NEW YORK—Several years ago, Will Barnet, now 99, decided to return to the kind of abstraction—known as “Indian Space” painting—that had characterized his earlier work. The name refers to abstract motifs used in Native American design, as opposed to abstraction based on a more European model. Barnet’s Indian Space work dates from the 1950s into the ’60s, after which Barnet moved toward more realistic figuration.
A recent exhibition of work by the artist—16 recent oils and six works on paper from the 1950s—was held May 6–June 29 at the Alexandre Gallery, New York. Five paintings in all have been sold, and one remains on reserve to a museum, gallery owner Phil Alexandre told ARTnewsletter.
The paintings in the exhibition were priced at $45,000/75,000, principally according to their size. The smallest painting measures 27 by 17 inches and the largest measures 40 by 30 inches. The works on paper in the show were priced at $7,500/9,500.
Alexandre noted that prices for the new work “are slightly lower than in recent years.” The decision to lower prices was based in part on the general state of the art market, he says, which “in our category is still considerably weaker than it was,” in 2008. Prices for the Indian Space paintings of the 1950s and the figurative works of the 1960s, however, go much higher, ranging from $250,000 to $450,000, again according to size.
Wheelchair-bound because of knee problems, Barnet continues to paint in his Manhattan studio at the National Arts Club, as well as at his summer home in Maine. “He generally has five to ten canvases in progress at any given time, and it generally takes him one to three years to bring a painting to completion,” Alexandre said. “The scale now is more modest, with average sizes [of] 25 by 35 inches or so.” When away from his studio—as during his summers in Maine—Barnet works on paper, Alexandre said.
A portrait, Ruth Bowman, 1967, is currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Next February the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey will hold an exhibition of Barnet’s work. It will focus on the more recent abstraction.
Barnet’s work has appeared at auction regularly over the years. The top public sale price for his work is $48,000, paid at Christie’s in 2007 for an untitled abstract 1961–83 oil painting (estimate: $5,000/7,000). Other auction highs include $25,300, paid at Sotheby’s in 1988 for the oil on canvas Anticipation, 1980 (estimate: $15,000/20,000), and $25,000, paid at Sotheby’s in 2006 for the mixed media on paper Mother and Child Reading, 1985 (estimate: $8,000/12,000).