As a curator for museums and a consultant to collectors, for almost 30 years I've had to judge the quality and value of art. In museums, galleries and private collections, I've sorted through the bad, the good, the better and the best. Whenever I look at a work, I consider how this new object measures in comparison to the hundreds of thousands I've already seen. I apply the same criteria to a work by an emerging artist as I do to an established master. The best artists have both technical mastery and the ability to connect us, through our appreciation of color, form, balance and other issues, with the essence of our humanity.
How do I apply this knowledge when I advise clients on shopping for art? First, I encourage them to look for art wherever they are. Although serious collectors usually purchase art in the major centers of the art world, such as New York and London, they like to investigate the local galleries wherever they travel because interesting objects often surface in unpredictable places.
I also stress that investing in art is different from shopping for objects to adorn your home. It's as complicated as investing in the stock market. Research is important to establish the artist's history and place in the continuum of the history of art. You also need to learn about the local, national and international market for an artist's work. Ask galleries to help you gather the information, do your own comparative research or call on the services of an art expert.
I have chosen many works of art because I like them. I've also looked for objects that, based on my knowledge and research, I believe will appreciate over time.
But appreciation is hard to predict, and collectors should not make that their primary consideration. I tell my collectors they should buy because they like something. If they have developed their eye and done their research, they may find that some their purchases will increase in value over the years.
I also suggest they support the artists living in the community with a percentage of their acquisition budget. There are many interesting artists who went to Ringling or live here who are ambitious and may already be showing in New York. I've seen some local artists who began selling at $500 raising their prices to $2,000 or more after a few years of exposure.
In Sarasota, most of the galleries are clustered downtown on Main Street, Palm Avenue or Towles Court. Their clients range from people looking for pleasing pictures for their living room to the person who's building a museum-quality collection.
Although some galleries have Web sites that can introduce you to their inventory, they can't replace the experience of seeing the art in person. I know I need to see an object in order to make an informed decision.
What attracts me to certain works? I appreciate that each work of art is a moment in an artist's career, and some moments are more significant than others. I like to possess those significant moments. That means I look at a body of work before I make a decision. Dealers or the art consultants who work for them are anxious to help you find what you want, so it's smart to share your desires and your budget.
Most galleries in Sarasota sell art in different media, such as painting, sculpture or photography. Some specialize in European, some in recent or contemporary work, and others in art from the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of the galleries offer art that's both realistic and abstract. You can find work by emerging or established artists. Many galleries try to offer something for every taste, and this can make the sorting challenging.
Part of the fun of shopping for art is that you never know what will be available at any one moment. Timing is always a factor. If you have to make a decision now, you must choose from what's currently available. If you have the luxury of a year or more, you can see more of an artist's work and get to know it better before you buy.
I spent several weeks browsing Sarasota's galleries, looking for works that interested me. Here's what I liked, presented in ascending price categories.
$300 to $500
Finding interesting and good original work in this price range is a challenge. I like Justin Freed's color photographs of Lido Beach at Katherine Butler Gallery. A well-established photographer, Freed prints his own work in the darkroom in small editions. At 16 by 23 inches, they're $275.
Forrest MacDonald's digital photographs of dancers are fascinating time-exposure images at Metamorphosis. His images deal with the issue of time as well as the precision and perfection that are a classically trained dancer's goal. They're priced at $375.
Sonnet Gallery has some interesting head studies by painter Donald Redner in acrylic for $300. They are spontaneous, bold, colorful and honest.
$500 to $1,250
Apple and Carpenter on Palm Avenue recently acquired a collection of 350 bronzes from a New York collector. Most of these works are European and signed by the artist. The craftsmanship is Old World. My choices would be a bronze Dog with a Pair of Birds by Pautrot, for $1,250, and a Rooster by Barye for $750. Both Pautrot and Barye are well-documented artists who have been recognized since they began making work.
I would look at recent Ringling graduate Maciek Klosinski, who combines acrylic on photo-transfer on mylar in a piece for $650 at Allyn Gallup Contemporary. Klosinski is using the computer as a tool and hand-painting over the generated image. This very contemporary approach results in an image that has the atmospheric feeling of an Old-World landscape with the cartoon-like presence of a cow.
Because they are well conceived and executed and whimsical, I like Ramon Carulla's cigar boxes and boats painted with figures in comical hats and costumes. His work starts around $750 and is at Sonnet Gallery.
Art Uptown on Main Street is an artists' cooperative gallery and a good place to find a wide selection of work and subject matter in this price range. Here I was pleased by Jamie Friedli's loosely painted field with cows called Moo ($950). Anne Abgott's detail of plants at Selby Gardens is an intriguing watercolor for $900 that verges on abstraction because of the way she has cropped the view. Janine Hoffman records moments in sports events with colored pencil for $1,200. Her images are sharp and crisp as she captures the speed of a basketball or football game.
Also at Art Uptown, Marianne Chapel paints moody landscapes that pay some debt to the 19th-century French artist Corot and sell for $1,200. The more you contemplate her work, the more interesting it becomes, as colors begin to emerge from the stark contrast of shadows.
Susan Foster paints still-lifes that pay some homage to painters including Manet, Sargent and Morandi. She captures the essential quality of diffused light and directs your attention with views of objects that her brushwork puts in a soft focus of color and light. The oil on linen Roses with a Silver Pitcher is $900.
Jill Lerner, who formerly worked at Graphicstudio in Tampa, now produces fine limited-edition prints from her own press. The recent print on Japanese paper she published with Glexis Novoa is $1,200. Novoa is a Cuban-born artist living in Miami who creates imaginary and fantastic worlds with graphite or ink. His line is so fine you need a magnifying glass to appreciate the detail. In small dimensions, he captures vast panoramic vistas.
At Helena Poto Galleries, a new warehouse-like space in Gulf Gate, I discovered local talent Scott Hime's black-and-white photograph of Wheeler Geological Area for $575. Hime prints his own images, and they are seductive in the tradition of Ansel Adams. Also at Poto, I found Tampa-born Jenny Lynn's Fish-Nets C-print photograph for $750. Lynn disguises the figure until it almost becomes one with the landscape, questioning how we see ourselves in relation to the natural environment. Her point of view is intriguing.
At Santa Fe Trails Gallery, I liked Susan Kliewer's bronze horse. Called Free as the Wind, it's about 10 by 12 inches and is priced at $1,900. It's highly realistic and a perfect specimen.
For something more contemporary, I would look at paintings by Tim Jaeger and Sabrina Small at Metamorphosis at Towles Court.
Leslie Lerner, who died this fall, was an important artist who lived here and exhibited nationally at Allyn Gallup Contemporary. His works begin at $2,000. Lerner knew his art history and combined the tradition of Watteau with surrealism and a kind of wacky California sense of light and place.
Also at this gallery, Luisa Basnuevo's drawings of imaginary pod forms that seem to be alive and acting out various social situations are visceral and mysterious. They sell for $2,500. Gallup also has new work by Bruce Marsh, including Early Morning Ruskin, an oil on canvas, for $2,500. Marsh captures the essence of the Southwest Florida light and landscape.
Daniel Bilodeau is a recent Ringling graduate who's showing at Dabbert Gallery on Palm Avenue. His Dawn oil on canvas, 24 by 26 inches, is $3,200. The depiction of the young woman presents an interesting point of view in colors that are fresh and vibrant. This young artist is someone to watch.
Be sure to look at Steven Katzman's large-scale photographs for $3,900 at Sonnet Gallery. One of my favorites remains an image called Omaha, NE, which shows an elephant trunk about to make contact with a man standing by.
Every collection should have one or two masters represented. If you like 20th-century art, Elizabeth Rice Gallery has prints in a range of prices starting at $3,800 for a Max Ernst to a Joel Shapiro for $4,500. There are two handsome Joseph Albers Homage to the Square prints from 1964 at $5,000 each.
We don't often see the work of the English artist Francis Bacon in Sarasota, although his work has been collected by almost every major museum of modern art. Allyn Gallup Contemporary has Bacon's Study for the Human Figure after a Drawing by Ingres, a framed 1983 lithograph, 42 by 35 inches, for $5,500.
Sculptor Glenna Goodacre's studies for the Irish Memorial in Philadelphia at Galleria Silecchia on Palm Avenue are remarkable. Bridget was on a pedestal that brought her to exactly my eye level, and I was immediately engaged. The bust is bronze-finished with a gray-over-red patina on a distressed walnut pedestal. She's 21 by 14 inches and costs $6,500. Peter, from the same series and also stunning but with a warmer patina, would be my second choice.
Moravia Rojas paints in the Latin-American tradition of artists like Roberto Matta. Her works are a confident and bold combination of biomorphism and surrealism. An oil painting titled Sensasiones at Sonnet Gallery is $8,000.
More than $10,000
In this price range I would choose a Robert Motherwell print from 1984 called On the Wing, a six-color lithograph on Arches paper with embossing and collage of black mold-made paper. It's No. 50 in an edition of 70 and priced at $11,500 at Elizabeth Rice Gallery. Motherwell, who lived in France for a time, gained a reputation for taking risks in creating abstract collages that are collected worldwide. Recent sales of his paintings are well over $1 million.
You cannot touch a Willem de Kooning painting for less than millions of dollars, but Elizabeth Rice has a marvelous print from 1986 that's $18,500. De Kooning is one of the icons of Abstract Expressionism.
If I wanted a seascape painting, I would think seriously about Atlantic Surf at Dabbert Gallery by Charles Vickery. An oil on canvas, 24 by 30 inches, it's offered for $24,000. Vickery was an accomplished artist, and this is a great example of his work.
Emile Gruppe's Vermont snow scene, Two Horse Pung, is $14,000 at Apple and Carpenter on Palm Avenue. They also have a work by Charles Gruppe, Bass Rocks, Massachusetts, for $12,000. I like both these fine examples by these two accomplished painters.
Beyond the Galleries
Most Sarasota artists are not represented by a gallery, and it can be a challenge to find them. Art Center Sarasota, ArtCenter Manatee, the Venice Art Center or the Sarasota County Arts Council are good places to start because each has a registry of local artists and annual exhibitions. The faculty and student shows at Ringling School, New College of Florida and Manatee Community College can introduce you to significant work that is often for sale. These are also good places to find work that's more challenging, ironic or piquant.
Digital Three on Boulevard of the Arts supports artists who sometimes question what is established. As in Towles Court in Sarasota, some artists live and work in Bradenton's Village of the Arts. And the Fine Arts Society of Sarasota provides exposure for some artists with their annual tours of artists' studios.
If you want to see all that's available, move around to different neighborhoods and talk to artists and art lovers. Ask the artists you meet to put you on their mailing lists.
BEFORE YOU BUY
Look, look and look some more.
There's no other way to develop your knowledge and your eye. Look in a variety of galleries at a variety of work, including by the artists you like.
Decide where you'll place the art.
Take measurements of walls and rooms. Consider sight lines. Know your ceiling height. Take pictures of the room with you when you shop.
Make room for the art.
You may find a piece with different dimensions than you had in mind. Be prepared to shift furniture around to accommodate the art.
Ask about taking art on approval.
Galleries may allow this for a serious purchase. You may have to pay a deposit and delivery charges, but that's a small price if it helps to avoid a big mistake.
Allyn Gallup Contemporary Art, 366-2093; Apple & Carpenter Galleries of Fine Art, 951-2314; Art Uptown, 955-5409; Dabbert Gallery, 955-1315; Elizabeth Rice Fine Art and Antiques, 954-8575; Galleria Silecchia, 365-7414; Helena Poto, 923-5355; Katherine Butler Gallery, 955-4546; Metamorphosis, 373-9101; Santa Fe Trails Art Gallery, 954-1972; Sonnet Gallery, 955-6443
BEYOND THE GALLERIES
Art Center Sarasota, 365-2032; ArtCenter Manatee, 746-2862; Venice Art Center, 485-7136; Digital Three, 321-7209; Fine Arts Society of Sarasota, 330-0680; The Sarasota County Arts Council, 365-5118; Selby Gallery, Ringling School of Art and Design, 359-7563; Fine Art Gallery, Manatee Community College, 752-5225; Caples Fine Arts Complex, New College of Florida, 359-4665