BY LENNIE BENNETT
Times Art Critic
Here's a stretch-and-grow idea for your weekend: attend an art auction.
The big one right now will be Sunday at Myers Fine Art in St. Petersburg, where more than 360 paintings and works on paper from the 17th to the early 20th centuries will go on the block.
The group is an interesting one: A number are from New York artists' private reserves, meaning they were kept by the artists and never sold. Some were gifts to friends, such as Milton Avery's Christmas card. Some are from estates of late artists. So most are considered fresh-to-market, since they were bought directly from estates by Myers owner Mike Myers and his wife, Mary Dowd, or are consigned by heirs. They have been assembling the collection for about five years.
The couple hold a number of auctions every year that can include antique furniture, jewelry and decorative objects, usually with a theme such as Americana. Both have decades of experience in the business as generalists, as well as training in the arts. They sell their inventory only through auctions.
If you're new to auctions, you might think they are intimidating and pressure-filled. They're not. The typical media depictions of them as boisterous events during which a casual gesture with your paddle is mistaken for an irrevocable bid are greatly exaggerated. (If it happens, just shake your head and your paddle, and the auctioneer will return to the previous bid.)
But they are a lot of fun and can even be exhilarating if you get into an auction's spirit of immediate gratification and polite competition. Myers and Dowd both say there's no particular strategy to bidding except to set a firm limit for yourself on spending before going in.
Even more important is knowing what's in the auction. Going to the preview is essential if you're interested in bidding. You can see the art, compare it with other works, ask questions (don't be shy) and then go home and get on eBay to compare what similar items are selling for. Study the catalog, available at the auction house or on its website, myersfineart.com. The site contains information about each piece of art, the artist and provenance (its ownership history, though in the case of these works, the histories are very short) and the estimated amount it will sell for, which is based on the auction house's research.
The estimates for this group range from several hundred dollars to thousands. But, as Dowd says, there are always surprises, both high and low, and often bargains are there, especially if you stay to the end, when many bidders have left. Bidding usually starts at one-half of the estimate, but Myers bumps it lower if there are no takers. Myers guarantees every work as authentic.
One painting that has caused particular interest is Howard Gardiner Cushing's portrait of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the Whitney Museum of Modern Art. In it she wears a costume designed by Leonard Bakst, similar to one she wore when she posed for another portrait by John Singer Sargent. It has a real insider history, having been purchased from Whitney's friend by the wife of architect William Delano, another friend of Whitney's. Whitney commissioned Delano to design a museum gallery in Cushing's honor after his death.
There are about 360 lots (individual items) in this auction, but Myers keeps things going at a brisk pace, usually getting through 70 lots in an hour. If you're interested in particular works, the catalog lists the order of the offerings.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8293.