Published: February 15, 2022
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Christie’s
NEW YORK CITY – The February 3 sale of Outsider Art looked a little different than it has in previous years. Not only did it stand alone, apart from the traditional offerings offered by the American folk art department during Americana Week, but it was slightly smaller, with less than 150 lots crossing the block. The differences end there, with a characteristically strong sell-through rate of 98 percent and a sale total of $2,239,625 generated.
Somewhat predictably, Outsider Old Masters – the iconic artists the field has built up around – brought international interest and strong prices, including the sale’s top lot: “Untitled (Man and Woman” by Bill Traylor (circa 1853-1949), which finished at $175,000 to a private collector against an estimate of $80/120,000. Desirable characteristics of the work were the unusual splotch of blue paint in the top center of the composition, the vibrant blue of the man’s suit, and the ambiguous relationship between the two figures.
Other works by Traylor – the sale offered an additional eight works – largely performed within or slightly above expectation, yielding $56,250 for both “Figures with a Large Barrel” and “Black Dog” and $47,500 for “Black Dancer (Highkicking Man).”
The second highest price of the day – $156,250 – was paid by a private collector for Augustin Lesage’s (1876-1954) “Untitled,” an oil and graphite on canvas work that measured 57½ by 39½ inches and dated to 1933. It had been acquired from the artist by Dr Raoul Jules Levy around 1938 and had descended in his family. “It’s a great piece by a great artist,” Cara Zimmerman, Christie’s head of Americana and Outsider Art, said. “It’s great to see the European artists thriving. It had everything going for it: fabulous big motifs, scale, great blue color. Lesage considered himself to be a medium as he did these pieces; this has that quality, a hypnotic element to it that really comes through in this.
“What was cool about this sale was there was a lot of focus on artists who are really up and coming and haven’t gotten their due before. It was a day for making artists and records. The sale was less reliant on Outsider Old Masters and it’s very exciting. It means there’s now a breadth to the field that’s been happening for years but seeing the prices go up is really fun to see. It shows the field isn’t static, it’s growing.
“In each sale, we’re seeing an increasing number of collectors from other categories, often for specific artists that fit within their collections. They bring different ways of looking at it and it adds to the diversity of voices and a depth of bidding for this material. It’s also fun to see – because of the internet – works going around the world, to Europe and Asia.”
New artist records achieved in the sale were numerous, including for David Butler (1898-1997), whose “Walking Stick with Figures,” circa 1975, trounced its $4/8,000 estimate and sold to a private collector for $62,500. The record was well deserved as the piece had all the bells and whistles you’d expect: it had been a front illustration of the catalog for “Black Art in America,” the 1993 exhibition that Zimmerman said is largely credited with jumpstarting collecting of Outsider Art in the United States. “Any work in that show is gold – it gives it an extra special element.”
One of nine works by Butler in the sale, “Walking Stick” had also been in the collection of William A. Fagaly, a pioneering collector of Outsider Art and former curator at the New Orleans Museum of Art who helped bring Outsider artists to the forefront.
The Collection of William A. Fagaly, which was sold to benefit the Prospect New Orleans’ William A. Fagaly Memorial Fund for Social Impact, was one of two major collections in the sale; it totaled $612,875, while works from the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation and Family Collections, sold to benefit the Foundation and the Harlem Children’s Zone, totaled $249,500.
Another record-setting work was by Karol Kozlowski (Polish American, 1885-1969), whose “The Edison Company in Astoria” from 1951 realized $56,250, nearly six times its high estimate. Zimmerman attributed interest to the rarity of works by the artist, the scale – it measured 54 by 104 inches -and the unfinished scene. It probably did not hurt that it had been in the collection of Barbara L. Gordon.
Other artists whose works saw new levels reached were Justin McCarthy’s “Underwater with Fish and Coral,” achieving $23,750 and the highest price of five works by the artist in the sale. The only work in the sale by Eugene Von Bruenchenhein (1910-1983) was enough to reset the record for the artist. A flurry of international interest pushed his 1958 “Untitled (Jan 26-1958)” to $47,500, more than three times its low estimate.
Sales with fewer lots are often a cause of less supply than usual but it would be wrong to assume that is the case at Christie’s, which has ramped up its private sales, or negotiated sales brokered between seller and buyer where the price is not disclosed.
“The way our department is functioning, we are increasing our private sale holdings. We still spend a lot of time on auctions, but a lot of collectors are taking the private sale path,” Zimmerman said. “As the field gets more and more developed, people want to transact in various and different ways. Some prefer more discretion; some things lend themselves more to private sale than auction, or vice versa.”
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
Christie’s next Outsider Art Sale will be Winter 2023. For more information, www.christies.com.
January 31, 2023
January 31, 2023
January 31, 2023
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