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The Art of Nancy Graves: An Eclectic Legacy

Dealer Ameringer & Yohe is providing collectors with two opportunities to see the works of Nancy Graves (1939-95) this month (through April 2), with a show of 30 pieces created from 1970-1995 at the gallery in Manhattan; and another display of a dozen or so works at the annual art show of the Art Dealers

NEW YORK—Dealer Ameringer & Yohe is providing collectors with two opportunities to see the works of Nancy Graves (1939-95) this month (through April 2), with a show of 30 pieces created from 1970-1995 at the gallery in Manhattan; and another display of a dozen or so works at the annual art show of the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) at the Seventh Regiment Armory from Feb. 24-28.

Both exhibitions feature paintings, sculpture and works on paper from the Nancy Graves Foundation and estate. This gallery exhibit is the first one-person Graves show since Ameringer & Yohe began representing the foundation last spring. Five of Graves’s works were included in a group show of three artists—Graves, Ellen Phelan and Donald Sultan—who are well-known in the art world but new to the gallery, and two sculptures were sold to private collectors, according to gallery director Will Ameringer.

Perhaps the highlight of the gallery show is a 1970 work, Pleistocene Skeleton, representing a camel, which has a $200,000 price tag. “There has been quite a bit of institutional interest in that work,” Ameringer told ARTnewsletter.

The New York gallery sells artworks from the estate, and proceeds go to the Graves Foundation, which annually provides three artists with grants of $25,000 apiece (selection is made based on nomination, rather than by application).

According to Linda Kramer, executive director of the Graves Foundation, approximately eight to 10 works are released to the market every year. She declined to reveal how many works are in the estate, or its appraised value, but noted there are “quite a few things,” most of which date from the last 15 years of the artist’s life. Works from the early 1970s, which might be described as “vintage,” are relatively rare and more expensive than later pieces.

While Graves worked in a wide variety of media throughout her career—painting, printmaking, watercolors and gouaches, films and sculpture—the sculptures of camels she created from real bones and fur in the early 1970s constitute her signature image.

“During her lifetime,” Ameringer pointed out, “she had many shows of paintings; but, as time has passed, she has become more known as a

sculptor.” Kramer says the paintings range in price from $45,000/60,000, depending upon size and whether or not they have any three-dimensional elements, while the prints—etchings, lithographs and silkscreens—are priced from $3,000/9,000. Though the edition sizes were originally between 50 and 100, the estate has only 10 to 15 of any given image.

Watercolors from the early 1970s cost approximately $20,000, while those done in the 1980s or ’90s are priced from $12,000/18,000, and DVDs of the five 16-millimeter movies, made in the early 1970s and lasting 20-33 minutes each, cost $400 and are sold through the Film-Makers’ Cooperative in lower Manhattan. Sculptures in the estate dating from the late 1970s to the ’90s are priced from $25,000/95,000, with the exception of the 1970 Pleistocene Skeleton.

Graves “sold very well in her lifetime,” Ameringer said, “and a lot of the early 1970s works are in museum collections.” That, and the fact that Graves was not a prolific artist, have limited secondary market activity.

Kramer, describing Graves’s auction history as “unrepresentative,” suggests that the works up for public sale have not been her most important, and that private sales on the secondary market have been higher. The highest auction price to date for Graves is $132,000 for the 1958 bronze sculpture Conjugate, which outpaced the $75,000/85,000 estimate that Sotheby’s had placed on the work in 1988.

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