The 21st annual Works on Paper art fair, Feb. 27-Mar. 2, 2009, at the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10065.
Sanford Smith, founder of the Works on Paper art fair, was yelling at his staff. "No chicken in the booth!" He wasn’t referring to the dealers. They remained fearless during the long and at times "tediously boring" (according to one exhibitor) four days spanned by the fair this year. According to Smith, many dealers were pleased to have any sales at all, since expectations were so low after hearing the horror stories from exhibitors at the Palm Beach 3 art fair in January, and even the Art Dealers Association fair at the armory the previous weekend.
The mood was upbeat all the same. Over 1,000 people attended the fair’s gala preview, a benefit for an organization called the Citizens’ Committee for Children (headed by honorary chair Julian Schnabel), and $600,000 was raised, despite the cancellation of the benefit’s main corporate sponsor, Lehman Brothers. And dealers did report sales over the next four days, although mostly of lower priced works. Fair director Sugar Berry said that as of Monday, not one dealer had signaled that they planned to skip the event in 2010.
A case in point was William Weston Gallery from London. Gallery director Nicolas Postma said the gallery had sold 19 works, ranging in price from $2,000 to $20,000. The booth included a lovely paper sculpture edition by the Anthony Caro done in 1996-2000. Entitled Leaf Pool, it was modestly priced at $3,750.
London dealer Sims Reed was having the same kind of show. Although the big-ticket items, such as Pablo Picasso’s Femme a la Fenetre (last sold at Sotheby’s in October for $134,500), were not moving, a large (65.5 x 45.5 in.) graphite botanical drawing by the young Edinburgh-born artist Sarah Graham had sold for around $5,800, and gallery director Lyndsey Ingram said she was also hoping to place a $7,500 watercolor by the artist.
Ingram had great success pre-selling a new silkscreen edition by the rediscovered British Pop artist Gerald Laing. Entitled Domestic Perspective, it featured a tart whom you could say was busily multi-tasking -- vacuuming and smoking at the same time. Priced pre-pub at $1,200, the work was moving so well that Ingram said that after her fourth sale, she grew tired of putting up red "sold" stickers.
Old Master dealer Alan Stone and his wife Lesley Hill, who together operate Hill-Stone, Inc., said they had sold a variety of works at prices ranging from $5,000 to $50,000, including some Old Master prints and a lovely watercolor by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Stone said that he attributed the "very good" results at Works on Paper to his regular clients, who are "recession proof" if they find something they can’t live without.
New York Outsider Art specialist Andrew Edlin reported a major "six-figure" sale of a two-sided drawing of the mythical "Vivien Girls" by the legendary Chicago artist Henry Darger. Measuring over 12 feet in length, the work is going to a private collection. Interest in Darger continues unabated since his 2008 retrospective at the American Folk Art Museum. Edlin Gallery has represented the estate since 2006.
At Tandem Press, curator Timothy Rooney said that Russell Panczenko, the director of the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, Wisc. (conveniently located around the corner from Tandem in Madison), was acquiring one of Judy Pfaff’s new 3D collage constructions. Perhaps becoming the first bona fide "green" artist, Pfaff had meticulously cut paper flowers out of used file folders and other detritus recycled from her studio floor. The price: $10,000.
Although John Szoke Gallery was packing a big "Wow" factor by exhibiting a large black-and-white Tom Wesselmann print, Nude with Mirror (1990), the discerning eye could also find more unusual treasures in the booth. Tucked away and measuring only ca. 5 x 4 in. was a 1905 Picasso etching entitled Les Deux Saltimbanques. This before-steel-facing impression was absolutely exquisite, with subtle shading that was lost when the plate was completed. Incredibly rare, the print was offered at $150,000.
The amount of scholarship at the fair was gratifying, as dealers continue to discover and expose artists heretofore unknown. One example is the California modernist Edward Hagedorn (1902-1982), exhibited in depth at Denenberg Fine Arts from West Hollywood. According to Stuart Denenberg, the entire estate was discovered by a cleaning lady who had been told to throw the works out. Luckily her son-in-law was a framer and instantly realized their potential. Denenberg ended up buying the entire estate and has just released the first monograph on Hagedorn entitled Edward Hagedorn, California Modernist, Restlessness and Restraint. Hagedorn was a solitary and eccentric personality whose work is reminiscent of James Ensor. The book can be had from Denenberg Fine Arts for $55 by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Judging from the caliber of the works offered and the fair’s fiercely loyal audience, it is certain that Works on Paper will continue to thrive, despite the caprices in the economy.
DEBORAH RIPLEY is Artnet’s print expert.