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Steel Walls

Artist's welded abstract sculptures find buyers on both sides of the Atlantic

Brian Wall’s Form Y, 1959, painted steel


NEW YORK—In recent months, the Hackett | Mill gallery, San Francisco, has made a number of sales of the sculptural work of British-born, American artist Brian Wall on both sides of the Atlantic. The pieces purchased included works from both the early and most recent points in his career.

In a show that ran July 15–Sept. 30, the gallery exhibited eight painted and welded-steel works dating 1957–66, ranging in price from $150,000/300,000. Six of these were sold to private collectors (one European buyer and five in California). In London, Flowers Galleries exhibited (July 17–Oct. 1) eight, recently created, stainless-steel sculptures, priced from £20,000/30,000, and two of them were sold to private U.K. collectors.

Both galleries are principal and exclusive agents for the artist, Hackett | Mill in North America and Flowers Galleries in the U.K. and Europe. The works in both exhibits came directly from the artist.

The prices for Wall’s newer work are closely linked to size. Smaller pieces sell for $23,000/31,000, while mid-sized sculptures sell for $31,000/46,000 and larger works (five or six feet in height or length) are priced from $46,000/77,000.

The most sought-after works are Wall’s sculptures from the late 1950s and early ’60s, when he was part of what became known as the St. Ives School of artists in West Cornwall, England, which included Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Patrick Heron. It was there that he first worked as an assistant to Hepworth, helping to create her metal sculptures before he began producing his own welded-steel works, influenced by the American Abstract Expressionist painters but also “by Asian brush painting,” said Hackett | Mill partner Francis Mill.

By the late 1960s, Wall’s work was being exhibited in London alongside that of British artists Anthony Caro and David Hockney, as well as with work by American painters Kenneth Noland and Ad Reinhardt. In 1974, Wall moved to California where he taught at the University of California, Berkeley until 1994. “Once he settled in the States, he became more international, but less of interest to people here,” said London art dealer Stephen Paisnel, who continues to buy, at auction, and sell Wall’s work from the late 1950s and early ’60s.

Wall’s work “doesn’t come up often” at public sales, according to James Ulph, one of the directors at Flowers Galleries, and those that do generally don’t produce prices higher than those realized in galleries. In some cases, the auction prices are less. The top auction price for Wall’s work was seen at Sotheby’s London in 2008 when his painted steel Slab, Wedge and Circle, 1966, realized £27,500 ($54,857), exceeding its £15,000/20,000 estimate.

Other auction highs include the £13,700 ($27,777) paid for an undated and untitled painted steel work at Christie’s South Kensington in 2007, against an estimate of £5,000/7,000, and the £13,200 ($26,834) paid for an untitled 1958 painted steel sculpture (estimate: £6,000/8,000) at Sotheby’s London in 2007.