Monday, August 14, 2017

Confederate Monuments Should Go

Orbiting near the center of events roiling the United States today is the public display of symbols of the American Confederacy.

I really do think it's time for all busts, statues, sculptures, memorials and other representations of the CSA - excluding cemeteries - be removed from outdoor public spaces and placed in state or federal museums on permanent display.

As an appraiser that specializes in historical artifacts, part of my approach to value is to consider an object's highest and best use. This principle is tied directly to recognizing an object's value characteristics and possible uses.

I submit the highest and best use of these usually artful representations of a defeated regime whose existence was brutally supported atop the shoulders of their fellow men is in institutions where they will receive professional conservation and proper historical context, and serve to educate future generations.

Let there be no censorship or whitewashing of the people or cause they represent. Likewise, let there be no destruction. Just put them where they belong.

(Lead image by the author, taken at the Confederate Cemetery on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, VA.)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Sometimes Originality Isn't So Obvious!

One of the issues appraisers face when evaluating antiques is the impact an object's current state has on its value versus its original state. Detecting subtleties can be tricky, unlike this example!

Always check your appraiser's credentials and experience!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Kandinsky Shows "Trump Effect" is in Effect?

 Bild mit weissen Linien
The so-called "Trump Effect" hinted at in my March 15th post seems in full effect now, based on the strength of Sotheby's June 21st Impressionist and Modern Art sale, which not only beat the same sale in 2016 by 45 percent, it also saw the record for Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) smashed – twice.

The first smashing painting was Murnau—Landschaft mit grünem Haus (1909), painted in his Fauvist period. It closed at a breezy $26.4 million, higher than the last comparable painting, at approximately $17 million in 2013.
 Murnau – Landschaft mit grünem Haus

However, a mere six lots later, Kandinsky's abstract Bild mit weissen Linien (1913) shattered Murnau’s new record by raking in $41.6 million.

It’s result – and in fact that of the entire sale - $187.7 million, may be seen as a barometer of the brighter mood of the higher end art market, even if only a few lots rose above their estimate.

It doesn't even really matter if the $41 million paid for Bild was within the estimate range – the record is impressive. The previous record for a comparable Kandinsky, $21 million set at Sotheby’s in 1990 for Fugue (1914) equals $39.3 million adjusted for inflation today.

As you might expect, Sotheby's is crowing these days and I expect there will be drinks all around this weekend.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

G.I. Joe Turns 75

June 17, 2017 marked the 75th anniversary of G.I. Joe's debut. Joe was first drawn and published by Chicago native Irving David Breger (1908-1970) in the very first issue of Yank Magazine, dated June 17, 1942.

Breger began drawing cartoons for his high school newspaper, and later edited Northwestern University's humor magazine Purple Parrot. Though without any formal training in art, he continued drawing cartoons during his college years, imitating the style of well-known 1920's-era cartoonist, John Held, Jr. After earning a degree in abnormal psychology from Northwestern in 1931, he spent a year traveling and selling cartoons to the German magazine Lustigeblaetter.

He was drafted into the US Army in 1941, even while freelancing for various magazines including Esquire, Collier's, The New Yorker and others. Employed as a truck mechanic by the army, he drew cartoons by night, with The Saturday Evening Post publishing them under the title Private Breger.

He was soon transferred to the Army's Special Services Division, and was eventually transferred to the staff of the newly-created Yank Magazine. Though he wanted to draw in a style reminiscent of The Saturday Evening Post, Yank's editors insisted on a unique name for his column. His character's real name was Joe Trooper, but Breger added the acronym for "Government Issue" to the equation, and created a name that would find itself adopted by both soldiers and the American homefront as the new 'doughboy' term for American servicemen: G.I. Joe.

Breger would go on to draw Private Breger for King Features Syndicate until October 1945 when the character was discharged from the army and became Mister Breger. The cartoon's popularity was enduring, and the Sunday panels would continue until shortly after his death in 1970.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

David Levy Linda Hall Library Lecture, June 15, 2017

Back in February 2016, I wrote about my self-guided tour of comet hunter David Levy's observing logs, which were on display at the Linda Hall Library, having recently been donated by him.

Mr. Levy returned to the Linda Hall Library last week to discuss the upcoming total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, which will cut a path across the United States from the Pacific northwest to South Carolina.

While the talk was open to the public, I was not able to attend. Happily, the Linda Hall Library live streamed his talk. It is currently archived at Unfortunately, the video is glitchy, the audio is fine and definitely worth a listen. Dial it up and let it play in the background!

David Levy - Total Eclipse of the Sun: A Once in a Lifetime Event

Monday, June 12, 2017

Shivaree: A Rare Thomas Hart Benton Print

Collectors devour pencil-signed Thomas Hart Benton lithographs whenever they hit the market, and for good reason. Complementing the ongoing popularity of these prints is the attention paid to him by scholars.

Benton’s oeuvre is extensive, and most of his mass-produced lithographs are covered by Creekmore Fath’s salutary work, The Lithographs of Thomas Hart Benton, published by the University of Texas Press. The scope of the work is impressive, to say the least, being all the lithographs done as individual works of art.

The work I’d like to examine today, though, is an elusive creature, omitted by Fath and other Benton sources and lists, but one that has turned up in the market a couple of times over the last fifteen-odd years, and is surely rising in value to catch up to its listed compatriots.

Auctioneers that have offered it to the public since 2000 have assigned their own name for it. I, however, believe it is ‘Shivaree, Laurie and Curley,’ as listed in Lawrence’s Print Prices (1997, Gordon's Art Reference, Inc.), and dated to 1954 – which tallies with date visible in the lower left of the plate after Benton’s signature.

Benton often only signed his last name to the pencil-signed lithos, but two of three examples I’ve seen over the last 15 years have seen him sign his entire name, Thomas Hart Benton. One of these also included a personal dedication. The third example was not pencil signed.

If any Benton collectors or scholars have additional information about this particular print, I’d love to hear from you!