Art Fairs, Auctions Tap Eclectic Tastes to Lure New Collectors

Work by Swiss Duo Kueng Caputo
Colorful styrofoam blocks mixed with sand and mortar by Swiss duo Kueng Caputo, are $6,000 at the booth of Salon 94 gallery at the Spring Masters fair in New York. Photo by Katya Kazakina/Bloomberg

It’s an art market mashup. At the Spring Masters art fair in Manhattan, there’s a 17th century Spanish painting for $1.1 million. Across the aisle, colorful styrofoam blocks mixed with sand and mortar by Swiss duo Kueng Caputo, who are in their 30s, are $6,000.

The wide selection was by design. Art fairs and auctions this month are trying to cater to eclectic tastes and entice a younger generation of collectors. Tiffany lamps, Greek antiquities and Old Master paintings are among the offerings by 61 exhibitors at Spring Masters.

“I collect this way,” Beth Rudin DeWoody, a trustee of the Whitney Museum of American Art, said about her wide-ranging taste. She bought a sculpture by the Warsaw-born, American sculptor Elie Nadelman (1882-1946) at Spring Master’s VIP preview on May 7. “I like to mix it all up,” she said.

Cross-category collecting is the buzz phrase at the moment. Christie’s hybrid sale Monday night spans the entire 20th century with an estimated $500 million of art. Contemporary art fairs, which are piggy-backing on the estimated $2.3 billion auction season in New York, are also looking back in time.

“The best collectors don’t just buy contemporary art,” said Michael Plummer, whose New York-based consultancy Artvest Partners owns Spring Masters. “They might have Renaissance painting and antiquities and modern art.”

Marketing Effort

If fair organizers have their way, their marketing efforts also will attract new collectors. At the May 7 VIP preview, Spring Masters attracted major collectors including Donald Marron, chairman of private-equity firm Lightyear Capital LLC and AllianceBernstein Corp. Chief Executive Officer Peter Kraus. The next evening, more than 900 members of young patron programs of about 45 Manhattan cultural institutions attended the fair for a charity event. Many were in the 20s and 30s who work in finance, technology, fashion, art and architecture, organizers said.

Many of the young patrons “want to be collecting art, it’s in their DNA,” said Robbie Gordy, co-chair of the Arts’ Night Out event that raised money for the non-profit organization Project Art. “Having an opportunity to explore so many categories at once was great. It opens the door.”

Collecting across categories isn’t new. James Tomilson Hill, the Blackstone Group LP vice chairman, owns works spanning seven centuries by artists such as Peter Paul Rubens, Andy Warhol and Christopher Wool. Last year, the Frick Collection exhibited his Renaissance bronze statuettes alongside postwar paintings.

Open-Ended

Spring Masters, which runs through May 12, is in the same spirit, said Ian Wardropper, the director of the Frick who attended the preview last week. “A lot of fairs have a deadening feel,” he said. “This fair feels open ended. I don’t know what to expect around the corner.”

A life-size, 18th century sculpture of Madonna and Child by Spanish artist Luis Salvador Carmona was already reserved by a private collector at the booth of Coll & Cortes from Madrid, according to the gallery, which declined to reveal the price. A painting by Bartolome Esteban Murillo “Job and his Wife” (1655-1660) was available at $1.1 million.

London-based Tomasso Brothers gallery sold a pair of 18th century terracotta sculptures for $130,000, said co-owner Dino Tomasso.

“It took three minutes to sell,” said Tomasso. “Our prices are very undervalued compared to contemporary art.”

Modern, Historic

An 1850 marble sculpture by Lodovico Caselli, depicting a mother and her son, loomed large at the booth of New York-based Otto Naumann gallery. Its $375,000 asking price seemed like a steal -- only one out of 35 lots at Christie’s cross-category auction Monday is priced as low. It hadn’t sold as of Monday, according to Bria Koser, the gallery’s director.

Frieze Art Fair, known for cutting-edge, conceptually driven contemporary art, offers Frieze Masters, a sister event showing modern and historic works, at its London edition.

The New York fair, which opens to VIPs on May 13, will including Skarstedt Gallery and Acquavella Galleries making their debut among the 190 exhibitors in a 250,000-square-foot white tent on Randall’s Island.

Acquavella is known for mounting exhibitions by Pablo Picasso, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Pop Art --- as well as clients including billionaires Steve Wynn and Steve Cohen. Skarstedt also specializes in blue chip artists.

‘Great Context’

“It will be a surprise for many people to see us at Frieze New York and it will put the contemporary art we are showing in a great context,” said director and co-owner Eleanor Acquavella. “It’s a tiny bit of Frieze Masters at Frieze New York.”

Acquavella will show works by artists it represents, including Damian Loeb and Miquel Barcelo, and historic pieces by Picasso and Jean Dubuffet. Prices range from $25,000 for a drawing by Jacob El Hanani, whose has a solo show at the gallery, to $10 million for Picasso’s 1971 paintings of a man and woman embracing.

Skarstedt is bringing works by Warhol, Martin Kippenberger and Thomas Schutte, with prices ranging from $500,000 to $2.5 million, said owner Per Skarstedt.

Art Miami fair, which is making its New York debut this week with 100 international galleries, is also focusing on the cross pollination of works in gilded frames and those with barely dried paint. A $25 million Claude Monet water lilies painting will be for sale at Palm Beach, Florida-based Arcature Fine Art’s booth.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, New York’s Accola Griefen gallery will have new paintings by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, a 74-year-old Native American artist based outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her lavishly symbolic oil and acrylic canvases are $18,000.

“They just left her studio three days ago and barely made it here in time,” said co-owner Kat Griefen.

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