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Announcing The Pearl Art Auction

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tpaa Logo finalThe people of the Pacific Northwest have waited a long time for a signature art auction and the wait is finally over. The inaugural auction is scheduled for Labor Day, September 1, 2014, and will be held at Urban Studio, a contemporary event venue located in the arts culture hub known as the Pearl District of NW Portland. The event will be held in conjunction with the popular Art in the Pearl Festival, which operates in the Pearl Park Blocks, a short walking distance from Urban Studio.

Rip Caswell saw that the Pacific NW region of the U.S. was missing an art related event of such caliber, and so planning began on The Pearl Art Auction in order to fill that void. Expectations are that the event will draw buyers from the entire western states and that The Pearl Art Auction will become one of the west’s greatest art events. Visit the website for more information on how to register, submit art for consideration, and more!

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How do you value your art collection?

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Should you purchase art with or without regard to its investment potential? That is a very good question. Art advisers would suggest that before you buy any art, you should investigate its provenance — or at least consider it very seriously. An item’s provenance refers to documentation about the piece to include its origin, historical information, previous owners, etc. — anything that establishes the trail back to the artist. Other factors to consider are published reviews about the artist or particular piece, documentation on how much the particular artist’s work typically sells for, who has purchased the work, has it been sold at auction, and if so, the selling price, etc. The assumption being once you’ve gathered this information and can support its value, you may then give yourself the “green light” to make the purchase and have some confidence that it has potential for financial return.

WarholOther advice you might hear from an expert is to determine if the art is deemed “good”. Because art is subjective, it would seem that would be very hard to establish. The work may have received critical acclaim, been well received in the show circuit, and some individual pieces may even stand out above the rest in the artist’s catalog, and the art and artist might be classified as “very collectible”— but does that make it “good”? We would agree, that from an investment perspective, these are serious considerations.

If you’re a first time buyer, you might find these details very confusing, complicated, and maybe even controversial. The truth is that every aspiring and working artist wants their work to be in demand and command as  high a price as possible. But most artists would also say that they want their art to be appreciated and sought after as much for its aesthetic attributes. After all, an artist first picks up a paint brush, kneads a hunk of clay or carves a block of wood for the sheer joy of creating something out of nothing. It cannot be denied that the feeling of having created something with a fingerprint individual only to that artist, doesn’t have a price tag.

And then there another reason to buy art — for its sheer beauty and the pleasure it gives you every time you look at it. Do you get lost in the color, the scene, the texture? Are you in awe on how the piece was executed? Do emotions rise up in you when you see the piece; does it reveal memories like nothing else can? If you answer yes to any of these questions, consider that art purchased based on emotion has as much value as that purchased by algorithm. We would validate the argument that if you intend to see it and live with it every day, you want to select artwork that moves you and delights you every time you encounter it. We would also agree there is satisfaction in knowing if you ever wanted or needed to sell your art, you would realize a return. In the end, whether based on an investment outcome or pure aesthetics, we hope your art collection, first and foremost, brings a smile to your face!

To learn more about how Herb and Dorothy Vogel amassed their very extensive art collection, read our blog “Two unlikely art collectors” . If you want to shop for art because it moves you explore the hundreds of artists websites all very the web.

Of course there’s room for a blend of these approaches. If you would like to learn more about art investing, here are a couple of interesting articles to check out:

The Top-Performing Alternative Investments: Fine Art

Forbes Magazine: Ten Expert Tips For Investing in the Art Market

From $1000 to $15,000,000—read an interesting article on Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans”.

Selling your art on the secondary market

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We often have clients come to the gallery wanting to learn more about a piece of art they have inherited or acquired in some other way. Sometimes they do not know who the artist is or its provenance; sometimes who the artist is, but nothing more. When in question, we try to offer suggestions that will help establish who the artist is. At this point we would make a referral to an appraiser or auction house for help. Antique stores often have in-house appraisers and have regularly scheduled appraisals (think Antiques Road Show).

3toiNIf the artist is in fact alive, we suggest attempting to contact the artist personally. If not, we recommend trying to locate the trust charged with handling the artist’s work. With any luck the artist has a website with contact information or gallery representation which should be able to assist with valuation and selling the piece on the secondary market. If you are unable to locate any direct contacts, we would again send you to an art appraiser or auction house as a resource.

If you are interested in actually selling the piece be sure to do as much research as you can to determine the market value of the artwork. Good resources are on the internet, but start with the artist or gallery representative first. Just search for the artist or name of the piece. With a little digging you should be able get some idea of its worth. Often the acquired art is from another part of the country. In that case we suggest they contact a art local museum or even historical society. Generally speaking this might be the best resource for finding an expert that’s familiar with the artist’s work. In Portland, the Portland Art Museum, PAM Rental Sales Gallery, or Oregon Historical Society are great places to start.

The 1,000-year-old Chinese bowl bought for $3 or less and sold by Sotheby's for more than $2.22mIf you do not want to sell your piece on your own there are benefits to using an auction house. These establishments generally have a large following and a sound clientele who will be knowledgeable and anxious for an acquisition. You can count on the auction house to vigorously advertise the auction and perhaps publish a catalog where your piece will be featured. If you decide to use an auction house, you can have some say in your rock bottom price, but keep in mind, auction houses not only take commissions, but often charge the buyer a fee as well, creating a scenario where the bidding might reflect those aspects. The auction house will do its best to create the best possible environment for a solid return, but anything can happen on auction night. You never know if you’ll walk away with a slim profit or an unexpected big sale. Nevertheless, if simplicity and a quick sale is what you’re after, this is a solid avenue to pursue.

If you decide to go it alone, learn as much as possible about the artist and the piece. The obvious ways to sell would be the-new-ebay-logothrough EBay or Craigslist, but there are several online art auction sites that you might have success with. Some will charge a fee or a small commission, others nothing at all. For any of these options, remember you will be responsible for actually shipping the item, so consider that in determining your price. The good news is if no one makes you an offer you can live with, you can always hold on to the piece and enjoy it for a while longer. As with all investments, the market does fluctuate, so you may have better luck another time. 

Some antique shops, auction houses and appraisers in the Portland area:

Troutdale Antique Mall – 503.674.6820
Monticello Antique Mall
O’Gallerie
Gary Germer and Associates
Pioneer Auction Gallery
Randolph E. Osman and Associates
West Coast Antiques
Antiques Road Show online Experts Library

Image and recently in the news: This 1000 year old white bowl was bought at a garage sale for $3 and sold at Sotheby’s for $2.225m, after it was recognized as a rare Chinese relic from the Northern Song dynasty. Originally purchased at a garage sale in 2007, the bowl had been displayed in the living room for several years before the owner became curious about its origins and had it examined. Image credit: AP

I’d love to buy that piece, but…

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Most everyone would call themselves an art lover on some level, but when it comes to purchasing art, others are a little more tentative. What makes a great piece of art? Most gallerists and artists would say when deciding on a piece of art, buy what you absolutely love, the piece that speaks to you on some level.

Yes, there are collectors who buy art strictly for its investment potential. Their acquisitions may never see the light of day again until the owner wants to resell the piece. A great deal of fine art commerce relies on this type of collector, but for those of us who would love to collect en masse, but cannot, purchasing art has to be more meaningful and substantive. The art must evoke emotion to instigate the next step of actual buying.

You might be surprised to learn that price is not always what keeps a client from actually making the purchase. Hesitancy often comes from not knowing where or how they will display the piece. It’s with that in mind, we’d like to offer some tips for you.

  • If you only buy art occasionally, the best advice is to buy the piece that moves you on some level. It might be a landscape that is familiar to you and reminds you of a special moment. It might be a still life of an object that makes a special reference and makes you smile. It might be the use of a color or a simple brush stroke in just the right place that completes the painting and makes it stand out from the rest. Don’t over analyze your reaction to a piece. The most you should ask of an object d’art is that it gives you pleasure every time you see it.
  • Know your budget. Even if you fall in love with a piece, but can’t come to terms with the price, you’re unlikely to really enjoy it when you bring it home. Of course the gallery can help with this and often has several payment options—and layaway is one of them, but in the end, we want you to be comfortable—and return to buy more art. Art shoppers often shop with a number in mind and are willing to go a little further for that extraordinary find—know what that is and then take the plunge!
  • “I’m not sure where I’d put it”. This is easy for us more decisive types, but can be a dilemma for others. If it’s a two dimensional piece, wall space is key. However, consider displaying your painting on an easel or propped up on a ledge or sill. Some pieces even look great simply leaning against a wall. Remember the living and dining room are not the only places to hang fine art. Many home have spacious kitchens and great rooms, there’s always a bedroom or office. Where do you spend most of your time? Don’t display art for the visitors that will come and go; display it for your pleasure.
  • If you would love a Rip Caswell sculpture but think you have no place for it. Consider the above advice. Sculpture doesn’t always have to be displayed on a pedestal. A smaller piece can be displayed on a wall shelf. We have installed very large pieces on stairway landings and entry door alcoves. If room if tight inside and you have a protected patio or deck area, displaying your piece there, where it is visible from the inside, might be perfect. Bronze can handle all kinds of weather—that means the bathroom or kitchen where humidity fluctuations won’t harm it.
  • Even artisan jewelry or tooled leather can be displayed. Hang it on a door or on the wall from a beautifully crafted hook. Be creative. Almost anything goes with a little imagination. There is no real formula.
  • A few cautions. Know what conditions are best for your art. If you love your bathroom and envision admiring your art while taking a long, steamy bubble bath, you might want to consider hanging that water color in a different location, but it could the perfect place for a ceramic sculpture or blown glass piece. Bronze is great inside and out. A turned wood bowl is best in a neutral temperature zone, away from direct heat. Most paintings do best out of direct sunlight. Keep traffic patterns in mind with other media. Fine blown glass is probably better out of a high traffic area where it won’t get knocked around.
  • If you’re truly stumped, but the piece anyway. Bring it home and display it somewhere prominent, where you will walk by it or see it all the time. We guarantee, sooner than later, the perfect place will present itself to you.

Remember, the gallery where you purchased your art is a great resource. Be sure to take advantage of their expertise and ask about where and how to display your art.

Two unlikely art collectors

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Herbert Vogel was born in Manhattan in August, 1922.  A high school dropout, Vogel worked as a garment-worker and was an army veteran. He met his wife Dorothy in 1960 and they were married in 1962. Herbert was a postal worker who worked evenings and never earned more than $23,000 in any given year. Dorothy was a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library. They lived very modestly, did not own a car, and cared for eight cats and twenty exotic turtles. For 50 years they lived in New York City in a one bedroom, rent controlled apartment. What makes Dorothy and Herbert Vogel’s story unique? I’m glad you asked!

In 1990, Herbert and Dorothy decided to do what many couples their age do—downsize and weed out. Since they had no children The National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C. was the lucky benefactor of some of the art they had collected over the years. What could two elderly civil servants possibly have that would be of interest to the National Gallery? You’ll be glad you asked!

The couple started slowly collecting art shortly after they were married, buying on credit and paying in installments. Their arrangement was simple—they would use Herbert’s salary, and eventual pension, to buy art, and use Dorothy’s for the day to day expenses. Again you must be asking why this story is unique. You see, with this elementary plan, Herb and Dorothy art collection eventually grew to almost 5000 pieces by some of the most renowned (now) modern artists of our time. Buying only pieces they liked, their first piece was a small crushed-metal sculpture by John Chamberlain. According to the Vogel’s, they had three rules for acquiring art: “It had to be inexpensive; it had to be small enough to be carried on the subway or in a taxi; and it had to fit inside their one-bedroom apartment.”

John Chamberlain sculpture circa 1959

The Vogel’s were able to make the most of their developing relationships with these emerging artists many of whom were anxious to have their work become part of this burgeoning collection. Often they bartered or were offered considerable discounts, which allowed Herb and Dorothy to be on the cutting edge of the minimal and conceptual art movement, for which they had a particular affinity. This process often caused more than a few ill feelings with art dealers who felt this practice cheated the established system of art acquisition.Among their purchases were early works by Sol LeWitt, Robert Mangold, Christo, Lynda Benglis, Richard Tuttle, Donald Judd, and Dan Graham. In more recent years they collected works by Andy Goldsworthy, James Siena and Pat Steir, among others. They were not only considered important collectors, but also a refreshing presence in the affluent and exclusive art market of New York. They became part of this art scene thanks in part to Herbert’s attendance at as many as art lectures as he could, and his becoming a regular at the Cedar Bar in Greenwich Village which was famous hangout, frequented by such artists as Mark Rothko, Franz Kline and David Smith. Herbert once reminisced, “I was nothing—a postal clerk, but I respected the artists, and they sort of respected me. They would talk until 3, 4 in the morning, and I would be one of the people who just listened. I just remember it very vividly. I never even asked a question.”

Their apartment was so jammed with drawings, paintings and sculpture; they had to traverse the stacks, choosing art over excess furniture. Their closets were bulging. The Vogel’s never sold anybof their art in the secondary market, preferring their collection be available to all, for free, which is why they chose the National Gallery as their benefactor. In 1992, the Vogel’s worked with then Director, J. Carter Brown to start the process of bequeathing their collection The National Gallery. Logistically this was quite an undertaking both on paper as well as physically—five full-size moving vans were needed to move the art. Brown has referred to their collection “a work of art in itself.”

The Vogel collection is considered a 50 year timeline of the minimal (all unneccesary details are omitted) and conceptual (the idea or concept is what’s important) art movement and a snapshot of sorts of European and American artists since 1960. In 1992 Herbert commented that he and his wife could easily have become millionaires. “But we weren’t concerned about that aspect,” he said. Herbert and Dorothy are a testament to the idea that you don’t have to be wealthy to collect art. Dorothy once said “You can buy art; you don’t have to be rich. You can enrich your life.”

Due to declining health, Herbert had been unable to live in his apartment for several years. Sadly, Herbert Vogel died a few weeks ago of natural causes. Dorothy remains in their apartment among the newest works they began collecting after donating so many to the National Gallery.

Parts of the Vogel Collection travel throughout the US, including the Portland Art Museum in 1998. Thanks to a program the Vogel’s and The National Gallery instituted called The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States, 2,500 works from the collection will be distributed to all 50 states, with fifty works going to a selected art institution in each.

To learn more about Herbert and Dorothy Vogel, watch this PBS Independent Lens episode or read this article.

Now go out there and buy some art!