Natalie Frank Portrait 2005
from the artist's solo exhibition "Unveiling," at Briggs Robinson Gallery in Chelsea NY
from Jan. 26-Mar. 11, 2006
It all came together quickly in December. New York dealer Jack Tilton toured students' studios at Yale and Columbia universities and Hunter College, which have some of the top MFA programs in the country, and by January, he and his director, Janine Cirincione, had assembled 30 works by 19 student artists for an exhibition "School Days".
The opening at Tilton's Upper East Side gallery was packed as the students rubbed shoulders with the likes of collector A.G. Rosen, New Yorker writer Calvin Tomkins and New York Times reporter Carol Vogel. By the third day, Tilton had sold about 70 percent of the show to Los Angeles collectors Michael Ovitz and Blake Byrne and Miami collector Craig Robins, among others.
As Art & Auction went to press, Tilton was planning to invite the student artists to submit works for his booth at the Armory Show in March and to mount an exhibition of art drawn from West Coast schools next year.
Showing student works in galleries isn't new, nor is prowling the studios for early works to collect. Such galleries as Zach Feuer, Kravets Wehby, Marvelli and Guild & Greyshkul in New York and the Black Dragon Society in Los Angeles have been mining the universities for young talent for some time. "We've been at it for 10 years and have always looked at schools" says Marc Wehby of Kravets Wehby, who works with some Hunter College MFAs. But what has changed in recent years, he points out, is the proliferation of graduate art programs.
And along with those there has been a steep rise in the number of galleries - hundreds in New York's Chelsea alone - showing emerging artists and hungry for the next big thing. Tilton's show, with its frank title and rather aggressively priced work, is a good indication that interest has ramped up.
Even established blue-chip dealers are visiting the art schools' twice-yearly open studios. "The difference now is that you see dealers from galleries who don't necessarily show emerging work looking at the emerging scene - big international megadealers" says Wehby. "Now everyone wants to show young painters."
Collectors have also been keen to spot new talent in a frenzied contemporary art market ravenous for young blood. New York collector Norman Dubrow says "Dealers are in a mad scramble for new talent these days. They may be looking around at the kindergartens now!"
Michael Hort, who along with his wife, Susan, has amassed an impressive collection of international contemporary and emerging art in his New York apartment, is a regular at the studios. Collectors Michael Lynne and Jerry Speyer have made appearances at Columbia. And New York venture capitalist and collector John Friedman brought Tilton to the studios at Yale, his aima mater and introduced him to a young painter named Titus Kaphar, from whom Friedman had already bought work. Kaphar, in turn, introduced the dealer to the work of his fellow students and that was the genesis of Tilton's show.
"There are collectors who are happy to have the filtering process done for them rather than spend hours going to all the different studios" says Cirincione.
But the question is, are collectors buying these artists for the long term? Is it wise to throw money at student work that an artist might later disown? Collectors have to make split-second decisions these days. Take the case of painter Ashley Hope, who will receive her MFA from Hunter in May. When Dubrow visited her studio last year, he wasn't totally convinced. When he went to see her work in Tilton's show, he changed his mind, but it was too late. Two of her paintings had already sold for $3.000 and $6.000. "It all depends on where you think her career is going", Dubrow says. "Six thousand dollars is steep for a beginner, but her work is outstanding." The gallery sold him a drawing which he says, was a steal at $1.500.
Dubrow was also taken aback by the $16.000 price tag on a work by second-year Columbia student Natalie Frank. Other collectors didn't share his skepticism, though Frank's first-ever solo exhibition at Briggs Robinson Gallery in Chelsea, which ran concurrently with the Tilton show, sold out before opening night, with paintings priced from $8.000 to $16.000. Last fall, as the gallery was beginning to work with Frank, collector Richard Massey, (...)
Ashley Hope Shelter, 2005, oil on plywood (52.5 x 35 in | 133.3 x 88.9 cm)