NEW YORK—Knoedler Gallery, which began representing the estate of Abstract Expressionist painter Conrad Marca-Relli (1913–2000) last year, recently opened its first exhibition of the artist’s work. On view through Nov. 14, the show features 22 abstract collage paintings, 5 of them on paper and 17 on canvas. The works represent the artist’s most productive period, 1945–67, during which he lived and worked in New York, according to Knoedler president Ann Freedman.
All but a few works are for sale; the others were borrowed from private and museum collections. Prices range from $100,000 for works on paper to $500,000 for larger canvases, “many of them not seen in quite some time,” according to Freedman.
Marca-Relli, she says, “is one of those figures who are known but not well known.” She noted that the estate contains hundreds of collage paintings—on paper, canvas or panel—as well as a few abstract metal sculptures.
“The 1950s is the decade everyone focuses on,” Freedman told ARTnewsletter, even though Marca-Relli continued to produce work into the last decades of his life. Works from the 1980s and ’90s, she said, are priced in the lower range, around $100,000. “He wasn’t selling many works toward the end of his life,” she noted, adding that his absence from New York did not help his sales. Marca-Relli’s market remained slow after his death, although Freedman said that this was due less to the quality of the work than to a failure of representation.
Born in Boston to Italian immigrant parents, Marca-Relli moved to Manhattan in 1927, taking classes at The Cooper Union, and working for the WPA Federal Art Project from 1935 to 1938. He was a founding member of the Artists’ Club, a haunt of the artists who would become the New York School of Abstract Expressionism.
In 1967, the Whitney Museum of American Art held a retrospective of the artist’s work, and shortly thereafter he moved to Europe, settling in Parma, Italy, in 1997. The Marca-Relli Archives are located in Parma, and Knoedler represents the artist’s estate in conjunction with the archives. Knoedler has sold a few paintings to private buyers in advance of the current exhibition, and some of the paintings in the show are earmarked for museum purchase only.
Marca-Relli’s work has appeared periodically in public sales, often exceeding modest estimates. The top price for a work by the artist is $1.1million, paid at Christie’s in May 2008 for the oil and collage on canvas St. Cyprian’s Day, 1957–58 (estimate: $400,000/600,000). That same work had been sold at Christie’s just a year and a half earlier for $441,600, with an estimate of $120,000/180,000. Other top prices for Marca-Relli’s work include $218,500, paid for the oil and collage on canvas The Passage, 1958, at Sotheby’s last May (estimate: $150,000/200,000), and $205,250, paid for the oil, chalk and collage on canvas The Woman of Samura, 1958, at Sotheby’s in London in July 2008 (estimate: $50,000/70,000). —D.G.