Christie’s has been quiet about the Forrest Bess sale it opened in conjunction with the Whitney Bienniel’s new focus on the artist. (Above is the Antiques Roadshow segment about a Bess work given as a wedding present by the artist.) But Roberta Smith isn’t keeping politely quiet. She thinks there’s something wrong with the auction house selling the artist’s work in bulk:
It makes for the rather uneasy sight of an auction house acting like a commercial gallery handling what is tantamount to an artist’s estate.
Though she doesn’t quite explain why that would be any different from a dealer handling the estate. Nonetheless, she found the Christie’s show in need of fortification:
The Christie’s news release refers to the Bess paintings on view as “master works,” but, as if in tacit acknowledgement of the slightness of some of them, they have been supplemented by three canvases borrowed from museums that are quite a bit better than almost everything else here.
And that maybe the works on sale at Christie’s were some of the artist’s leftovers:
Bess is a kind of hit-or-miss artist, and the paintings at Christie’s were not ones he sent to his dealer or sold to collectors, who included the likes of John and Dominique de Menil and Stanley Marcus of Houston. Rather they were given over the years to a couple, Harry Burkhart and Jim Wilford, friends who were ultimately caretakers of sorts.
A New Vision of a Visionary Fisherman (New York Times)