Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ossining Man

I'm calling this small clay fellow Ossining Man because the previous owner said it had been sold, or maybe given away, by the Ossining Historical Society. Ossining is in Westchester County north of NYC. Was it an end-of-day creation or something made in another country? Whatever its origin, I like the face and the fact that it is quite old. I want to think that it was found in a cave, while knowing that it likely wasn't.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


This is a photo shot in 1956 by a journalist for the Daily News, "New York's Picture Newspaper," a slogan that was dropped in 1991 after 71 years. It shows a boxing match at the Garden. What I particularly like about this image is the photographer at ringside. An impartial professional simply doing his job? Fuhgetaboutit!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Portrait of Ella, 1868

To Ella. From her friend Marion. Fairfield. Sept. 3rd 1868. I'm assuming Ella is the subject of the portrait.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Stylin' sign

Hay, nice sign! That was the runner-up for headline. I stopped to meet the maker, but he or she was off somewhere. This sign, actually two stacked particle boards, is along a road on the south end of Lake Ontario in upstate New York. I like the pause between hay and for sale. Zoom in to really appreciate the unique font.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Remains of ancient hay city

The first Americans, centuries before it was America, used hay to make their buildings. Problem was, the livestock nibbled the structures to no end, so the builders could never erect anything on the scale of, say, Machu Picchu. Years later, someone suggested using rock, but by then everybody was fed up with monolith building. Found these ruins on a quiet farm road. I was the only tourist there.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Grotto of Lourdes is in LaFargeville, N.Y., which is way upstate near Canada. The sign is along a highway in the same general vicinity.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Baby face

Jointed fiberboard figure missing a lot of decoration and with a piece of worn leather on the lower part of the torso. The leather looks like a mend but there's no damage on the other side. I guess this was a toy but today it looks like an artist-made piece.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The bottlecap king and queen

Clarence and Grace Woolsey were an Iowa couple who grew famous after they passed away and their entire collection of bottlecap art was auctioned off in 1993 for almost nothing. An individual piece today can cost several thousand dollars. I bought this tall thing from the late Jane Cieply who, with her husband Dick, operated Hypoint Antiques in Illinois. It has the look of an old water-pumping windmill, like the ones that used to dot the Midwest, but the wheel is stationary. For more on the Woolseys, go here and here.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Folk sculpture brings strong prices

These two folk art carvings, both depicting African-American men, sold at Skinner's on Sunday, the top figure for $3,437, the second one for $1,541.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ring toss for Jesus

Uncle Roy gave Susie this game, reminding her that Jesus saves.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Californian G-2

The Californian G-2 is a wood speed boat built in 1930 and nearly destroyed by fire in 1931. Luckily, the boat and its wonderful folk art portrait on the stern were saved. We saw the boat on a recent visit to Clayton, N.Y., on the St. Lawrence River, home to the Antique Boat Museum. I'm not a boater but still I was awestruck by the beauty of these watercraft. The G-2 has a 400-hp engine and could reach 98 mph. How cool it would have been to be in that boat's wake, watching that face vanish into the distance.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fanciful finial

I would have liked to have seen the building under this whimsical, iron finial. It must have been extraordinary.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

String holder

Before tape became so popular, merchants used string or twine to wrap packages. Often, the string was contained in a holder as simple as a metal ball or as fanciful as this plaster head. Remnants of coarse twine hang from the mouth. I like this holder in particular because it is, as my wife would say, disturbing. The clown looks slightly menacing. Also, the carnival aspect of it appeals to me.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Creating a market for art

How do objects produced in a single region graduate from being viewed as mere collectibles to sought after works of art? The short answer is a market is created that says those objects are meaningful and thus valuable. The market originators are academics who extol the virtues of the objects, citing history and singular vision. Then the auctioneers expound on the qualities cited by the academics, and the gallery owners and journalists soon follow suit. The Harvard Business School publication Working Knowledge interviewed one of its own, assistant professor Mukti Khairi, who studied how a market is born. Khairi focused on India's modern art market, which did not exist before 1995. I was particularly interested in the Khairi interview because I've had first-hand experience with India's new modern art scene. My wife is from India and on our last trip to Kolkata, I visited a residential flat that had been converted into a gallery. I was especially taken with a large block print that mixed the past and present. When I asked the woman the price, she quoted me 3,000 -- as in dollars not rupees. Shipping would be extra. I passed, but left impressed that India's art was commanding Western prices. One of the catalysts of India's new modern art market is an online gallery, Saffronart, from which I plucked the images above. The bronze head is just 10.6 inches tall but priced at a lofty $45,000; that's more than 2 million rupees. The acrylic painting is a more affordable $1,011. Here's an excerpt from the Q&A with Khairi:

Q: What were the key steps in how the Indian modern art market went from essentially a nonexistent category to one where individual paintings were being sold for millions of dollars?
A: The market for modern Indian art was created in three broad steps:
                  Redefinition of the category: As mentioned earlier, art historians and academics began the process of redefining and reinterpreting 20th-century Indian art in modernist terms, emphasizing its originality and describing its aesthetic value. This in turn implied that the art had a higher economic value than what had been ascribed to it before then.
                  Creation of valuation metrics: This part of the process took place among the commercial players in the ecosystem. In order to generate trade in the art, auction houses translated the academic discourse into simple, straightforward constructs that not only explained the new category to stakeholders, but also enabled comparison and consequently valuation of the art works. We found evidence of four main constructs being used in the auction texts: explications of the originality of the modern Indian aesthetic, emphases on artist careers and specific influences on them, the use of artistic movements and schools of art within the Indian context to define relative value, and finally, descriptions of the internationalism of Indian artists in order to establish their legitimacy in the art world. These constructs provided metrics that helped stakeholders understand the art, compare different art works by the same artist or art works by different artists, and judge and evaluate them on a common basis, and thus generated a valuation system, which is crucial to enabling exchange in a market setting.
                  Broad acceptance and understanding of the category: These constructs used in auction house texts helped define the value of modern Indian art, and as public documents, these texts helped disseminate the same valuation system among broader audiences. Museums and galleries in the West began to take notice of the new genre, holding retrospectives and special exhibitions, which established modern Indian art as a legitimate category of fine art. Newspapers and magazines (both general interest magazines as well as dedicated art publications) in India and abroad began to write not only about the auctions, but also about the art itself, usually using language and constructs similar to those used in the auction texts.
As this understanding spread, the value of modern Indian artworks increased significantly. The average price of a work at auction went from approximately $6,000 in the first six years of auctions to approximately $44,000 in the next six years of auctions. A couple of paintings broke the million dollar barrier, and several others sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. These rapidly rising prices provoked greater coverage in the press, which in turn expanded the circle of stakeholders that converged on the understanding of modern Indian art generated by the auction house texts. As a result the market for modern Indian art converged on shared expectations of value among buyers and sellers.
Consequently, we found that pre-auction estimates of the value of a given work made by auction houses became narrower, more precise over time, suggesting growing certainty about the valuation that could be expected. We also found that the difference between the auction house's estimate of an artwork's value and final hammer price paid by the buyer decreased over time, indicating convergence and intersubjective agreement over the value of works among buyers and sellers, which in turn indicated that the market for the category was established.

Monday, August 2, 2010