Abstract Sales Stay Surprisingly Strong: Bucking a Longtime Trend, Collectors Show Continued Attraction to Complex Abstracts in Spite of Tough Economic Conditions. (News)

By Hagan, Debbie | Art Business News, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Abstract Sales Stay Surprisingly Strong: Bucking a Longtime Trend, Collectors Show Continued Attraction to Complex Abstracts in Spite of Tough Economic Conditions. (News)


Hagan, Debbie, Art Business News


Big shapes, bold colors and intriguing textural surfaces--these are just some of the characteristics of abstract art. But nowadays, there is an uncharacteristic trend in abstract art sales. In years past, skittish collectors have shied away from abstracts during economic slumps.

"That's not true right now," said Cynthia Shinn, vice president of Atlantic Arts. "When the market is tough, representational work usually sells well. Considering the tough times, the demand [for abstracts] has been steady." Amy Wesson of Bruce McGaw Graphics agreed, as do several other publishers, dealers and artists around the country. Changes in home decor and an increased public understanding and acceptance of abstracts have made this art genre a stable seller, they said.

"We carry other works, but abstracts are up, especially with the corporate market," said Terry Sproull, co-owner of Contemporary West Fine Art, "though we see some [abstracts] going into homes" Sproull reported this on a day when he had sold two 4- by 6-foot abstracts to J. Lowak Fine Art, an Austin Gallery. Owner Janie Lowak purchased the art to go into a client's home in southern Texas.

Abstract artist Simone DeSousa reported "phenomenal" sales this last year. Even though a friend told her that her big, bold architectural-influenced abstracts were more fitting for corporate than residential settings, "every single sale has been private," said DeSousa about sales this past year. "They were all at least 4 by 4 feet or bigger."

Abstracts for Everyone

Abstraction began in the latter part of the 19th century as artists ventured further away from straight representation. Artists stylized their figures and landscapes, provoking thought through line, form and color. By the mid-20th century, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, among others, left representation behind, expressing their ideas completely through shape, texture and color.

Some people applauded their efforts and found the work intriguing. Others found it pompous and ludicrous, creating a rift between those following contemporary art and home styles and those who continued to cling to more traditional art and home environments. One can't make such generalizations today. Thumbing through any recent issue of Architectural Digest, one sees abstracts going into traditional homes and vice versa. "Abstracts can go in traditional or contemporary homes," said Peter Clough of Arts Alive! "Actually, they can fit in just about anywhere."

Current trends in home environments make it easier for art buyers to mix and match styles. "At High Point, some of the most popular furniture was big, dark brown leather couches," said Joanne Chappell of Drybrush Graphics, a division of Editions Limited. Big abstracts go perfectly over them, she added. When you buy a big simple piece, you can complement it with an abstract. Abstracts are easy to use in the home environment--they're dean, and they're colorful."

Exactly who buys abstracts? "Obviously, corporate [clients]" said Chappell, "but I'm seeing them sold across the board." Many dealers describe abstract buyers as young, affluent, upwardly-mobile business executives, but Chappell said that's not necessarily so. She sold one recently to a second grade teacher in Sacramento.

"They're very big in corporate sales," said Clough. "In doctor's and lawyer's offices, you don't find a lot other than abstracts, particularly in hallways and public areas. For decorative purposes, it's what architects and designers pick."

What's Selling

In buying abstracts today, collectors want images that reflect what's "new and different in technique and style," said Shinn. "The same old, same old doesn't do it anymore: For instance, one of Shinn's best-selling artists, Anke Schofield, uses wax, collage, paint and varnish to create surface texture.

As well, Chappell said her best-selling images are either very bold abstracts or abstracts with rich edges and rich texture. …

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