There are quite the number of striking non-representational and Abstract paintings (with a capital A) that Tom Fletcher has assembled for his 23rd annual spring Fine Art Auction kicking off at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 23, at the Woodstock Community Center. Yet one work by the man the longtime art dealer, who formerly sold books, says was Woodstock’s only true Abstract Expressionist — Walter Plate — stands out.
The 4-foot tall, 5-foot wide “Abstract Beach Scene” has a subtle yet striking sense of substance to it, striking bands of bordered and shadowed orange granting the piece an instant means of searing itself into one’s memory as strongly as any of the meticulous or highly expressive landscapes or other works that surround it on the preview walls for the auction at Fletcher’s Mill Hill Road gallery. The painting feels important, timeless, even more so than the smaller work on newspaper attributed to earlier Abstract Expressionist giant Willem de Kooning that’s also up for sale. Or the various signed prints by the likes of Mary Cassatt and Joan Miro, the many Rolph Scarlett and Konrad Cramer pieces.
The Plate reigns over a rare Louise Nevelson painting, a self-portrait that captures her in 1957, before she started wearing her signature head scarf in public at all times, given to Fletcher for this auction by an avid 85-year old doctor who recalls buying the piece from the then little-known epochal sculptor fresh off the easel.
Fletcher spoke about how he’s set a starting bid of $7500 for the Plate painting, with hopes of it selling in the $15,000 to $25,000 range. But then he heard from the painter’s son, Woodstock assessor Mark Plate, that a major new exhibit of his father’s work was set to go up later this summer at Levis Fine Art in Long Island City, where the man’s increasingly influential and coveted paintings are expected to be selling in the $50,000 to $60,000 range…and possibly higher.
“Walter Plate’s ascent in the early Post War movement was remarkable. One of the youngest artists of the Abstract Expressionist movement to achieve major exhibition status along side Guston, Gottlieb, Rothko and other modernist masters, Walter Plate’s works were eagerly purchased by the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Gallery and other museums early in his career,” the Levis gallery shouts about the Woodstocker who passed away, in his forties, in 1972. “He was not a prolific artist, but when he painted, he received great reviews from the likes of Stuart Preston and Dore Ashton of the New York Times, and Lawrence Campbell of Art News. Yet, longer term, Plate’s conviction to stay out of the New York City mainstream and avoid publicity would take its toll. He never wavered in his commitment to abstraction, a position that rendered him a ‘figure from the past’ during the last 12 years of his life from 1960-72.”
According to Fletcher, the work he’s auctioning showed at a museum show in Albany in 1968 and has been privately owned for years.
“The painting’s been getting a lot of interest,” he added.
But he also noted how, despite fewer in-gallery visitors on-hand these days to see what will be offered on Saturday in person, all who’ve seen this year’s collection going up for sale as his best ever. Why? Each item has a rare special quality about it, from mystical barn shadows to uncharacteristic flourishes from well-known Woodstock artists, as well as many from outside the community but equal to Woodstock’s best, and collected by those who’ve long collected the art colony’s many artists.
And yet like many in his business, as well as other lines tied to our culture, Fletcher remembers times when art, books, and all things sold based on personal attributes. You saw something, discussed it with whomever was in charge of the item’s (or idea’s) sale, and then took the time to ponder what purchase of a painting, single or line of books, or fine piece of property would mean to the quality of one’s life.
“Everything was one on one,” the gallerist said while sitting long gallery hours this past week. “People go out less now; the ways in which everyone gathers information have changed…People look at paintings online instead of in person. It leaves me a little dumbfounded.”
And yet Fletcher said he’s also noted that those still buying art, or any items from real estate to music, are being more discerning. Which is working for he and others in the field as more collections come to market, looking for new generations of aficionados.
“Just look at the economy. There’s all this booming stuff that Trump and his followers are speaking about, and then that which most people experience…it’s all very hard to read,” he added. “For me, the bottom line is that those left standing at the end of the day want better things. Which we can still provide.”
Like the Walter Plate beach painting. Or, for that matter, all that Tom Fletcher has assembled for his 23rd Art Auction starting off at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 23 at the Woodstock Community Center on Rock City Road.
Fletcher added that, for those who still appreciate seeing art in person, on a real wall in real light, he’ll be maintaining preview gallery hours from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, June 21 and 22, at his space located at 40 Mill Hill Road in Woodstock.
Call 679-4411 or see fletchergallery.com for more information, or to see an online catalogue of the 200 plus items up for sale.
Just don’t forget that seeing such stuff in person is still a treat. And what human culture is still all about.