Stuff it: Millennials nix their parents’ treasures (Washington Post)

Lately, I overhear many conversations about craft not selling as much as it used to and people wondering why that is. Another current discussion fitting in here is the prospect of many collectors nearing retirement age, needing to "do something" with their collections, especially if the kids are not interested. Museums and other collectors either have no room, no need, or no money for all these collections coming on the market. Big question: What will happen to all that work?

Here's an interesting article from the Washington Post about the current state of transfer of treasured possessions. Somewhat disheartening when we consider what this could mean for our own work, for our own craft collections, but well worth thinking about regardless. For us this is priceless treasure, for someone else it could just be "stuff."

--- WITH MANY THANKS TO BRUCE METCALF who posted this article over on FB recently!! ---

I am very interested to hear what you think.

B. Martin

Founder & Editor

crafthaus

Image above: An old heavy leather sofa sits in a garage in Fairfax Station waiting for a new home. The owner, a baby boomer, tried to pass it on to her children but none showed interest (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

By Jura Koncius March 27, 2015, Washington Post

A seismic shift of stuff is underway in homes all over America.

Members of the generation that once embraced sex, drugs and rock-and-roll are trying to offload their place settings for 12, family photo albums and leather sectionals.

Their offspring don’t want them.

As baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, start cleaning out attics and basements, many are discovering that millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, are not so interested in the lifestyle trappings or nostalgic memorabilia they were so lovingly raised with.

Thanks, Mom, but I really can’t use that eight-foot dining table or your king-size headboard.

 

Whether becoming empty nesters, downsizing or just finally embracing the decluttering movement, boomers are taking a good close look at the things they have spent their life collecting. Auction houses, consignment stores and thrift shops are flooded with merchandise, much of it made of brown wood. Downsizing experts and professional organizers are comforting parents whose children appear to have lost any sentimental attachment to their adorable baby shoes and family heirloom quilts.

Continue reading this article in the Washington Post!

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Comment by Harriete E Berman on May 28, 2016 at 5:03pm

Very interesting articles and at the same time, a very sad story.
It all just fits right into the fact that there is a dwindling market for new or seasoned craft, even craft that had a previously established value.  

Comment by Brigitte Martin on May 26, 2016 at 10:36am

Great comment by the 2Roses! Thanks, guys.

It seems more people in the field are currently looking into these questions. Here is an interesting post by Leslie Ferrin which I saw on Critical Craft Forum on May 19:

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN ... The Kids Don't Want It? Part 1 - introducing a series of conversations with art professionals about auctions and how they are changing the way artists, dealers and collectors are buying, selling and donating ceramic art. Stay tuned for behind the scene stories, fascinating object histories and positive examples of how artists and collectors are dealing with the Great De-Accession.

http://ferrincontemporary.com/blog/ferrin-auctions-when-the-kids-do...

Also, read this next one, it's very enlightening. This takes ceramics as an example, but it is obviously transferable to art jewelry as well.

PETER HELD writing about the auction results at John Toomey Gallery to benefit the Virginia A. Groot Foundation

Peter Held's photo.

Peter Held to Critical Craft Forum

Fire & Form Part I: The Estate of Candice Groot Auction or
the Showdown at the Mudslingers Ball

Auctions tend to create a stir of emotions and great anticipation with a room full of eager buyers lorded over by the clipped staccato voice of the auctioneer. It is more painful for artists being present, generally cowering in the back of the room, if at all present, to see their works cast into the wind once again.

As a museum director and curator turned art appraiser, I follow fine art, design and studio craft auctions closely. My job as an appraiser relies on gallery, secondary and private sales, as well as auction records, which become public information, as a means to establish fair market value to my clients, whether they are gifting to museums, insuring their collection, or settling estates. So it was with great anticipation that I followed the Estate of Candice B. Groot Collection sale held on April 16 at Treadway Toomey Auctions. Fortunately I was ensconced in a cozy B & B in Golden, Colorado, during a snowstorm to watch the auction live from my laptop. Overall, my take was that prices realized approximately 30 cents on the dollar of what the offerings were initially acquired for.

Candice Groot was a champion of the ceramics field, stimulated by a voracious appetite to collect and her philanthropy with the Virginia A. Groot Foundation, named in honor of her mother. Established in 1988, they have awarded impactful grants to artists, many of them working in clay. The proceeds from this auction, over $2 million dollars, will continue Candice’s visionary passion in supporting artists and the creative process.

Her collection of ceramics spanned the Mad Potter of Biloxi George Ohr (1857 – 1915) to Lauren Mabry, the youngest artist represented among hundreds of artists from emerging to established masters to one hit wonders. A private person, her collection was only seen by a few art tour groups and artists she knew well. When asked, she graciously loaned to public exhibitions, but unfortunately her collection was never shown in full. Her untimely death at age sixty-two means that this auction and the series of attendant catalogs will be the only visual record of her exemplary collecting history.

For many dealers, collectors, and curators following market trends in the ceramics field, and those participating in the Groot offerings, this sale was the motherlode, and will function as a barometer of where the market stands today. Due to the nature of this auction as a benefit sale, there were no reserves and no sales tax. As a result, the 90% sell-through was higher than usual and the passed lots showed deep weaknesses of this tactic when even a low estimate couldn’t attract a single bid.

Of 185 lots of ceramics, by both mid-career and established artists, all but 16 were sold. However, unlike a benefit auction to charitable institutions, in which artwork is donated, and buyers are motivated by goodwill, those results are not used by appraisers and are not generally available as public records. Public exposure of the Groot auction results will provide appraisers and others gauging the marketplace a mixed bag of sale prices used as comparisons for years to come.

When I previewed the auction online last month, I was stuck on how low the estimates were for the majority of work. As an example, the first lot offered was a stunning Kathy Butterly sculpture Buttercup, 1996-97, estimated at $2,000-$3,000. Having viewed the artist’s show at Shoshana Wayne this past spring in Los Angeles, I know her current works sell for $20,000 or above. It sold for $12,200 which includes the buyer’s premium. And this was one of the success stories. I don’t know why the auction house set low estimates, perhaps to lure in early bids, but it didn’t seem to help overall for this sale.

An auction requires multiple bidders to drive prices up above low estimates at this sale there were so few buyers lined up in advance meant that some lots opened with one and only one bidder. With the auctioneer opening the bidding at below the low estimate, then moving up quickly with house bids, the actual bidding began on the internet platforms Live Auctioneers and Invaluable Bidder, and multiple phone lines and those in the room.

Most of the pioneering artists from the field were represented: Robert Arneson, Rudy Autio, Stephen de Staebler, Jack Earl, Viola Frey, Howard Kottler, Marilyn Levine, Ken Price, and Peter Voulkos, cut a wide swath of historical West Coast ceramics.

In this first of two auctions to focus on Candice’s sculpture and fine art collections, it was clear that Figuration was a particular interest and she collected some artists in great depth. In this auction were examples of work by 24 of 35 foundation award recipients whose careers benefitted immensely as Groot Foundation, providing the necessary funds for time to develop their creative practice. Important works by these artists include Chris Antemann, John Byrd, Beth Cavener, Cristina Cordova, Christine Federighi, Kris Kuksi, Alessandro Gallo, Beverly Mayeri, Joseph Seigenthaler, Akio Takamori, Tip Toland, Sunkoo Yuh and Wanxin Zhang.

In addition, artists whose works she collected in depth but never won foundation awards including Sergei Isupov, Georges Jeanclos, Michael Lucero, and Gertraud Mohwald were offered in this auction and will be again in the upcoming November 12 sale.

There were a handful of vessels in the sale (including one of her own) but Candice’s predilections of collecting leaned more towards sculpture with narrative or erotic content. William Daley, Rick Dillingham, Ken Ferguson and Wayne Higby each had iconic works.

Leslie Ferrin, of Ferrin Contemporary, one of several dealers attending the auction, is familiar with the collection and interviewed Groot for the oral history program, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, taped on November 4-6, 2014.

I conducted a post mortem interview with Ferrin a week after the auction.

PH: What was the vibe in the auction room, who was there?

LF: In this case it was the dealers who were painfully watching and sweating through the five hour sale. In attendance were Chicago dealers Frank Paluch, Perimeter (recently closed); William Lieberman, Zolla Lieberman; Jayson Lawfer, Nevica Project; and from out of town, Lucy Lacoste, Lacoste Gallery. Many other bidders were on the phone and the internet. These dealers and other art professionals involved with the market, carefully watched and in some cases bid on and bought back the artwork they had sold to Candice.

PH: What are your thoughts the impact of this auction will have on the marketplace, both short and long-term?

LF: Auction houses and galleries are in direct competition for buyers’ available funds. During the course of a normal year, most curators and collectors operate with carefully allocated art budgets and judiciously balance auction purchases with those made at galleries and studios. With so much great material available in such a short time frame, this auction will have a major impact - directly and indirectly - on the living artists and their partners, and the galleries who present their work to the public. Both are dependent on sales to fund and reward the creative process and galleries serve a specific and important function in the lifespan of an artwork. This delicate ecosystem of artists and their galleries was something Candice was respectful of and both benefited through her purchases.

PH: I know that you were not thrilled with prices realized. Any positive aspects?

LF: While I have mixed emotions about this auction in particular, it is promising to see it energize established collectors and maybe even introduce a new generation to this field who are attracted by the give and take of secondary and primary markets, and who purchase using a combination of online platforms and in person experiences.

PH: A recurring thought I had throughout the auction was that if I only had $250,000, a curator dreaming here, I could have put together an amazing and important collection.

LF: I guess you weren’t paddle #780 then, whoever that was picked up numerous sculptures and has an instant collection of some of the finest work of this genre produced in 1980-2015. For others who purchased more modestly, many did so remembering those artworks “that got away” from the exhibitions, auctions and fairs where they first saw them and lost out to Candice’s passion. END

After the auction finished, I turned off my computer and sat disappointed but not surprised. Scanning auction results on a weekly basis, the secondary auction market for studio ceramics is taking a tumble, private sales might fair better. Contrary to the robust nature the field, with so many younger artists creating groundbreaking works, and the contemporary art world embracing clay, it seems incongruent that past and present masters cannot hold their value while passing hands and generations.

Given that this was the second of four scheduled auctions, Candice Groot's passion and eye will continue to give collectors and art professionals another shot at more of those iconic works that got away. Fasten your seat-belts, it’s going to be a bump and grind at the next Mudslingers Ball.

With seven months until the next dance, wouldn’t it be forward-thinking that a consortium of five museums each chip in $50,000, pooling their resources to keep part of the Groot collection intact? It would not only keep part of Candice’s legacy together but be of great benefit to the museum’s viewing publics for years to come. What a beautiful thing to behold!

Peter Held, Peter Held Art Appraisals & Associates

Comment by 2Roses on May 26, 2016 at 10:01am

Our work over the years has brought us into direct contact with a few of the perspectives on this issue.  Collectors and elderly people who are approaching the final stages of life often become concerned about what happens to the collection they spent their life amassing. We have been called on many, many times to help find homes for collections. The collectors are frequently confronted with the hard fact that no one values the treasures they have amassed. While they are quite aware that their children don't want or value the objects. Of much greater surprise is the unwelcome realization that the museums and institutions these collectors have supported for much of their lives don't want the items either. The collector has an emotional connection to the object AND the institution. 

Having worked on the curatorial or repair staff of several institutions the perspective from the institution's side is always very pragmatic. They are happy to have donations that fit their collections and mandates. Everything else, even if its great quality stuff is just a white elephant they will have to spend time and effort disposing of (read selling, cashing out) out the back door. 

Being collectors and makers we also get to deal with our own anxieties related to our personal pile of "treasures". We already know where this is going. Collecting, for the most part, is a "catch and release" game. You care for the object while it is in your possession, and at some point release it back into the market for someone else to discover. If you are lucky, you may stumble across someone who values the object enough to buy it from you. This is what auction houses and vintage/antique stores are for. 

From the perspective of potential buyers, tastes and circumstances change - constantly. Example: For reasons long forgotten, a vintage 1950's batman helmet has been in my possession for over 50 years. During that period, I watch with great amusement the fluctuations in value this object has undergone. No surprise that the value of the object rises and falls with the popularity of any particular Batman movie. Thus depending on what time it is this object has sold for anywhere from $25 to $750. 

As a maker the perspective is informed by the concept that if you want to know the true value of your work, look at what it sells for on the secondary market. That news will sober most of us right up. 

Comment by Roxy Lentz on May 26, 2016 at 4:50am

I am in the boomer generation, and when I was starting out life on my own, I didn't want what my parents had, or anyone else's parents, so it is reasonable that the new generation doesn't either. The boomer generation seems to be the beginning of new ways to be entertained, communicate, remember when FM radio was cool, (it was) and AM old? Does anyone cherish their reel to reel music anymore? Each generation before us has mourned the loss of what was familiar.

Comment by Harriete E Berman on May 25, 2016 at 10:09pm

In addition to my artwork, I do silver repair. Very few of the pieces I repair are from silver collectors. Most silver is inherited from family.

Some pieces are in bad shape, or the silver is in need of repair after it was broken by the next generation that did not know how to care for silver.

The experience I had in the last few days illustrates this perfectly.

A beautiful, extra-ordinary 19th century candlestick is brought in for repair. The repair will be minimum of $700-$900. (The husband twisted it apart because he thought it "unscrewed.")

The candlestick is from most likely the grandparents generation engraved as for a silver anniversary.  Repair of this candlestick is an investment in both the past and the future.

 The irony that I understand all too clearly is that people will spend $800 on a new Apple phone, or cable service, but repairing a silver candlestick just doesn’t seem like a priority within our modern lifestyles. It pains me that in today’s lifestyle a sterling silver candlestick just isn’t worth repairing even something special.


Comment by roy schack on May 25, 2016 at 5:44pm

This is a really interesting article. I'm a designer, maker and educator, and I've noticed that more and more students coming in are X and Y's. It's easy to label them, and not necessarily fair to paint them all with the same brush. Some want the experience, do the class, and cross it off the list. Some want to find out if  there is more to life (than the hours spent behind their screens either for work or leisure) and are amazed at the primal joy of making the little brains in their finger tips do something more tangible than slide a cursor across an lcd. To experience the pleasure of a beautiful shaving off the hand plane just after having created an impossibly sharp edge themselves is something they had never believed they could. They had only ever youtubed it. And thought they understood. But that transferance of sensation is something that can only be had in real life.

I'm saying this, because there is a large movement out there of 20 and thirty somethings that are really interested in keeping the arts and the crafts alive. And with them, will be a movement of appreciaters of the material object. It's a basic human urge to nest, and with time, the cold clinical approach will soften and warm up. Maybe not to the extent that we baby boomers are guilty of - yes, I still carry around sentiment in physical form - but it will be there. And I really believe the younger market will be more educated and decisive about what is good quality and what is not. So, as a practitioner, it's my job to make better, and to keep teaching.  

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