Sunday, March 31, 2013

Collecting Art Catalogues, Brochures, and Ephemera: Swann's Printed and Manuscript African-Americana Sale

Lot 182 in the recent Swann Auction Galleries' Printed and Manuscript African-Americana Sale 2308 (March 21, 2013) featured a small set of five exhibition catalogues, dating from 1937-1961. Four of the items had a Howard University connection, and one had ties to the Phillips Collections; both institutions are located in Washington, DC. This lot was particularly appealing to me from the standpoint that I believe very strongly in collecting and preserving African American print materials, including ephemera. These materials serve as key items in identifying and documenting African American artists and in demonstrating the aesthetic and historical role they have played within a larger art perspective, particularly American art.                                          

The study of American art has historically and consistently been enriched by museum and gallery exhibition catalogues. Lot 182 and catalogues of similar and comparable content enriches and fill a substantial gap in the history of 20th-century American art. Careful study of these catalogues, as a genre, many written by scholars in the field, position the Black artist firmly in his time. This is accomplished through the use of primary source materials that place these artists in a social and historical context. These richly informative catalogues provide extensive biographical information; chronologies of works, often relevant to historical settings; and images and informative statements of the art work included. Oftentimes, they may be the only print materials on a given artist.

I was particularly interested in Lot 182, simply because it included a title, Oil Paintings, Watercolors and Prints by Negro Artists (Howard University, 1939) that has been on my "want list" for years. Also, I was curious about Survey  Number One by James Porter, not being familiar with its content. Because I owned 2 of the remaining titles, Art of the American Negro (Howard University Gallery, 1937) and Three Negro Artists: Horace Pippin, Jacob Lawrence, Richmond Barthe (1947), I decided to forgo bidding on the lot for two key reasons. First, I did not want to add another duplicate to the collection; particularly, as I develop plans to deaccession current duplicates on hand. Second, Lot 182 fell outside of my price point. It had a high estimate of $400.00 which is not out of line with the secondary market; however, in the final analysis, it sold for $1,440 with buyer's premium. So, I will continue to wait and follow my pattern of building a collection, one item at a time. In due time, my "want list" will be completed, either through locating missing items or editing items off the list. The fun still comes from the search, the discovery, the learning, and the sharing. 

Until Swann Auction Galleries has its next Printed and Manuscript African-Americana Sale, I will continue to search the secondary market for these small gems of African American art history.

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