How Minor Is Too Minor?

Beatrice Levy

Beatrice Levy’s Trees (c.1930) brought out today for some fresh air.

How minor is too minor with regards to art? Who determines what gets to be major? The recent headlines regarding Edvard Munch’s The Scream which sold for almost $120,000,000 brings up some interesting discussions and has had the art world dissecting what it is exactly that determines an artwork’s value. Its value to you and its value to me, as well as its value to those who vote on “beauty and rarity” with their checkbooks. Are we so focused on the who that we sometimes overlook what our eyes and our heart should be telling us? Is any single painting truly worth more than 1/10th of a BILLION dollars? Where does it put those works that give us a little tingle inside and make us think “Hmmm…I really like you…and I’ve got just the wall where you’d look great”, but which are considered by the marketplace to have been done by a minor, or as we refer to them at The Caldwell Gallery lesser known, artists? Does it matter if our dinner party guests won’t recognize the signature? Are we willing to go with our gut instincts when we collect art?

I find it interesting to ponder these questions of why we buy. Do we buy for ourselves or are we making purchases in order to align our collection with the prevailing winds of acceptance and recognition. For centuries the art world has often focused on stars and the combination of artists, dealers, collectors, and museums who have helped to raise certain artists above their peers. It’s not necessarily a fair system. Add in today’s ability for star making to circumvent these traditional arbiters of taste and value though the internet, social media, etc., and you have an entirely new set of factors at play in the “who gets anointed” sweepstakes. With the size of one’s slice of pie in a multi-billion dollar industry at stake, you can imagine why the uglier side of human nature frequently comes into play. There was a short-lived TV series a few years ago called Dirty Sexy Money. I can imagine the seamier and crassly commercial aspects of the art business easily turning into a somewhat sad soap-opera-meets-sitcom version of that show called Dirty Sexy Art. This is not an indictment of the entire industry – there are many institutions, collectors, and dealers who are in this for the the love of art. Those people or places who are following their hearts and that little voice inside them and they are doing so regardless of the prevailing winds of popularity and the star making machinery. Their internal tuning forks ring true when a work engages them, but not when their minds or someone else tells them a piece is major or valuable.

In the spirit of this discussion I’ve provided the image above for you to look at. It’s a painting I love. A painting about as minor as one can find, circa 1930, by Beatrice Levy. It hangs above my desk, though I took it outside for a walk today, and as I write this I cannot even remember where I found it. The point is it makes me happy every time I look at it.

Our gallery has bought and sold many major works by a variety of major artists over the years. When handling these high ticket, highly important, and easily recognizable masterworks we acknowledge their brilliance and desirability. At the same time we’ve always been vocal advocates of those works by lesser-known artists that simply knock our socks off, speak to our hearts, and force us to listen no matter how “minor”.  So how minor is too minor? Something to ponder…

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