Cox auction highlights artistic trends

James Cox auctions off a Motherwell. (Photo by Dion Ogust)

Gallerist and art auctioneer Jim Cox seemed just as busy at the start of this week as he was leading up to, and at, his Collectors Exchange Fine Art Auction at the Woodstock Community Center on Sunday, April 28. There was a lot of follow-up to do on live and online bids, billing matters to attend to, and the shipping of art to the many nations and states winning bids came in from. 

Yet one could feel relief, and exultation, as soon as he started speaking. 

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“It was a fantastic sale, north of $200,000 from what I can tell, although nothing’s ever firm in the art world until it’s firm,” he said. “It was significantly higher than last year’s auction, with loads of interesting angles to ponder over the months to come.”

The 250 plus lots on sale Sunday included a who’s who of Woodstock artists, as well as a surprising number of renowned contemporary masters, a startlingly fresh collection of works by and about African American subjects, and an overall sense of something new up for sale in this century-plus old artists colony and bastion for collectors. Those in attendance Sunday spoke about excitement as large numbers of works sold for larger-than-anticipated amounts.

Cox spoke this week about a Keith Haring print going for a London-originated bid of $27,000 far above the $6,000 to $8,000 estimate he’d made before the auction. And yet a Matisse drawing went “right in the range of estimate” at a final price just under $4,000.

“It’s really interesting how this came off. I think a lot had to do with our shaping of it all,” the gallerist continued. “We did more specialized focuses, as with the African American artists and images, or the contemporary editions we had from the likes of Helen Frankenthaler, Claes Oldenberg, Joan Mitchell and Haring.”

Cox pointed out how the rising market in editions is fueling special auctions at Phillips, Christies, and all the major auction houses. London’s Tate Gallery defines the phenomenon as commonly referring to “a series of identical impressions or prints made from the same printing surface” but also applicable to series of other media such as sculpture, photography and video. It’s considered one of the major movements on the affordable, under $50,000 side of the major art market these days.

Continuing, the gallerist — who’s been running his own and others’ auctions locally for several decades now — noted how “it’s absolutely remarkable that 80 percent of what was up for auction came from the Woodstock/New York axis, apartments and Upstate homes. What little town can produce this kind of an auction?”

As if to answer his own question, Cox pointed out how many of those with lots on sale had first made his acquaintance with an appraisal, or a “bit of organization” for a budding collection.

Along those lines, an anecdote: One of the key items shown before the Sunday event itself was a vintage Rolling Stones poster from 1964, and what Cox believed was the famous rock group’s second American concert. He’d come upon it while looking through a local artist family’s flat files, with a purpose of pulling some Romare Beardon prints. 

“I asked if I might try to sell the poster,” Cox said. “It ended up selling for $10,800, an amount that blew the original collector away.”

Were there any major lessons from the auction in regards to art markets global, national and local?

“There is definitely a period and stylistic shift,” he said. “Away from early 20th century forms of realism to something much bolder, more contemporary. Mid-century and beyond artwork is what’s happening.”

That said, and the work of follow-up on his big Collector’s Auction still needing completion, James Cox begged off…with an impish note.

“You know, I still want to be a gallerist, first-most,” he said. “But my goodness!”