The New Whitney, A Lot to Love

New York City is full of excitement over the opening of the Whitney Museum of American Art in its new Chelsea space. Designed by the famed Renzo Piano, the new building is significantly larger than its previous home on the Upper East Side. While this is not the first time the Whitney has moved, a lot has changed. When the previous incarnation was built in 1966 by Marcel Breuer the collection contained only around 2,000 artworks, now there are more than 19,000. With 50,000 sq ft of indoor exhibition space and 13,000 sq ft of outdoor space/terraces and a Danny Meyer restaurant, the Whitney has seriously upgraded. And no wonder, with a project budget of $720 million.  

The Whitney Museum 1937 to the Present


During a sneak preview, OTE appraiser Alanna Butera, was definitely impressed. The excitement of the crowd during the preview spoke to the overall enthusiasm about the Whitney’s reopening. The new space couldn’t be more different than its former building on Madison Ave., something our appraiser noticed immediately. Alanna noted that part its charm is the light in the space, many windows and outdoor areas, and if you are there in the evening you will probably be lucky enough to witness a beautiful sunset. 

Overall it seems as if the new building is well received. Paul Goldberger, architectural critic, and contributing editor for Vanity Fair wrote that, “the galleries offer the best balance I’ve ever seen between the primary mission of allowing you to focus on the art and the secondary purpose of engaging with the city.”
This is exactly what Renzo Piano intended. To Piano (via the Whitney’s website), the brilliance of the new Whitney is that “here all at once, you have the water, the park, the powerful industrial structures and the exciting mix of people, brought together and focused by this new building and the experience of art.” So I guess we’ll call it a success.

The inaugural exhibition "America Is Hard to See," a title recycled from a 1951 Robert Frost poem, has incurred a bit more dissent. Although our appraiser enjoyed the new show (which will officially open May 1st) it has not been as popular with all critics. A review in the LA Times by Christopher Knight, stuck out in particular. The title “At new Whitney Museum site, a show is shrouded in parochialism” pretty much tells you exactly what Knight thinks.  As reported by Knight, the new show, which features more than 400 artists and almost 650 artworks from 1900 to the present, has a long way to go from being curatorially Manhattan-centric. 
However, the buzz surrounding the exhibition is mostly good. A review in the New York Times by Holland Cotter (Review: New Whitney Museum’s First Show, ‘America Is Hard to See'was much more positive. It appears that thanks to the new space the Whitney is able to pull off an exhibition of a more ambitious scale and scope. Something OTE's preview hopping appraiser agrees with. Despite some Manhattan favoritism, she thought the overall show spoke to consistent American art themes and styles throughout the period.             

One thing no one can deny, this is an exciting new chapter for the Whitney Museum of American Art. 

What to Look for When Collecting Photography (Part II)

On the most basic level, starting a collection in photography requires thought about the type of photography you actually like. Possible categories could include black and white, color, landscapes, nudes, living, vintage, documentary etc. Movements in photography are also good ways to define what you are looking for (Modernism, Pictorialism, War Photography etc). This seems simple but knowing how to define what you like is the first step to making successful purchasing decisions. Each of these different categories or movements will have specific knowledge associated with each.

Deepening your knowledge in these areas will help one develop an “eye.” Having an eye for art can come naturally for some but usually it requires years to perfect and is often difficult to obtain and maintain, even for appraisers.  For this reason seeing accurate documentation on anything you purchase, and keeping accurate documentation yourself - how you obtained it and when, should be a priority. Building a written inventory will ultimately save you a lot of headaches later on should you want to sell, or the work is stolen or damaged.

As art experts for the Public Administrator of New York, who handles estates without a will, we experienced just such an issue. Two senior appraisers from OTE were going through piles of mixed objects removed from the apartments, which included jumbles of furniture, framed artworks, collectibles, libraries and miscellaneous materials. Spread across several work tables, was a huge mass of what appeared to be old Kodak film boxes.

Looking through the meticulously maintained photographs, an anomaly considering the rest of the disheveled apartment, they had inadvertently stumbled upon the work of a real artist. Without OTE the collection of photographs by Harry Shunk and Janos Kender, great documentarians of the Paris/New York art scene in the second half of the 20th century, might never have been discovered.  The director of a major French museum and those of American museums and film societies arrived to review and the Public Administrator was persuaded to set up an auction for the photographs to be sold as one gigantic lot rather than dispersing them overtime. 

Excitingly The Lichtenstein Foundation, thanks to Dorothy Lichtenstein and Jack Cowart, acquired the massive collection at auction for $2 million.   After this the foundation began the collating the collection and set up a system to allocate segments of the collection to many museums worldwide.  The photographs are now considered invaluable in recording the history of major artists of the second half of the 20th century. A triumphant conclusion to what had almost become a treasure lost forever.


Growth in the Art Market

Something strange is happening all over the art world and I’m trying to figure it out. Maybe I hadn’t been noticing all that much, but I started thinking about it a couple of weeks ago when I attended an American Art auction at Sotheby’s and a small Norman Rockwell nostalgic painting sold for $2.2 million, of course a record and a wake up call to start looking at a few other sales that weren’t Contemporary Art.

What I’ve discovered is a consistently rising market for many kinds of art that normally don’t attract the mass market, causing me to think that money is being invested in work that is not exactly affordable for the ordinary Joe, but could be a bargain for serious collectors if they are comparing it to what is going on at the evening sales at the auction houses.


Just this morning I was looking at the results of the Antiquities sale at Sotheby’s:

Marble torso of a young satyr estimated at $50,000-80,000, sold for $329,000

Egyptian bronze figure of Harpocrates-Somtous estimated at $30,000-50,000, sold for $137,000

Hellenistic marble head of a woman estimated at $20,000-30,000, sold for $112,500

Two small Egyptian polychrome figures estimated at $7,000-10,000, sold for $53,125


At the Sotheby’s Old Master sale:

Antwerp Mannerist School painting estimated at $100,000-150,000, sold for $257,000

Gillis Mostraert painting estimated at $4,000-6,000, sold for $43,750

Circle of Jan Wellens de Cock painting estimated at $30,000-50,000, sold for $106,250

Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s small painting estimated at $700,000-900,000, sold for $2,285,000


These were not aberrational sales, but a reflection of the overall sales, and I am finding this repeated in the sales of other categories of art, i.e., paintings, sculpture, objects of art. I’ll be checking out the other areas now that I’m alerted to the rush towards obtaining physical proof of where someone’s money has gone rather than investing in the more ephemeral ink on paper representing stocks, bonds, gold and whatever.

The other day when someone told me her son was so interested in art I remarked that so was everyone else. It probably  wasn’t until the 1970s and Scull auction sales that the general public was alerted to the fact that paintings could fetch a good deal of money. Then the world seemed to sit up to look a little more closely at the art market. Interest gradually rose, but the wild prices of the late 1980s and the 1990s really caught their attention.  And as I told the lady, everyone today is interested in art. But it is because of a growing appreciation of it or the prices it brings?