Published: November 19, 2019
Review and Onsite Photos by Laura Beach, Photos Courtesy Santa Fe Art Auction
SANTA FE, N.M. – Aside from Georgia O’Keeffe and Marsden Hartley, New Mexico’s best-known artists remain the members of the Taos and Santa Fe art colonies, which flourished before the second World War. Though still commanding top dollar, portraits and landscapes by colony members now seem traditional, some even backward in their depiction of Native Americans, an irony given that these canvases were once cutting edge.
But much is afoot in Santa Fe to boost the city’s prominence as a capital of the new. The century-old New Mexico Museum of Art has embarked on the Vladem Contemporary, a center for living art and artists slated to open in 2021. The IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts is an increasingly visible venue for progressive work by Americans of indigenous descent. Gerald Peters Gallery, a cornerstone of the city’s arts community, is pushing forward with Peters Contemporary, directed by Mark Del Vecchio, the ceramics and design authority who a few years ago relocated to Santa Fe from New York with his partner and longtime collaborator, Garth Clark.
Peters recently expanded to Santa Fe’s newest arts district at the Baca Railyard, converting an existing 12,800-square-foot structure into a spacious new home for the Santa Fe Art Auction (SFAA), headed by Gillian Blitch, who doubles as the Peters Gallery’s director of Western art.
On Saturday, November 9, SFAA conducted its inaugural sale in the industrial-chic venue, which boasts a fully-equipped photography studio, art handlers’ workshop, climate-controlled art storage and a 3,000-square-foot salesroom. As always, SFAA’s impeccably curated selection of 379 paintings, sculptures and works on paper offered a broad sampling of the arts of the West, though these round trophy pieces by famous colony members were few and mostly small in scale. Instead, the auction emphasized Midcentury Moderns and work that was all but contemporary, offering bidders the opportunity both to learn and to invest in emerging markets.
“It was a very successful, exciting event. With some post-auction sales, we are close to an 85 percent sell through, and that’s excellent. We had some very good prices and interesting material,” Blitch said. Online selling accounted for roughly 60 percent of the dollar total, a trend that is likely to continue given Santa Fe’s small population and relative isolation. An online sales enthusiast, Blitch, who is returning to the Global Auction House Summit, to be presented by Invaluable in Paris from February 3-5, believes in pairing virtual sales with gallery hangings. “It’s a gesture of respect for the artwork,” she says.
SFAA typically warms up the crowd with works on paper. Heading the group this time was Gustave Baumann’s woodblock print “Ranchos De Taos,” $14,040, a colorful impression of a favorite subject printed in 1930. Toward the end of the sale, SFAA offered three hand-colored photographs by Bob Wade (b 1943). One, depicting Pancho Villa and company, soared to $38,025.
Two single-owner collections enhanced the day’s bottom line. The first entailed property from the estate of Patricia Janis Broder (1937-2002), an independent scholar from New Jersey who is best remembered for her books Bronzes of the American West (Abrams, 1974) and Earth Songs, Moon Dreams: Paintings by American Indian Women (St Martin’s Press, 1999). Particularly rich in Native American art, the Broder collection yielded “Medicine Man” by Oscar Howe (Yanktonai Sioux, 1915-1983), a semi-abstract casein on paper composition that brought a record $29,250; an untitled watercolor on paper by Abel Sanchez (Oqwa Pi) (San Ildefonso, 1900-1971), $11,700; and a variety of Hopi works, including “Hopi Ceremony” by Delbridge Honanie (Coochsiwukioma) (Hopi, b 1946), an acrylic on mat board of 1975 that went for $9,945.
The day’s top lot also fell into the Native American category when the large acrylic on canvas Untitled (Buffalo Spirit) by Fritz Scholder (1937-2005), often thought of as a Pop artist, sailed past high estimate to bring $146,250. From different consignors, Scholder’s “New Mexico Revisited #2” crossed the block at $18,720 while “Buffalo In Grass” of 1974 made $11,700.
Art by women, some of it from the collection of Mrs Harold C. Price Jr, formed another significant part of the sale. Carolyn Price (1927-2018) was from a prominent Bartlesville, Okla., family with ties to Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed the H.C. Price Jr residence, called Hillside, and the Price Tower, finished in 1956. Acquired by Carolyn Price from the late Santa Fe dealer Elaine Horwitch, the oversized canvas Untitled (Interior with Dogs) by Illinois-born artist Susan Hertel exceeded its estimate to bring $33,345.
From another collection, the sale’s cover lot, the abstract “New Mexico Landscape” of 1969 by Janet Lippincott, a New Yorker who studied with Bisttram in Taos and moved to Santa Fe in 1957, was a hit at $35,100. Also by Lippincott, “Summer,” an acrylic on canvas painted in 1985, achieved $23,400.
Two top lots passed. “After the Ceremony,” an enchanting, pastel-colored frieze by Bert Geer Phillips (1868-1956), failed at its $100/150,000 estimate. Gerald Peters sold it to former Sotheby’s chairman John Marion and his wife, Anne, who sent it to auction in 1999. Emil Bisttram’s (1895-1976) large, atypical painting “Combat” of 1933 passed at $40,000 against an estimate of $80/120,000. “Remember, both are large pieces, and the Phillips is an unusual format. Even serious collectors have to think about placement,” said Blitch, adding, “Sometimes, the consigner will reconsider the reserve after the market has spoken. We don’t dictate values; we follow them.”
Like everywhere else in the auction realm, the pace is quickening at SFAA, which is working toward a monthly program of timed, online-only sales. SFAA is hosting its Winter Holiday Sale December 2-8; the Joseph Pytka Collection of Historic New Mexico Art and Objects, February 23-March 1; and Prints and Works on Paper in March.
Prices, with buyer’s premium, as reported by the auction house. For more information, www.santafeartauction.com or 505-954-5858.
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