Friday, August 12, 2005

Ones that Got Away (and One that Didn't)

Everyone has a story like this. Back in 1963, my aunt and uncle in New York went to the fiftieth anniversary exhibit commemorating the legendary 1913 Armory Show, in which America got its first major public glimpse of such future modern luminaries as Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Brancusi, and Duchamp (whose Nude Descending a Staircase #2 was a scandalous cause celebre).

So my aunt and uncle were checking out the show, perusing these now-legendary paintings, some of which were for sale (priced in the six-figure range, which was a lot of money back then). There were also paintings by well-known "second wave" Moderns for sale, too. The one they fell in love with, the one that tempted them, was an early painting by Stuart Davis, which was selling for the eminently-reasonable-but-too-much-for-young-teachers price of $12,000.

They came, they saw, they were very tempted...but in the end they decided that what must have been a year's salary (I'm guessing here, actually I have no idea) was a bit too dear to spend on a piece of art, lovely or not.

I have no idea what a Stuart Davis sells for these days, but I'm sure you could add a couple of extra zeros to the 1963 price and probably still fall quite short...

My own experience like this happened about fifteen years ago in L.A. I was wandering through a very nice art gallery in Santa Monica and I happened upon an extraordinary piece of art glass unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was dark electric violet with a a rather striking yellow accent, about two feet tall and shaped like a willowy flowing sea creature. The price was $6000, which was too much money for me to seriously consider-- but low enough for me to seriously consider (IF you know what I mean).

The artist was, it turned out, a pretty famous glass artist with his own glass school in Seattle; I looked through a book of his work and vowed to remember his name.

My more art-centric readers will no doubt have guessed that the piece was by Dale Chihuly, now an internationally famous artist (not just "glass" artist) and an artist for whom smaller, inferior works fetch $25-50,000. The piece I passed on looked somewhat like the one below, but much much nicer: a bit taller and darker (dark electric purple with a psychedelic yellow accent) and more vaselike, and more flowing. And backlit, like the one in the photo.

I'll swear to this day that I've yet to see another Chihuly piece as nice as the one I passed up. Damn. If only...

Chihuly's forms have been heavily imitated over the past fifteen years, but back then this was a stunning and unexpected piece. Chihuly almost single-handedly transformed the field of blowing glass into an accepted, legitimate Art. I consider him to be as important an artist as Frank Lloyd Wright, and would be honored to have his work in my home.

Truly, the increase in value of the piece would be immaterial to me; If I had it I'd never sell it.

Next up: The extremely nice magic-related collectible that didn't get away, or My very very very good day at the used bookstore.

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