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Are Auctions Good for Local Artists?


by Gail Sachson 5 Jan 2009

James Surls in his Colorado studio, 2006. Guest blogger Gail Sachson owns Ask Me About Art, an educational service, is vice-chair of the Cultural Affairs Commission and a member of the Public Art Committee. She teaches the course ” An Intimate Introduction to the Dallas Art Scene: From Museum to Marketplace” for SMU Continuing & […]

CTA TBD

James Surls in his Colorado studio, 2006.

Guest blogger Gail Sachson owns Ask Me About Art, an educational service, is vice-chair of the Cultural Affairs Commission and a member of the Public Art Committee. She teaches the course ” An Intimate Introduction to the Dallas Art Scene: From Museum to Marketplace” for SMU Continuing & Professional Education.

Local art collectors are finding a new way to sell their “slightly used” art. And those of us with good eyes can get good buys. In the past, the galleries from which one purchased the work might take it back and offer to resell it with a commission. Other than donating the work to a charity, there were not many alternatives to preventing the art once loved and once perfect over the sofa from becoming just “stuff.”

But now, major Dallas based auction houses such as Heritage Auction Galleries are showing and selling work by local living artists. As I skimmed the online catalog of the Jan. 24-25 “Art of the American West” auction, I fully expected to see the usual Bierstadts, Lea’s and Reaugh’s, lots of cowboys, Indians and gunfighters. I was surprised to scroll down the 390 items to see two paintings by popular social scene painter Nancy Lamb, a 46″ long wood-and-wrought-iron sculpture by Texas icon James Surls (honored with a one person DMA show in 1984) an Ed Blackburn mixed-media piece, two large Dan Blagg paintings and a 1996 Vernon Fisher work. All five artists are categorized as “Early Texas Art-Modernist”.

As excited and delighted as I was to see living contemporary Texas artists featured, and as much as I marveled at the easy opportunity for astute collectors to pick up a James Surls at a good value with a low minimum (estimated value, $8,000-$10,000; minimum bid, $4,000), I pondered the considerations, pro and con, of auctioning art work by well recognized artists who, at the same time, show with well-recognized local galleries.

Some questions I have are:

  • Who consigned the work? Collectors needing cash? Collectors redecorating? The artists? The galleries?
  • How do the galleries representing these artists react? Do the possibly low sales prices at auction hinder future gallery sales or tarnish the artist’s reputation? Or, is it more important that the artist will be given nationwide exposure and published in the online auction record?
  • Are Auction houses “poaching on galleries’ territories, or is the showing and selling of art of overriding importance?

Personally, with apologies to my friends at the Gerald Peters Gallery, who represent Surls, I suggest you think about all this later. Stop reading and click on HA.com and bid on the James Surls sculpture (#67224) now!

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  • K. Harper

    Galleries and museums are now hosting auctions, so why should auction houses be discouraged from working with living artists? The lines dileneating “gallery – museum – auction house” have been blurred and should be crossed over freely in order to promote the working artist. Just look at the success of Koons and Hirst.