7th April 2015
The results of any investments in art or in anything else are normally judged at the end of the transaction. Calculating profits because of earlier sales can be off the mark by a million miles. Was I and Sothebys wrong in expecting the Hofmann sale to go well?
August 1986 London to New York!!
New York, here I come!
How on earth does an amateur make it to New York and try to enter a masterpiece for sale? That was the million-dollar question, but I was not to be put off by such details. Never one to retreat, never one to buckle under pressure and lack of experience, I jumped into situations and came through difficulties a more mature, experienced and tougher man, even though on many occasions emotionally bruised and hurt at times. Armed with a huge desire to succeed and prosper, no obstacle was high enough to stop my quest in art.
I aspired high and I was inspired!
First things first, though, I had to pay for the Hofmann and then have it shipped to London. It was essential to show the experts in New York that the painting had come from London and that I was not a dealer who had bought the painting only a couple of months earlier in San Francisco. That was imperative because auctioneers always like fresh paintings on the market. The Seago experience and lessons learned from that trade were invaluable. The way I handled that sale was flawed and very amateurish thus the bad result. I had already worked out the reasons for failure and avoiding the same mistakes was crucial to the success of the investment.
Being a private individual than a dealer is preferable to auctioneers and experts! I had to play a role. It was not deception! It was marketing!
Freshness on the market of any work of art is important and preferred, thus I had to conceal the recent sale in San Francisco!
The painting arrived in London by the middle of July. The box was big but much bigger was my anxiety and eagerness to see the Hofmann and marvel at those colours I had heard so much about. The wooden box protected the work well; professional packaging at a price was paid for.
Out of the box came the Hofmann, my hands trembling and anxiety mounting – no laughing matter. It was eleven thousand dollars worth of art and perhaps fifty thousand by the end of the year. Wraps off; greens, red, orange, black. Black!!! Never seen anything similar before. The thick board was covered in greens and oranges with a little bit of red and then a SPLASH, a rich splash of ebony black paint thrown on top of everything else! The finished composition was magnificent and the splash of black was indeed its trademark. That made the painting stand out but also confirmed it as of that period of the artist’s work.
It was stunning. It was a master’s creation. It was Hans Hofmann! What did the painting show? What did Hofmann want to say? I puzzled over this for some time but it was just guesswork. The artist was dead and there was no way anybody could explain the meaning and purpose of the painting except the artist himself. As H.W.Beecher says,
“ Every artist dips his brush in his own soul and paints his own nature into his pictures.”
I immediately got on to work with the two major auction houses in New York. Sotheby’s estimated the painting at $30,000-50,000 and Christie’s $15,000-25,000. Better results were achieved at Sotheby’s and so my decision was to consign the Hofmann with them. I made sure that several issues that worried me were discussed prior to my travelling to New York:
· It was agreed that the painting would be entered in the best sale and in Part One of the Contemporary Art sale in November 1986.
· An illustration cost to my liking was fixed.
· The reserve was guaranteed between $30-50,000.
· I could not ask for 6% trade commission because I presented myself as a private seller from London.
“I shall see you in New York next week with the painting, sir,” were my final words to the expert in charge. Thus, preparations to conquer my new world of art began; tickets and exportation documents from the UK, importation in the United States at Kennedy Airport with a reputable agency. Everything was a new experience. I was apprehensive but determined to do things perfectly.
Pan Am had no arguments in taking in the well-packed Hofmann as cargo and me as a passenger with a baggage-load of inexperience. That was roughly three years after I had started the art business and I was selling paintings at the biggest art auctions in the world. It was an amazing experience already but it was gradually getting better, more exciting, more demanding and more challenging on my whole lifestyle and emotions. Indeed, it had been an unbelievable journey into the world of art up to that point! Could it get any better? Were there any more surprises? Were there new heights to scale which I still could not dream of nor imagine? This journey was at its beginnings! I did not know!
The Odyssey in art had just begun, but would I reach my Ithaca!