enthusiastic buyers. This is an improving show,” commented Salerno.
Reagan Upshaw of Gerald Peters Gallery, New York City enjoyed doing the USArtists Show. The gallery has participated since 1992. They sold well across the board– Hudson River, American Impressionism and Modern. “It’s the premiere American realist show between Boston and D.C. and draws all the way from Atlanta.” He remarked that it is also a “reasonable show with a decent crowd throughout.” The mood in Philly overall was a bit guarded he observed– perhaps due to unarmed explosives being found at the Philadelphia bus station on Friday. “We got reservations at a restaurant that is normally booked solid and it wasn’t at all crowded.” As far as trends, “What is dead in today’s art market,” according to Upshaw “is history and genre painting.”
Cantor Roughton Galleries, Dallas, Tex, was one of five galleries from west of the Mississippi that made the trek to Philadelphia. Their entire booth featured an exhibition of the work of Hovsep Pushman (1877-1966). This was a bold move. “He was such an important artist. Few people have seen that much of his work altogether at one time,” said Lawrence Cantor. He has been trying to get out east for shows for some time now. “I’ve had my eye on that show, and I have a high regard for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts,” he continued. They sold two paintings opening night and then steadily throughout the remainder of the show.
Caroline Owens of Adelson Galleries, Inc., New York City, was very pleased with the galleries’ first appearance at USArtists. “It was good. We sold a drawing and have a Carroll Beckwith painting on reserve.” They have also received several calls after the show. “The Philadelphia crowd is very residual. People say that but in this case it is really true.” They are looking forward to doing the show again. Curators from Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia museums stopped by their booth. Of particular note: work by Mary Cassatt, and lithographs by George Bellows.
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