Finance: The art of auctioning

Finance: The art of auctioning
Courtesy photo

By Elizabeth Wainstein 

Never buy art as an investment. Collectors should buy what they love, what inspires them and what means something to them.

You may get lucky and sell what you have collected during a bull market but that’s an unknown variable. Collectors of Chinese art who bought before 2008 have done very well over the past 16 years as the Chinese art market has been at an all-time high, mirroring their financial markets.

Locally, works by Washington Color School artists have been undervalued for many years, until the past five years. The movement got its start in the 1950s when a group of Washington artists – Gene Davis, Thomas Downing, Morris Louis, Howard Mehring, Kenneth Noland and Paul Reed – influenced by the “Color Field Painting” movement in New York, came together to form the Washington Color School’s first generation.

More local artists joined the movement in the 1960s building community and influencing each other’s work. Artists considered part of the Washington Color School’s second generation include Leon Berkowitz, Edward Corbett, Willem de Looper, Sam Gilliam, Tom Green, James Hilleary, Valerie Hollister, John G. Kofler, Ed McGowin, Alice Mavrogordato, Robert W. Newmann, Alma Thomas, Anne Truitt and Hilda Shapiro Thorpe. Many of these artists are now doing extremely well in the auction market.

The Potomack Company auction house in Old Town Alexandria recently sold an untitled oil on canvas work by Hilda Shapiro Thorpe for $24,000, setting a new auction record. Until then, her record was just $900.

Thorpe’s studio was located in Alexandria on King Street, above the children’s store Why Not, where she painted for years. Her work was exhibited at the Athenaeum and other Alexandria locations.

The time is right for local collectors to capitalize on Washington Color School paintings.

There are many other Alexandria galleries, one of which sold works now bringing handsome prices: Full Circle Gallery offered the furniture of George Nakashima, who is considered a leading innovator of 20th century furniture. Potomack has sold many Nakashima pieces over the years, with one achieving $100,000.

So buy what brings you joy but always keep an eye on trends in the market to make an educated decision on whether to keep an object in your collection or cash in on it.

Potomack will provide a complimentary estimate to keep you abreast of today’s values. Currently, Potomack is actively seeking works by Washington Color School artists, including Hilda Shapiro Thorpe, and furniture by George Nakashima.

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The writer is owner of The Potomack Company, an auction house in Old Town.