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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Golden State Mutual Life's Collection to be Auctioned: A Beginning Discussion

A portion of the private collection of African American art that was painstakingly amassed by the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company (Los Angeles) will be up for auction at Swann Auction Galleries on October 4, 2008. Ninety-four pieces, of the nearly 200 pieces in the collection will be set for auction, including works by Charles White, Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, John Biggers, Jacob Lawrence, and others.
Beginning in the late 1950s and continuing for approximately 30 years, William Pajaud, a Los Angeles based artist, served as a consultant/curator in building this collection. As stated in the December-January,1995 issue of American Vision, "Pajaud, operating with a minuscule budget, used his knowledge of the tight fraternity of black artists to purchase works of truly world class stature, acquiring paintings and prints from a stunning variety of artistic luminaries." Many of these luminaries are the black masters of today.
As an aside, one clearly appreciates and understands the magnitude of this collection when it is noted that it includes murals, as well as canvases, prints, and sculptures. Among those murals is Charles Alston's "The Negro in California History: Exploration and Colonization (panel 1, 9' 3" x 16' 5", 1949). The murals put the collection's importance in an even clearer perspective. The following statement appears on the homepage of Golden State's web site: "More than mere murals ... these priceless panels incorporate documentary material, much of which appears in no annals of American history."
According to recent press, the market has been slow for Golden State, so it hopes to raise money by selling off part of the collection. In the overall scheme, auctioning these 94 pieces will gain little in terms of money, as defined by sells in the art world. Swann estimates that when the hammer drops the collection will fetch $2 million. Obviously, not a grand amount, in the art world, when comparable pieces by contemporaries of these African American artists can command a $2 million estimate on an individual piece. However, there is a benefit for such auctions featuring African American artists. Over time, auctions raise the visibility of African American art/artists, hence raising the monetary value of the art of these artists. In addition, such auctions bring about a greater awareness of the art by African Americans to a wider audience. On the other hand, the long term effects of dismantling such an historical collection, that might possibly end up in the hands of individual collectors will deprive a larger group of individuals from having a meaningful cultural experience by viewing some of the earlier works of African American masters.
This writer has hope that the collection will find a home in some public institution or a museum. Its value is greater as a unit because of what it represents, rather than the monetary value of individual pieces. A collection, such as this, would be an appropriate addition to the California African American Museum ( )
or as one of the cornerstone collections for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture ( ). For an institution or museum to acquire such a collection, then the key question becomes...are there funds available in their budgets to purchase art? Oftentimes, such is not the case without some fund-raising or by receiving a gift from some benefactor. In instances, such as the purchase of art, it becomes clear that we must encourage more individuals to support our artistic and cultural institutions. With our support, perhaps an institution could and would readily step-up to purchase the Golden State Mutual Life's art collection. One of the smallest ways to actively support our institutions is to become a member of their Friends Groups. In doing so, we demonstrate the classic example of us helping us.
The Sale:
October 4, 2007, 2:00 PM


Sale # 2122
Illustrated Catalogue $35
Saturday, September 29, 10-4
Monday, October 1, 10-6
Tuesday, October 2, 10-8
Wednesday, October 3, 10-6
Thursday, October 4, 10-noon
For further reading, visit the following sites: (Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company) (Swann Galleries, see the Reviews section for information on the first auction of African American Fine Art.) (Marketplace: L. A., SEE related sites that are highlighted.)
George-McKinley Martin
August 3, 2007

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