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Artist Market: Demand on the Rise For Collagist Conrad Marca-Relli

Prices for work by Conrad Marca-Relli (1913–2000) have been rising in recent years, reflecting “a growing recognition of his quality and his place in the canon,” said Frank Del Deo, president and director of Knoedler & Company, which began representing the estate of Marca-Relli in 2008

NEW YORK—Prices for work by Conrad Marca-Relli (1913–2000) have been rising in recent years, reflecting “a growing recognition of his quality and his place in the canon,” said Frank Del Deo, president and director of Knoedler & Company, which began representing the estate of Marca-Relli in 2008.

The gallery held its first exhibition of the artist’s work in 2009 and is currently featuring (through July 29) “City to Town,” a show of 18 of his collage and mixed-media paintings, with works dating from 1942 to 1996.

The pieces are being offered at prices between $150,000/$400,000, varying largely according to size, says Del Deo. Other factors that affect price include the date the works were produced—earlier works bring higher prices—as well as whether the paintings are on paper or canvas.

All but one of the works in the current show is from the estate, known as the Marca-Relli Archive and located in Parma, Italy, while one painting is on loan and is not for sale. So far, two of the 18 works in the exhibit have been sold to private U.S. collectors, Del Deo says.

He also notes that the Marca-Relli estate contains hundreds of collage paintings—on paper, canvas and panel—as well as a few abstract metal sculptures. Collectors have placed a lot of emphasis on work executed in the 1950s, he says, explaining that “that’s where the auctions have achieved their highest prices, but we’ve been seeing work from the 1960s and ’70s selling above the estimates too.” Marca-Relli continued to produce work into the last decades of his life. Works from the 1980s and ’90s, Del Deo says, are priced in the lower range, around $100,000.

The artist was a friend of Franz Kline and Adolph Gottlieb, and was also a neighbor of Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner. Says Del Deo, “he was a quieter presence. . . . He was not making such radical gestures; he was more of a composer, and he worked in the medium of collage, which none of the others were doing,” Furthermore, he was not as identified with New York City as the other Abstract Expressionists, since he often traveled to Europe. Awareness of Marca-Relli has been slower to build than that of his colleagues, “but we’ve seen the market for his work strengthening and tightening, resulting in higher prices.”

In 1967, the Whitney Museum of American Art held a Marca-Relli retrospective, and shortly thereafter the artist moved to Europe, settling in Parma in 1997.

Knoedler sells some of the artist’s work on the secondary market, but for the most part it represents primary-market material from the estate, and the majority of buyers are in the United States. Marca-Relli’s work has come up periodically at public sales, frequently meeting auction-house estimates. Most recently, an aluminum collage, Untitled (M-4-63), was part of the May 20 sale of American and European art at Skinner auction house in Boston (page 6), selling for $53,325, far surpassing the modest $2,000/3,000 estimate.

The top auction price for the artist’s work is $1.1 million, achieved for the oil and collage on canvas St. Cyprian’s Day, 1957–58, which Christie’s had estimated at $400,000/600,000 in May of 2008. The piece had been sold just a year and a half earlier at Christie’s for $441,600 against an estimate of $120,000/180,000. Other top prices for Marca-Relli’s work include $409,272 (estimate: $99,700/139,581) for the oil The Woman of Samura, 1958, sold at Sotheby’s London in 2008.

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