Fairs News Market USA

Is ninety the new twenty?

Several dealers at the fair are showing work by artists more than twice their own age

Sam Gilliam’s Out, 1969, at David Kordansky Gallery. The 80-year-old painter’s work is proving a draw for collectors and curators alike

New York. At this year’s edition of Frieze New York, numerous dealers are displaying the work of older artists, many of whom are gaining commercial and critical recognition for the first time. As prices continue to escalate in established areas of the market, from very young artists to post-war masters, a growing number of collectors are betting on overlooked talent.

During the fair’s VIP preview on Thursday, Lisson Gallery (B58) sold three paintings, priced between $20,000 and $100,000, by the 98-year-old artist Carmen Herrera, while Alison Jacques Gallery (A29) sold two drawings by Irma Blank, who turns 80 this year, for $15,000 each in the first few hours of the fair. Also on the first day, Sfeir-Semler Gallery (B4) sold an untitled painting by Etel Adnan, 89 this year, for €25,000. Just seven years ago, the Lebanese artist was selling similar works from her studio for $800. “The sexiest thing… right now is to rediscover an artist of at least 95 years old,” joked Chris Dercon, the director of London’s Tate Modern, at a talk last year.

In some cases, dealers are rediscovering bodies of work that were considered unfashionable when they were made but are now back in style. The Tel Aviv-based gallery Tempo Rubato (B30) sold half of its works by the Israeli artist Joav BarEl, who died in 1977 and has never been shown before in the US, for $20,000 to $30,000 each, during the fair’s preview day.

“He was interested in these very Western ideas of consumerism and mechanical production,” says the gallery’s owner, Guillaume Rouchon, of the artist’s neon Pop paintings, “but at the time, Israel was interested in expressive abstraction and post-Holocaust art.”

Some artists had other jobs and “didn’t compete in what they saw as the rat race of the art world”, says the curator and art dealer Peter Falk, who adds that he hopes to organise an art fair called “Rediscovered Masters” in either New York, Miami or Silicon Valley. Elaine Lustig Cohen (b. 1927), whose vibrant paintings are on show at the Nada fair (until 11 May), made her living as a graphic designer and rare book dealer, but her art developed a cult following among her friends, including the artist Mel Bochner. Etel Adnan, meanwhile, has painted almost daily since the 1960s but was known primarily as a writer until her work was shown at Documenta in 2012. A solo exhibition devoted to the artist, which has been organised by Hans Ulrich Obrist, the co-director of London’s Serpentine Gallery, is now on show in Doha (until 6 July). “She’s flattered by all the attention, but she would paint even if nobody was watching,” says Sfeir-Semler’s Sven Christian Schuch.

Other artists have been overlooked by the mainstream market because of “race, gender or geography”, says the art dealer Alexander Gray (D26). The painter Sam Gilliam, who is 80 and is based in Washington, DC, showed largely at galleries specialising in African-American artists until an exhibition at David Kordansky Gallery (C3) last year exposed a broader group of contemporary art collectors to his work. Since then, Gilliam’s prices have doubled and museums are taking a second look. Walking past Kordansky’s solo presentation of paintings by the artist from the 1960s, Dan Byers, a curator at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, said: “We have one in our collection from the same period, but I’ve never shown it. Now’s the time.”

For collectors priced out of the blue-chip market, these artists offer an alternative opportunity to buy a piece of history. “Much of this interest has been accelerated by dramatically rising prices and dramatically decreasing supply for the artists who have formed the central canon,” says the art adviser Allan Schwartzman. Billboard-sized works by Gilliam can be bought at Frieze for $250,000 to $350,000; paintings by his better-known peers, such as Morris Louis, are more than $1m.

Working with older artists can also be a windfall for emerging dealers at a time when “the more established galleries are going younger and younger”, says the dealer James Fuentes (C2). The blue-chip Upper East Side gallery Skarstedt, for instance, is opening an exhibition of work by the 25-year-old painter Lucien Smith (15 May-27 June), while global powerhouse David Zwirner now represents 28-year-old Oscar Murillo.

At Frieze, Fuentes nearly sold out his stand of works by the Fluxus artist Alison Knowles, aged 81, during the VIP preview, at prices ranging from $6,000 to $120,000. “We’re still seeking talent, and it often makes sense to go where others aren’t looking,” he says.

Update, 13 May: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that the Carnegie Museum of Art has exhibited its painting by Sam Gilliam since it was acquired in 1972. It has not been on view since Byers joined the museum in 2009.

More from The Art Newspaper


30 Jul 14
22:14 CET



3 Jun 14
22:30 CET


I have the ability to live for another 40-50 years. With recent medical advances, perhaps more. Age is irrelevant! Talent is! Grit and determination is! Love of art is! Knowledge is!

2 Jun 14
21:13 CET


I am a male, 83 year old artist and have a number of paintings in storage. I have been an active artist painting since 1960's. My web page shows many of my paintings that are available and an artist resume showing background information on my artist activities. Google my name and you can find my web page. I need assistance getting representation. Any help would be appreciated. Roscoe E Wallace

23 May 14
16:49 CET


I am proudly 64 years young and have been painting and drawing through various life interruptions for the last 40 or so years. Presently i am deeply involved in creating the abstract multimedia paintings and drawings that I should have been doing earlier in my life. No regrets, I am happy to still be actively engaged in the creative process. I have been an artistic participant in numerous art exhibitions and a few solo shows. I deeply appreciate reading the positive comments of the fellow seasoned artist in this article and I look forward to exhibiting my new works. I love the artist Etel Adnan comment that she "...paint(s) even if nobody was watching." You have to believe in your own human worth and your creative work which to me are inseparable. Thank you.

21 May 14
9:36 CET


A retired teacher, painting began as a hobby. It has become a profession. I am gratified to have sold a few paintings, and have been asked to have a solo show in NJ in September. I am painting the abstracts I love without worrying about whether or not I can draw. I enjoy creating, thinking, participating in art. I will be 75 years young at the end of May. And, yes, it would be a blast to gain recognition. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to write. Anita

20 May 14
12:27 CET


This sounds wonderful to me. So glad us old folks are not being ignored by everyone. We paint because we must. We have something to say, and this is the only way we know how. Thanks.

14 May 14
11:51 CET


There are many artists that deserve attention. Not all are able or willing to do what others do to garner notice and exhibitions. Many are of much higher caliber than the so-called "successful" artists who regularly show their work in galleries. A great number of these undiscovered artists are of advanced age, people who have spent years gaining great expertise in their oeuvre. If I had the money to be an art collector I'd rather buy their work rather than the work of inexperienced and trend-conscious artists who are merely the flavor of the day. All hail the artists who persist despite being ignored by the purveyors of taste!

13 May 14
16:29 CET


I'm not yet dead, but am a senior who has been painting my entire life, and have yet to be "discovered." I will continue to paint for the duration of my stay here on Earth whether anyone pays me or not... having said that, to be paid would be f&*king awesome. Thank you. www.metrov.org

13 May 14
0:16 CET


I wish someone would check out my web site athoszacharias.com I'm 86 years old and I'm waiting to be discovered.

13 May 14
0:23 CET


I'm actually dead, and I understand that death is a great career move, with suicide being the best for superior market results. My death was not spectacular but pretty definitive. I'm hoping prices for my small collage works go up and soon attract a faithful international crowd and get me a spot in the next Whitney. Thanks for the article! Matthew Rose, Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris, France

11 May 14
22:52 CET


I recently exhibited the work of Joyce Meier (nee Ehms) at my Carlton Gallery in Melbourne. After WW2 in which she worked as a nursing aide for the Australian Army, she enrolled at the National Gallery School where the maturity and style of her work won many admirers. Marriage interrupted her output though she kept painting and storing her work in a large house in E. Melbourne After she had a fall, the family helped her move into a residential aged care facility and this resulted in clearing all her paintings from the house. I was asked to advise on what should be done and whether the paintings were of any value. I thought the work was so striking that I immediately suggested I mount an exhibition of her paintings. This was done in November 2013 and was a great success with clearance of about 80% of the exhibited works and her appearance on national television. In June I will again show her work, a collection of prints which she had produced over the years.

11 May 14
22:53 CET


So pleases to see older artist being noticed. I'm nearing 80, have been painting all of my adult years and would be thrilled to have more than local recognitation. Thanks for the article

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