Published: December 20, 2016
Review and Photos by Laura Beach
NEW YORK CITY – The American Art Fair is like a traditional Japanese house: portable and improvisational on the one hand, rigorously refined on the other. Almost as soon as it is erected, it is dismantled for another year. Its chief purpose is to catch collectors in town for the big, fall American art auctions, in doing so reminding them of the many virtues of working with a top expert in a setting that is sociable, educational and comparatively pressure-free.
Orchestrated by art dealer Thomas Colville, a founder of the show, and managed by Catherine Sweeney Singer, the American Art Fair convened for its ninth year at Bohemian National Hall on East 73rd Street between Friday and Monday, November 18-21. Seventeen exhibitors, most with galleries in New York City, offered Nineteenth and Twentieth Century American paintings, sculpture and works on paper. Collectively, the dealers arrayed roughly 700 works, more than three times the combined offerings at Christie’s and Sotheby’s various owners’ sales on November 21-22.
The presidential election on November 8 made for complicated scheduling for all. The upshot was that this year’s American Art Fair fell later in the calendar, on the weekend before Thanksgiving, something organizers had hoped to avoid. Then it was off to Art Basel Miami, at least for some dealers and their clients, after the show’s close.
Afterwards, Colville told Antiques and The Arts Weekly, “I was very pleased. We had been somewhat apprehensive because of the date change. People come from all over the country. Ordinarily, they don’t like to travel during Thanksgiving week.”
Colville sees the American Art Fair as a cornerstone of a larger American Art Week, something he hopes will grow over time. A preview party at the American Art Fair on Thursday evening, November 17, and a gala on Saturday evening, November 19, were well attended, as was a lecture by Philadelphia Museum of Art curator Kathleen A. Foster, whose much anticipated exhibition, “American Watercolor in The Age of Homer and Sargent,” opens March 1. A second lecture, by expert Karen Wilkin on Stuart Davis, was also enthusiastically received.
Jonathan Boos, who has just relocated to 18 East 64th Street, hung “The Green House,” an important 1934 oil on canvas by Arthur Dove, near “Roses,” a 1927 watercolor, gouache and graphite on paper by Stuart Davis. “I was especially thrilled to have the Dove. It’s a terrific example,” he said.
Debra Force Fine Art and Menconi + Schoelkopf each featured paintings by Thomas Wilmer Dewing. Priced in the low seven figures, Force’s beautiful half-length “A Portrait of a Lady” of 1899 was a showstopper. Menconi + Schoelkopf’s allegorical “Music” of about the same date depicts a full-length figure of a woman by the artist. Force additionally displayed Robert Laurent’s 1921 carved mahogany sculpture “Flirtation.” Another unusual work with folk-art references was the dealer’s decorated tray by Max Kuehne.
Some exhibitors took cues from the auctions, bringing pieces suggested by the sales’ major lots. Sotheby’s, for instance, set an auction record for Rockwell Kent, selling “Gray Day,” an oil on canvas of 1935-37, for $852,500. Not to be outdone, new exhibitor D. Wigmore Fine Art mounted three powerful Greenland views by Kent: “Sunday Evening, Greenland,” 1944; “Greenland Mountains and Sea,” 1930; and “Ice, Sea and Rocks,” 1932-33. At Driscoll Babcock Galleries, the circa 1932-35 “Sledging” was a major early work by Kent that descended in the artist’s family. Colville brought an ink on paper drawing of Greenland by Kent. The back notes that it is to be returned to the artist’s studio in Au Sable Forks, N.Y.
Christie’s sale of Frederick Carl Frieseke’s painting “The Garden” for a record $2,407,500 made Hirschl & Alder’s presentation of “Women with Parasols (Pollard Willows),” a Frieseke canvas of about 1912, all the more timely. The painting has been off the market since the 1960s, said Hirschl & Adler’s Eric Baumgartner. Another choice offering in this stand was William Glackens’ oil on canvas depiction of the wife of his friend and patron, art collector Albert Barnes, in her garden with her dog, Grover. The painting dates to circa 1912-15.
Nineteenth Century American landscape painting is Questroyal’s strong suit. Two very special pieces here were “Catskill Mountain House” by Thomas Cole and a luminist view of Labrador by William Bradford dating to 1874.
Godel & Company hung the irresistible William Merritt Chase oil on panel “On the Lake – Central Park” of 1890.
John Singer Sargent’s circa 1905 charcoal on paper portrait “Alice, Lady Lowther” turned heads at Forum Gallery.
Led by “The Road to the River” by Edward Redfield, an allee of paintings by Pennsylvania Impressionists dazzled at Avery Galleries of Bryn Mawr, Penn.
Line was the theme at Meredith Ward, who hung a curated display of pieces by Stuart Davis, John Marin and Jackson Pollock, among other talents. Topping them all was Marin’s edgy 1920 “Crotch Island Quarry, Off Deer Isle, Maine,” a mixed-media work incorporating watercolor, crayon, collage and string on paper.
Thomas Hart Benton made an appearance at Menconi + Schoelkopf and at John H. Surovek Gallery. Norman Rockwell dominated Sotheby’s sale, accounting for three of the top ten lots there. The only Rockwell on the floor of the American Art Fair was Surovek’s “Autumn- Father and Son Bird Hunting.”
The American Art Fair welcomed J.N. Bartfield, the oldest gallery specializing in masters of the American West. “We made some new contacts and reconnected with clients we hadn’t seen for a while,” said gallery director Jim Balestrieri. Highlights here included “Castle Rock – Green River, Wyoming” by Thomas Moran and “Buffalo Hunt” by Charles M. Russell.
Also new to the fair was Taylor Graham. The partnership formed by Abby M. Taylor and Cameron M. Shay arrayed sculpture, its major emphasis, by Paul Manship, Richmond Barthe, Elizabeth Catlett, Carl Paul Jennewein and Jo Davidson, among others.
In anticipation of the solo show “Warren MacKenzie: A Master’s Hand,” on view at its gallery from January 12 to February 25, Driscoll Babcock brought several pieces of pottery by the 93-year-old ceramist. The pieces, priced from $600 to $2,500, seemed a bargain.
American Art Fair exhibitors James Reinish, Menconi + Schoelkopf, Debra Force, Meredith Ward, Avery Galleries, Jonathan Boos and Taylor Graham also participated in Just Off Madison, the coordinated program of gallery openings that got underway on Monday, November 21, just as the American Art Fair was closing.
The 2017 American Art Fair is planned for Sunday through Wednesday, November 12-15.
For additional information, www.theamericanartfair.com or 212-987-5306.
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