life

States of the Art

BY Edward Wise

High-end art sales have become overly competitive, unpredictable and expensive. So where’s a careful collector to turn? One option is America’s first art colonies, which boast not only A-list work that sells for seven or eight figures, but also lesser known pieces of remarkable achievement. Following are three of the best areas to explore.

PROVINCETOWN, MA

The first and largest American art colony was founded in the fishing village of Provincetown in 1899 by portrait painter Charles Webster Hawthorne. In 1900, the Monet-inspired E. Ambrose Webster set up his own school, preaching Impressionism; by 1916, six schools vied for prominence.

Modernists who came to Provincetown after the hugely influential 1913 Armory Show—the first international exhibition of Modern art in America, held in New York—include Karl Knaths, Ross Moffett, Heinrich Pfeiffer, William Halsall, Charles Demuth and Cubists Agnes Weinrich and Blanche Lazzell. But it was not until 1935 that the father of Abstract Expressionism, Hans Hofmann, led a one-man revolution here, with students including Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Larry Rivers and Mark Rothko, all of whom summered in Provincetown; Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline settled in for longer stints.

Plenty of commercial kitsch fills the town’s galleries today, but the keen eye can still find pieces from a colony often at the forefront of art in America.





STEALS

Edwin Dickinson, HAS (highest auction sale) ..........$46,000

Philip Malicoat, HAS .............................................$19,000

For bargains, check out the Provincetown Art Association and Museum’s auctions at paam.org/auctions.html.

MID-LIST

Robert Motherwell’s Gauloises Bleues ..................$10,000

HIGH-END

Hans Hofmann’s Composition in Blue ................. $30,000

Karl Knath’s Vista del Mar ...................................$65,000


For more information, contact Julie Heller at juliehellergallery@verizon.net or 508.487.2169 or visit juliehellergallery.com.

TAOS, NM 

It was 1898 and visiting painters Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips needed a wagon wheel repaired in the mountains of New Mexico. The nearest town was Taos, its native pueblo intact. That winter, the two artists sent word east of an American Shangri-La, and so began the fusion of cultures resulting in a supernatural realism vivid to this day. Nearly all the founders of the Taos art colony boast auction highs of around or over $1 million, but quality varies greatly. Blumenschein, Mary Greene Blumenschein (his wife) and Victor Higgins tower above other illustrative painters. The landscape and light of Taos is legendary, and Walter Ufer captures the heightened color, as does Oscar Berninghaus. Problems arise when “cowboy artists” paint “Indians”—most of the work smacks of a conqueror’s sentimentality for the conquered. (Native American artists’ two-dimensional depictions of their disappearing world are typically the truer, more lasting portraits.)

The colony’s Modernists include Andrew Dasburg, who had three canvases and a sculpture in the Armory Show before discovering Taos in 1918. Edward Hopper, George Bellows and Marsden Hartley all visited the following year. In the summer of ’29, a naïve watercolorist named John Marin and Alfred Stieglitz’s siren, Georgia O’Keeffe, arrived. O’Keeffe had her awakening here, but it was Marin, with his childlike sense of wonder, who had the more immediate effect on Taos art.

STEALS

Gene Kloss, HAS............................................................$26,000

Available at Taos Fine Art. For more information, contact Anthony Sobin at asfa@msn.com or 575.737.5333 or visit taosfineart.com.

MID-LIST

Andrew Dasburg, HAS.................................................$121,000

HIGH-END

Ernest Blumenschein, HAS..........................................$1.54 million

Nicolai Fechin, HAS....................................................$10.8 million

Victor Higgins, HAS...................................................$769,000

John Marin, HAS......................................................$1.25 million

Agnes Martin, HAS................................................... $4.5 million

WOODSTOCK, NY



Purchasing some 1,500 acres of Woodstock land, English aristocrat Ralph Whitehead opened his arts and crafts community, Byrdcliffe, in 1903. The head art instructor at Byrdcliffe, Birge Harrison, eventually encouraged the Art Students League of New York to create a summer school in Woodstock, and Whitehead’s right-hand man, Hervey White, broke away to found an ungoverned creative cooperative he called the Maverick. Between the gorgeous Catskill Mountains setting, moneyed Byrdcliffe, the anarchistic Maverick and the excellence of the League’s summer school, Woodstock came into artistic power.

Andrew Dasburg and George Bellows, both critical and commercial successes of the Armory Show, spent significant time here, as did Eugene Speicher, the highest paid artist in America in his day. The formidable John F. Carlson created the best school of landscape painting in the country; a generation later, John Pike would do the same for watercolors. Reclusive Philip Guston resisted fame, but it found him anyway. Emil Ganso’s nudes, Konrad Cramer’s ceaseless experiments, Charles Rosen’s tugboats, Henry Lee McFee’s Cubism, humoresques by Eugene Ludins and Doris Lee, Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s economy of line and form, Milton Avery’s simplicity and 50 other better-than-good painters crowd Woodstock walls.

Hunt Diederich and other metal workers, ceramists, toymakers and puppeteers joined the creative crowd. Sculptors John Flanagan, Alfeo Faggi, Hannah Small, Raoul Hague and Harvey Fite—whose nearly 40-year love affair with stone led to the sculpture park Opus 40—were all part of Woodstock before the name was made famous by a music festival about 60 miles away. “Every phase of American Modernism is manifested in Woodstock art, marvelously and affordably,” says Deedee Wigmore of the Manhattan gallery D. Wigmore Fine Art.

Local auctions hosted by the Fletcher Gallery are stuffed with extraordinary deals. In January, D. Wigmore gave Woodstock its first major Manhattan retrospective in years. Both galleries offer work at all ranges.

STEALS

Bruce Currie, HAS ................................................................ $300

John Ernst, HAS ...................................................................$300

Karl Fortess, HAS .................................................................$3,500

Walter Plate, HAS ................................................................$400

MID-LIST

HongNian Zhong, HAS .......................................................$272,000

Yasuo Kuniyoshi, HAS .......................................................$286,000

Charles Rosen, HAS...........................................................$43,000

HIGH-END

George Bellows, HAS ......................................................$27.7 million

Philip Guston, HAS .........................................................$10.2 million


For more information, contact Tom Fletcher at info@fletchergallery.com or 845.679.4411 or visit fletchergallery.com, and Deedee Wigmore at info@dwigmore.com or 212.581.1657 or visit dwigmore.com.

This article originally appeared in the October/November 2012 issue of Worth.

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