Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Collecting African American Art Books, Catalogues, and Ephemera: A Personal Journey

I recently reread a series of essays, Black Bibliophiles and Collectors: Preservers of Black History (1990), resulting from the 1983 Black Bibliophiles and Collectors Symposium at Howard University. In this collection of essays, I am continually drawn to an essay by Bettye Collier-Thomas, Present Programs and Future Needs. Collier-Thomas posed three essential questions that were being addressed by historians, archivists, and collectors interested in documenting the black experience in America. Those questions are still pertinent today and follow:
  • What areas of black life and history have not been documented and are not now being documented? 
  • What types of materials are necessary to document neglected areas of black life and history? 
  • What methodology is necessary to identify and collect these materials?                                                                
Collier-Thomas identified 12 broad areas within which there are important materials that need to be systematically identified and collected. One of those 12 areas focuses on black art and artifacts; the area to which I have focused my collecting.

If you think that book collecting is the exclusive domain of fusty old professorial types, it might be time for another look. Bibliophilia has found new cachet thanks to places like the Las Vegas outpost of Bauman Rare Books in the Shoppes at the Palazzo, - See more at: http://accent.chubb.com/prelude-book-collecting#sthash.jAvqixmG.dpuf
If you think that book collecting is the exclusive domain of fusty old professorial types, it might be time for another look. Bibliophilia has found new cachet thanks to places like the Las Vegas outpost of Bauman Rare Books in the Shoppes at the Palazzo, - See more at: http://accent.chubb.com/prelude-book-collecting#sthash.jAvqixmG.dpuf
Collecting has been my on-going passion for years. The only changes in my collecting habits relate to what items may have had my utmost attention at any given moment. Although there may have been some interest in various collecting categories, I have consistently found immense joy in collecting fine art, and books, as well as ephemera to support that art. Collecting brings me great joy; the discovery, exploration, and eventual reading of these art gems have brought a richness to my life that has been unimaginable. Because I work with a personal budget, I have had to strategically plan, and assess what essentially must be included in the collection. Monographs, exhibition catalogues, brochures, and any print material must pass self-imposed guidelines, and fit into a collection policy plan.  

For over 20 years, I have been very committed to and strongly believed in collecting and preserving African American print materials focusing on black art. Stated quite simply, I collect visual art print material because in my estimation it serves as a key element in identifying and documenting African American artists and highlighting  the historical role these artists have played within the larger field of American art. Historically, there has been a gross lack of documentation in the visual arts, and I refer to this lack of documentation, as compared to many other areas of black history and culture, as a weak link that needs to be strengthened. 

Very early as a collector, I recognized the challenges posed by an overwhelming lack of documentation and inclusion of blacks in American art. Historically, this lack of documentation has resulted from the lack of monographs published over the years; lack of brochures and exhibition catalogues not published to support current exhibitions in galleries, museums, and alternative spaces; and very minimal press coverage that offered reviews.  The current proliferation in the publication of black art books, catalogues, brochures, and etc. is a recent trend of the past 10 years. There have been major improvements in this publishing area, but the publication rate is infinitesimal when compared to the  rate of material published relating to white male artists. Even as the numbers have increased in the publication of materials relating to black artists, repositories are not keeping up with the level of publication in the area of black art. Again, this lack or shortage of print material is what drew me to this collecting field.

This link will lead you to a small portion of what has been collected to date. This simply represents a small percentage of my existing collection: inventory

In upcoming posts, I will continue this discussion, focusing on the trend of book collecting today; the publishing trends in the area of the visual arts; why collect; and what to collect. Who were some of the historical bibliophiles? Who are some of the black bibliophiles of the 21st and what are they collecting? Stay tune as I venture into further discussions into this largely neglected collecting field of print materials relating to black art/artists.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Abigail DeVille's Harlem Stories: Artist Talk


Exercise of acknowledgement        Telling invisible history

Displacement       Reclaiming other space/territory      

Great migration       New people moving in...

             Old people being moved out        

Trash is the archaeological evidence of the present moment 

Trash is our record of existence       

History permeates everything

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

RESULTS: Swann's African-American Fine Art Sale 2402

Swann Auction Galleries' African-American Fine Art Sale 2402 held on December 15th brought in $3,117,132 with buyer’s premium, surpassing its pre-sale high estimate ($2,911,300) for the sale as a whole. Of the 150 lots that were offered at auction, 117 sold (78% sell-through rate by lot). According to Nigel Freeman, Swann Galleries’ Director of African-American Fine Art, “This sale was our department's best auction to date­–with our highest level of sales and a new record price at auction for Norman Lewis with the sale of his 1958 Untitled oil on canvas for $965,000. It smashed our previous record and demonstrates the rising stature and value of this important American artist. Also notable was a record for the highest price for a non-sculpture work by Elizabeth Catlett with Friends, her first painting to come to auction. ”

Select highlights from the African-American Fine Art (Sale 2402) are featured in this post, focusing on those lots which surpassed their pre-sale high estimates. All price quotes for art sold include buyer's premium.

Lot 49  NORMAN LEWIS (1909 - 1979)
Untitled. (Oil on linen canvas, circa 1958. 1295x1625 mm; 51x64 inches. Signed in oil, lower left.)

This masterful mid-century composition is a newly discovered and important example of Norman Lewis' painting. This previously unrecorded painting reveals yet another dimension to his late 1950s body of abstraction. Lot 49 had a pre-sale high auction estimate of $350,000; it sold for $965,000, setting an auction record for the artist. 

Lot 85  ALMA W. THOMAS (1891 - 1978)
Fall Atmosphere. (Acrylic on cotton canvas, 1971. 457x610 mm; 18x24 inches. Signed and dated in acrylic, lower right recto. Signed, titled, numbered "(10)" and inscribed "1530 15th Street, N.W." in orange ink, verso.) 

Fall Atmosphere is a wonderful example of Alma Thomas' vertical stripe abstractions from the late 1960s and early 1970s. This study of light and color is distinguished by its palette of beautiful fall colors. Lot 85, Fall Atmosphere, had a high estimate of $75,000; it sold to a collector for $87,500. 

Lot 86  SAM GILLIAM (1933 - )
Scatter Pisces. (
Acrylic and flocking on cotton canvas, with canvas collage, 1973. 1016x762x51 mm; 40x30x2 inches, with beveled edges. Signed, titled and dated in ink, upper right verso.)

This richly textured painting is a fascinating and scarce example of Sam Gilliam's work between the stained beveled-edge paintings of 1970-72 and the collaged paintings of mid-1970s. Scatter Pisces, Lot 86, had a high estimate of $25,000; it sold to a collector for $67,500.

Lot 104   BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS (1945 - )
Tuff Tony. (Oil and acrylic on linen canvas, 1978. 1829x1220 mm; 72x48 inches. Signed in oil, upper right.)

Tuff Tony is an excellent example of Barkley Hendricks' striking portraits, and one of his most widely exhibited paintings. Tuff Tony embodies the look and attitude that Barkley Hendricks famously captured in his late 1970s life-size figures against solid color backgrounds. Lot 104 sold for $365,000 to a collector, selling for twice its high pre-sale estimate of $180,000. This sale tied the auction record for Barkley Hendricks (Swann Galleries, April 2, 2015). 

Lot 125    HUGHIE LEE-SMITH (1915 - 1999)
Performers. (
Oil on linen canvas, 1990. 1168x1016 mm; 46x40 inches. Signed in oil, lower right.)

Performers is a significant later work by the artist, and the largest painting yet by Hughie Lee-Smith to be offered at auction. The evocative painting demonstrates Lee-Smith's consistent exploration of narrative and identity in a 1990s series of paintings with figures on stage or in a theatre. This work has a high estimate of $90,000, and sold to a collector for $143,000.

SEE Final Results for all lots in Sale 2402

Live online bidding was available via invaluable.com. Thanks to Swann Galleries for the use of images and written material in the catalogue.