Wednesday, November 8, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Visual Arts

SAM to auction eight paintings now in storage

Seattle Times art critic

Eight American paintings from the collection of the Seattle Art Museum will be auctioned Nov. 29 at Sotheby's in New York, including "New York Abstraction," by acclaimed painter John Marin (1870-1953), valued at $600,000 to $800,000. The painting was a gift to the museum from the late patrons Anne and Sidney Gerber.

Also on the block will be Chauncey Foster Ryder's oil "That Which The Sea Gives Up," first shown at the Paris Salon of 1907 where it received an honorable mention, and then in Seattle at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909.

The paintings appear in Sotheby's catalog for the upcoming sale.

SAM's American art curator Patti Junker said the purpose of selling the paintings, which are in storage, is to buy other artworks and that SAM soon will be announcing a major American art acquisition.

"We want to take our lesser examples and turn them into finer things," she said. "We have gone through the collection to really refine it."

Other paintings up for sale are "Still Life No. 1" by precisionist painter Preston Dickinson (1891-1930) and works by American impressionist Guy Wiggins, Frederick Judd Waugh and three canvases by orientalist painter Hovsep Pushman. The auction is expected to bring in about $1 million to $1.5 million.

Selling paintings from public collections, known as de-accessioning, has long been a contentious practice. Some museums, including SAM, have sold artworks for arguable reasons: because the artist or style was out of favor or not valued by the administration, or because the institution needed money for some other purpose. Often the sales take place without the public knowing.

Last year, New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman dubbed the Museum of Modern Art "a regular Kwik-E-Mart of art sales" for the institution's turnover of a Picasso and Francis Bacon to an art dealer. "So much for public custody," he wrote.

Seattle art dealer David Martin, a specialist in American and regional art, is concerned about the pending sale. "I don't think they have many works of early American artists from the Stieglitz circle, to get rid of a good example would be mistake," he said. "And Preston Dickinson's work is so sought after. Dickinson died very young, like 38 or 39, and there aren't many of his oils in existence."

He is also disturbed by the sale of the Ryder. "I don't think there is hardly any work here in the Northwest that was exhibited in the Alaska Yukon exhibition. ... My point is the scarcity of those works and that something originally purchased from Seattle's 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition is a piece of local history."

Junker disagrees. She says experts who have seen the works in storage agree on their quality. "I can defend these as minor examples. These are absolutely not paintings we would show."

Sheila Farr:

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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