Posts Tagged ‘art’

So Close – the end of the story – Part 3

July 21, 2016

cow buttPart 3 (Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here)

Within a day or so of my initial inquiry, Seattle ArtREsource responded that the painting was indeed still for sale – for $48,000(!), which the gallery said it determined with Pace Gallery’s guidance. It also was selling another Close “Cow.” Then, adding insult to injury and completely contradicting John’s theory, the Seattle ArtREsource director added that it would be included in the first Chuck Close online subscription digital catalogue raisonné, which is essentially the official catalogue of an artists’ work (although it’s not actually there).

And one more thing, he said, “If you are in the area it is worth a visit to view these in person as they are rich in detail that exhibits his strength from a young age.”

If he only knew how many times I’d viewed that dang painting.

Then I contacted the Pace Gallery, the New York gallery that represents Close. It didn’t take me long to get through to the gallery’s senior director. I told him my tale of woe. He said that even if the painting was a Chuck Close student work, that Chuck wouldn’t be too interested in it – and that it wouldn’t be worth “too much.”

Actually, this is exactly what he said: “Early paintings aren’t taken really seriously. It’s only taken serious because it has Chuck Close’s name on the back. Chuck would dismiss it – ‘Yeah, whatever, it’s a student work, who cares?’ I wouldn’t kick myself. We sell Chuck Close to Microsoft and Google guys. That’s who we sell to. Would they be interested in a Chuck Close (student work)? No. I don’t think it’s that big a deal personally. I don’t think my collectors would buy that. Only one who might have been interested, is a museum. Auctions say it wouldn’t do very well. A small mistake was made. I doubt anyone’s going to buy it. If someone does buy it, they’ll buy it for 1/2 that and give it to a museum. It if was a portrait you would have known that. Then you would be writing, `Oh my God we hit oil in the backyard with dad drilling.’ I wouldn’t fret it. You want to kick yourself but it has no significance you didn’t luck out. We have early ones in storage. He would never go back to sign a piece that’s already finished. He wouldn’t change history. All artists would do is nod their head and say `as far as I can tell it was done by my hand.'”

The gallery director predicted the painting would sell for half of the $48,000 asking price. To a gallery that sells multi-million-dollar paintings, that really isn’t “too much.”

But it’s a lot to me and my family.

I also called the thrift shop where I donated the painting. I was hoping that perhaps someone there had recognized it and benefitted greatly from it. If so, perhaps I could take a tax deduction for a big donation. I asked the manager if he had any record of selling a Chuck Close painting. He said no. “Unfortunately we probably looked at it and said `it’s an interesting piece,’ and passed it off.”

I asked ArtREsource’s director how he got the painting in the first place. He said a man (who didn’t appear to be a native of the area because he spoke in broken English) approached the gallery, saying he got the painting from someone who picked it up at the Mercer Island thrift shop. He was happy I verified that that’s where I had donated it, giving provenance to the painting. He also lit up when I mentioned it had been hung upside down – something that explained to him why it came in with the hanging wire on the wrong way. He said he went to the consignor’s house and it was devoid of other important artwork. “I think he needs the money, something he hopes to use for retirement.”

Still trying for something, anything really, I then called our family lawyer, who happens to really understand art, having grown up with art collector parents like me. I asked if there was anything I could do – even to get a tax deduction. She suggested I ask who consigned the painting and try to convince him to sell it back to me for a few thousand dollars.

But after hearing the ArtREsource director explain that the consigner really needed the money I didn’t even try. The lawyer tried to make me feel better. You are downsizing. It happens. I wouldn’t kick yourself over it. Think of the money you saved by not having to insure it.”

My only hope now was that the painting wouldn’t sell – as John predicted.

But my hopes were dashed a month or so later, when I checked the gallery website and saw a “sold” sign on the painting. I e-mailed the ArtREsource director to inquire about the selling price and received a terse e-mail stating: I’m sorry but the selling price is 100% confidential information that I will not divulge out of respect for both the consignor and buyer.”

End of story? Not quite.

Five months later I found Cow listed for sale by a gallery in Carmel, Calif. When I called, the gallery owner said his gallery sold Close’s Cow. He said the gallery never had possession of it, but sold it “in transition to a buyer he had lined up.” But the story of the painting’s provenance didn’t ring true. The gallery owner said it came from a Close cousin in Seattle, which is untrue since our family had possession of it until 2013. The gallery owner said the painting sold for around $75,000. Although I gasped at that number, I also question it since I don’t believe his version of where the painting came from.

Then, two months later I received a notice that Pacific Galleries in Seattle would auction off two of the Close student paintings that were at ArtResource at the same time the gallery had Cow. Estimated listing price for each was $15,000 to $30,000.

John predicted that neither would fetch minimum bids of “even $1,500.”

I watched the auction online. The one most similar to Cow (Close used the same paint on it) sold for $14,000 – just under the estimated low price.

Sigh.

So that is how this story ends, at least for now. Where does that leave me? What’s the moral? I’m still trying to figure it out. Other than feeling bad that I gave away the painting, it also makes me realize how fleeting the price of art really is. In a nutshell, it’s what someone is willing to pay for it. Nothing more; nothing less. Until I see a receipt or auction record for my Cow, I’ll never really know how much it sold for. Until then, I can only guess that it likely was worth around $14,000 – but may have sold for much more. Or not.

Perhaps the only saving grace is that it’s not mentioned in this story about hot thrift store finds. At least, not yet.

So Close (or how I literally had a cow) – Part 2

July 18, 2016

Cow painting rightside upPart 2 (Read Part 1 here)

Now what?

After getting over my shock – and explaining to my husband why I was literally having a cow on the couch – I started sleuthing. As a journalist, that’s what I do. First I e-mailed the art dealer.

“Hi John. Ever have one of those nightmares, when a really valuable piece of artwork slips through your hands because you didn’t realize what it was? Well, I fear that happened with one of the pieces in my father’s collection. Tonight I read a blurb in Seattle Magazine about Seattle ArtResource holding its “Lineage” show featuring artists who attended or taught at UW. I thought it sounded interesting so I looked up the gallery online. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw this painting of “Cow.”  It had hung above my parents’ bed (upside down, no less) for as long as I can remember. My father said it was “by some art student.” I guess that “art student” was the now very famous Chuck Close. And I’m kicking myself because I actually saw a tag on the back that said “Charles Close” but I never in my wildest dreams thought it was by THE Chuck Close because it didn’t look like any piece of his that I had ever seen before! This painting didn’t sell at our estate sale. None of the art enthusiasts who came through the house noticed it – not you, not (the estate sale guy), not the (auction house), none of my father’s art friends. In fact, when it didn’t sell, we even let the house stager use it when he staged the house. Check it out in seconds 27/28 in this video:

I’d like to believe it’s not a Chuck Close. But when I see it next to the other ones at that gallery I see a very strong resemblance.

Thoughts? Comments?

Thanks.”

I’m not sure what response I was looking for from John. Sympathy? An apology? A vow to “get to the bottom of this?” I wasn’t blaming John. He didn’t give the darn thing away. I did. Here’s what he said:

“I do not remember seeing “the cow”.

I have had two works by Chuck Close from his student work at the university of Washington. Neither one of them sold. I even called (name omitted) at the Pace gallery in NYC  and he expressed no interest in the student work of Chuck close. He has been Chuck’s long time close friend and art dealer.

He told me Chuck would like to see that work just destroyed. I will look through some auction records tomorrow but I do not think the paintings are hyper valuable.  I have no idea really until I do research. Do you remember who you sold this painting to?”

I also e-mailed the gallery to see if Cow had sold.

Meanwhile, John sent another e-mail:

I just looked through the auction records for the past 10 years on Chuck Close.

I saw two student works listed for sale one of them was a work that I had and it was quite small listed at 60 to 80,000 (that’s thousand dollars) and it did not sell and there was another fairly recently that was quite large that was listed at 60 to 100,000 (thousand dollars) and did not sell so just as I suspect there is little or no interest in Chuck close student work. The work that I had 10 years ago was for sale for $3000 and we could not find a buyer. “

Like they say on Pawn Stars – just because someone lists a price on eBay doesn’t mean it will sell for that amount. The real value is how much something sells for. So, according to John’s guess, I gave away a painting that won’t sell for $3,000, not a $100,000 painting.

He sent me screen shots from online auction catalogues showing the Chuck Close works he was referring to – listed in 2010 and 2014 at $40,000 to $100,000. He concluded, “It’s my opinion that there is no developed market for Mr. Close’s undergrad student work from his time at U of W.”

And then this e-mail. Clearly he was pondering this issue:

“Who did you sell this painting to Cynthia?.

Was it signed on the front?. I’m sure it’s a Close but it’s still student work. I’m sad because it’s for sale for a lot more money than your family received. I would never have wanted to sell that painting even if I’d known it was created by Close.

I went through that scenario and spent too much time & resources only to be told…. `Not interested, it’s student work.’ and it sat at my gallery for a long time.” 

Another e-mail:

“I really don’t think it will sell for more than a few thousand.

This work is so far outside of where Chuck has been for the last 35 years that doubt it will ever be considered relevant. There’s a story that chuck close tells students and people when he’s lecturing that when he met William deKooning that he shook his hand and said `finally I’ve met somebody who has painted more deKoonings  than I have.’ Enough said.” 

Meanwhile, I continued to sleuth. I started Googling and my heart sank further when I saw a 2010 episode of Antiques Roadshow that valued a 1960 Chuck Close student piece at $100,000 to $150,000!

To Be Continued…..

Saying goodbye to a home full of memories

October 28, 2014

He sat on his walker in the dining room where he and his wife entertained many guests in the 1960s and ’70s – when the beautiful Ralph Anderson house was new. He surveyed the sunken living room below and the view of Lake Washington and the Mercer Island floating bridge.

101_1058Strewn around him were the remnants of what had once decorated (filled to the brim, actually), this masterpiece he helped envision and build in the prime of his life, this personal museum and ode to the artwork and collections he pieced together with years of shopping and incredible love.

Downstairs, relatives searched through his stuff. So much stuff. Hundreds of paintings he created over his lifetime. Books that had sat on shelves, most unread. Tools. Art supplies. Clothes. Masks. China. Souvenirs from world travels. Hats. Fishing poles and reels. Old long wooden skis. Treasures.

The summary of his 93 years. Up for grabs. The relatives were respectful, asking if they could have this. Did he mind if they took this? “Is this one of your paintings? Would you mind signing it?” one asked, glad to have found it. “Is this Sun Valley? We used to live there. It’s meaningful to us,” another said upon finding three sketches of the Idaho ski town where he went with friends in the 1950s. “Yes, let me tell you about that trip,” he said.

This scene played out recently at my father’s Mercer Island home, which he had built with my mother in 1964; where he lived for 47 years until it became too much for him to care for with its many rooms and stairs and things. So many things. Although he had hoped to die there, he realized as his age started getting the best of him, that he needed additional help. He moved to a retirement community about a year ago, at age 92. By then mom had been gone 20 years.

But what about the stuff? Thousands of pieces of artwork and doodads collected over the years. African art. Mexican masks. Native American masks and artifacts. Hundred-year-old Native baskets. China and silver from his mother’s house. Dozens of wooden carvings. A room full of Middle Eastern crafts, tapestries, puppets and household items – in a red color scheme designed around a bright Oriental rug. Clothes (many that had never been worn). Magazines, saved from day one. Newspapers heralding important events. Paintings from Northwest artists. And papers. So many papers. Bank statements, check stubs, bills, Christmas cards, love letters, correspondence with far away relatives and friends, travel brochures, maps, art show announcements. Nothing was ever thrown away. Nothing. He prided himself on doing without garbage service. Mercer Island, after all, had a recycling center. But really – was anything ever taken there?101_1044

A historian late in life, he was the keeper of the family history. He was born in Victoria, B.C. His father immigrated from Alsace-Lorraine (between Germany and France). His mother grew up in San Francisco, but the family roots are in England. Mom fled the Island of Rhodes (then Italian; now Greek) during WWII. Nazis came five years later and shipped the remaining Jews to Auschwitz. All but 152 perished. He loved and respected this family history  – his and his wife’s – and kept all the records – photos, letters, documents.

He organized most into boxes and notebooks. But a few escaped his memory – or just got lost in the piles of other things. Amid the check stubs, old clothes and insignificant travel memorabilia – treasures waiting to be uncovered under four decades of dust.

By the time we invited the relatives to have at it my brother and I had already spent countless hours and weekend mornings going through every scrap in the year since he moved out. One day we were unpacking a coffin-sized art deco style cedar chest at the bottom of one downstairs closet. It contained mainly my mother’s clothes from the ’50s and ’60s – a cashmere sweater, some wool skirts, a couple of dresses (all well preserved because the moths had been successfully repelled). A tailed topcoat that likely belonged to a great-grandfather. And then, at the bottom – two documents, laid flat between tissue papers: Italian diplomas marking my mother’s graduation from elementary school and middle school in Rhodes – 1932 and 1935. Extremely rare. Who had time to take these things with them across the world when being exiled from the homeland? Upstairs in the linen closet – a thick bed cover, embroidered throws and two boxes of needlework – also from Rhodes. Big find no. 1.

Big find no. 2? Two weeks later, amid the Boeing memorabilia, drawings of the Ms. Thirftway hydroplane (a university class project my father did in 1955. They’ve since been donated to the hydroplane museum) and a box marked “hair and teeth” was a non-descript roll of paper with penciled handwriting on the outside tissue paper. A note from my father’s mother to her two children: “Silk portraits of your great-grandfather Lewis Lewis painted in 1889 in China.” My brother and I carefully unrolled them. They were in pristine condition – Lewis Lewis, his wife Rachel. Lewis Lewis wasn’t just some guy. He’s famous in Victoria, B.C. as a successful businessman who paid for the Jewish cemetery, served as president of his synagogue for eight years and founded the Victoria Masonic Lodge. My father had never seen the portraits. He said his mother would be happy that they’d been preserved. The Victoria synagogue is anticipating their arrival in time for the 150th anniversary celebration next year.

101_1030Then there were the other little surprises: One porn magazine and $230 in uncashed traveler’s checks.

Many treasures found amid some resentment. Who keeps all this stuff? Who has the time to shop for it all? If the money was instead put into the stock market would everyone be better off? Was there ever any consideration about what would happen to it all – and who would go through it? It wasn’t pure junk (though some of it was). Much of it was actually quite valuable – either monetarily or historically.

As my father sat there surveying his home for what likely will be one of the last times he goes there (it will go on the market soon after the estate sale) my aunt asked him how he felt. He’d spent decades amassing his collections, putting together his displays. How did he feel about it literally walking out the door?

“I’ve had my enjoyment out of it,” he said. “Now my family can enjoy it too.”

 

 


Bendichas Manos

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