Seeking Art History That is Temporarily Overlooked
It is hard to imagine an aficionado of contemporary art who does not love, or at minimum appreciate, the work of esteemed pioneers like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein or Andy Warhol. It is easy for collectors to want their works, but unless one has limitless funds and incredible access, building a collection of these established stalwarts is impossible today for all but a rarified few. We would all love to bask in the glow of these masterpieces, but I wonder – where is the intellectual stimulation in simply buying the obvious?
At the Greenstein Lab, we take a different approach. Our emphasis is on finding artists of bona fide art historical importance who are currently under-appreciated or out of favor. By selecting this path, we avoid having to speculate on which emerging artists of today might someday become established and accepted in art history. Rather than trying to extrapolate how an artist’s career might evolve based solely on an early show or two, we prefer to examine those artists, both alive or deceased, who have years or, in many cases, decades of work in order to better evaluate their unique contributions to the annals of art history and their lasting influence on subsequent generations of artists.
Focusing on established but under-appreciated artists hopefully enables us to avoid the speculation and risks that come with chasing the “white hot” up-and-coming artists of the moment. As described in an article from Bloomberg, The Dangers of Investing in Art, too often this folly ends when the hype fades and marketability and commensurate values inevitably plummet. I wholeheartedly agree with longtime gallerist Thea Westreich Wagner’s statement, “Let’s get to the real issue: Sooner or later, the art world comes to its senses. Some artists look interesting for a period, maybe it’s a month or maybe it’s a year, but what happens is that things sort themselves out.”
As the articles below describe, the contemporary art scene is littered with young stars like Anselm Reyle, Oscar Murillo and Lucien Smith whose star power and commensurate prices rocketed early in their careers only to subsequently correct to reflect their yet unproven place in art history.
Some of these hot “millennial” artists were still in diapers when a proven artist like Cindy Sherman was completing her Film Still series or appropriation artist Richard Prince was finishing his early Joke paintings. Many of these emerging artists produce aesthetically-pleasing and unique works, but will their body of work fully evolve and develop over an entire career to justify their early bestowed fame? Rather than embark on speculation, there are sufficient opportunities to find artists who provide opportunity for a much more informed and accurate assessment of their lasting place and importance within art history. Our approach allows us to investigate how an artist’s career evolved, what role they played within their peer group and what institutions and collections have embraced different periods of their work. In some cases, the artists fitting this criteria are still alive and producing amazing work, and in other cases, they have been deceased for some time.
For example, a few artists fitting this criteria that we have recently concentrated on are Abstract Expressionist painters, Norman Bluhm and Ralph Humphrey, and early Pop artists, Nicholas Krushenick and Paul Feeley. Each has a compelling story and signature style that can be contextualized over a long period of time and comfortably placed amongst a robust group of contemporaries. While none of these artists could be remotely considered household names, their works are often fantastic examples of their respective movements and are included in some of the country’s most prestigious museum collections.
Norman Bluhm – Included at the Met, the Whitney, the Smithsonian, the Hirshhorn
Ralph Humphrey – Included at MoMA, SFMoMA, the Whitney, the Walker
Nicholas Krushenick – Included at LACMA, MoMA, the Met, SFMoMA, the Whitney
Paul Feeley – Included at Moma, the Met, the Guggenheim, the Whitney, the Smithsonian
We don’t anticipate any of these artists ever achieving the commanding status or prices of the pioneers who defined this generation; however, we believe their work is nonetheless compelling, enduring, and, ultimately, valuable. Our goal is to identify these artists and then seek out their best works before the art establishment begins to revisit and reassess their place in the accepted narrative. Not every artist we find to be under-appreciated will be ushered into the established fold; many, maybe even most, will remain in the background and around the edges. Despite this, we find our approach can be rewarding, engaging, and fun as it takes us down many paths less traveled.
All photos by Richard Brown