The Delaware consignors of Standing Nude with Back View had purchased the painting from Chinese artist Guo Runwen (b. 1955) at his Guangzhou studio in 1998. The work brought $27,450, one of the highest prices in the sale. Material Culture photo.
The initial sale included an extensive selection of textile lots, but these early 20th-century Chinese export embroidered silk shawls were among the most wearable. The center example with long macramÃ© fringe drew the most bids, surpassing the $400/600 estimate to bring $1220.
A wily bidder spotted this 19th-century Russian icon with a silver oklad hidden amongst the many devotional lots. It climbed past its $800/1200 estimate to reach $6832. Material Culture photo.
Material Culture's diverse display spanned carpets to caskets. The "Drug Addict" carnival sideshow banner (far left) brought $2562. The 18th-century Indian teak archway at center went to a new home at $2318, while the Middle Eastern ceramic door to the right sold for $1037. The cars at center were not toys but Mercedes-shaped, you-can-take-it-with-you coffins from Ghana; the top one brought $610.
Material Culture, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
by Karla Klein Albertson
This spring in Philadelphia the Material Culture anchor store added live auctions to its sales menu, leading off with three in rapid succession on May 5, May 26, and June 30. The firm shares its 4700 Wissahickon Avenue addressthe old Atwater-Kent buildingwith Kamelot Auctions, well known for its spring garden and architectural sales.
Material Culture's business has always been party-friendly, and the auction preview on Saturday night, a week before the May 5 sale, featured Middle Eastern food and lively music as well as an open bar. The crowd was all ages, all colors, all collecting types, and all income levels.
The location is easy to reach from the city or suburbs and has a blessedly large parking lot. The industrial structure, in which this company occupies 60,000 square feet, contains lofty spaces that accommodate almost anything. The auction gallery is upstairs on the mezzanine.
Material Culture, the store, presents itself as a global marketplace with an emphasis on the international textiles that the owner has always loved. All auctions strive for diversity, but no one could take that principle farther than this company's inaugural event. The sale had Americana and exotica, archaeological artifacts and 21st-century creations, five-figure sellers, and stuff you could pick up for $75.
When addressing the ubiquitous question of what will young people collect, it may be useful to have a couple of 20-somethings "on staff" in the family. Take one along to preview the lots. If they greet an auction's offering with "I could afford that!"(which often means my folks might buy me that)the firm is on the right track in appealing to a younger group of buyers.
Owner George Jevremovic has been buying and selling the world's material culture for 30 years. He said at the preview party, "I really want to draw all those experiences and locations and relationships into this new auction mode. I have a global approach when it comes to thinking about the auction business. I felt it was time to focus people on certain areas of collecting that aren't always covered as well."
Jevremovic is fond of textiles and worked for many years with artisans abroad. "My company Woven Legends basically revolutionized the modern Oriental carpet. My claim to fame is that I taught people in Turkey, Iran, and India how to make carpets in the twentieth century. I sold the business last summer."
He continued, "So now I'm in the auction business. You need a unique space, and you need unique demographics. You need a strong consumer demographic. Now in the auction business you also need a strong consignor demographic." He said that the lots in the first sale reflected what was available at the moment-consignments from ordinary people.
Jevremovic's goals are simple. "I intend to be a super-regular auction house with a strong local following. We're in the city. We're ten minutes from the art museum, from the train station. I live in Chestnut Hillthat's twelve minutes. In a city of this scale, try to get in and out of an auction house easily!"
All auctions, from local estates sales to the majors in New York, London, and Hong Kong, throw lots at the bidding wall and hope most of it sticks. The initial Material Culture sale had a paper catalog as well as on-line versions at the company Web site and LiveAuctioneers. The whole process was a learning experience for the staff, which will enable them to refine their selections, descriptions, and estimates for future sales.
The first "New World Orders" sale on May 5 had winners and losers for the auction house, but it seemed that few lots carried reserves, so there were some tremendous bargains for buyers, a situation that may never happen again. Some of the buys were in outrÃ© fields, such as East Indian devotional statuary, but there were great deals in prints, paintings, and furniture that could be used in very traditional settings.
After the sale Jevremovic said, "What pleased me was the on-line bidding and the overseas phone activity, because if we didn't have that we'd be crying the blues. It wasn't about the number of people who showed up. I think eighty percent of the dollar volume we did was either from bids on line or over the phone."
He added, "I'm happy about that, but I was disappointed because I thought there should have been more of an audience. But I understand that were it not for the technology, there would be more people in the audience." He realized that younger bidders are more accustomed to doing everything on line. Why sit at an auction when you can follow it on your phone and catch just the lots you want to bid on?
The owner recognized that many lots sold below their estimates, but he felt that would encourage bidders in the future. "For the most part, I don't like over-reserved or protected prices. It's hard to convince people, but I limited the consignments to realists. When there were reserves, they were low, and things sold. I saw pieces go where I had to restrain my arm. But they went, and that was a happy dealer who got that lot. You learn from these things."
Works by self-taught artists were the success story of this inaugural auction. Offerings included three lots by James Castle (1899-1977), an artist who had been featured in a retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. One untitled work brought $4148 (includes buyer's premium). Castle rated a brief bio at the beginning of the catalog, as did Cuban-American artist Felipe Jesus Consalvos (1891-c. 1960) and Nigerian-born Prince Twins Seven-Seven (1944-2011), who had been artist-in-residence at Material Culture.
Jevremovic was already looking forward to the May 26 sale of textiles. "The dollars in that sale will be much higher. There are some really good early Chinese and Tibetan textiles, which have never been on the market before, so there will be a lot of spirited buyers from around the world."
He said in conclusion, "We're going to try a lot of different things. The business is about opportunities that present themselves. You can't predict what's going to be offered to you next month or next year. We're going to evolve. I've been hiring people to fill new positions on an as-needed basis. I've hired several people with really good experience, and they've just started, so we're going to get really good at what we do."
You may view store offerings and auction lots at (www.materialculture.com) or call (215) 849-8030.
Personal mythology shaped the images in paintings by Prince Twins Seven-Seven. The Dream of the Abiku Child, 1967, 40" x 27", was done in ink, watercolor, and oil on brown wrapping paper glued to plywood that was framed and glazed. It was the most energetic of his works in the sale and realized $7320 (est. $4000/6000). Material Culture photo.
Originally sold by Moderne Gallery in Philadelphia, this long free-edge coffee table by George Nakashima (1905-1990) brought $6344 this time around. Material Culture photo.