Monday, May 29th, 2017

Wes Cowan shares his expertise on collecting, state of the art market

By BARBARA CHRISTIAN

Artists Archives of the Western Reserve recently hosted television celebrity, Wes Cowan, who spoke to a full house about the state of the art market and collecting today.

Artists Archives of the Western Reserve recently hosted television celebrity, Wes Cowan, who spoke to a full house about the state of the art market and collecting today.

Arts and Crafts is out and Asian art is in.

That according to “Antiques Roadshow” and “History Detectives” television celebrity Wes Cowan speaking before a full house, last month, at the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve. The subject was “Collecting Art: State of the Art Market.”

Mr. Cowan knows whereof he speaks – not just a TV art and antiques guru – but from his decades-long experience as a collector, art and antiques expert and scholar of American archaeology.

His informal hour-long talk encompassed a wide range of subjects from his take on the demise of the Arts and Crafts era in collecting to the burgeoning Asian market to what is hot, what is not and a little sociology, hard statistics and some personal history thrown in to give context.

“I started collecting hand-painted Bavarian china when I was eight,” the affable Mr. Cowan told the AAWR audience. He added a grin and a shrug for emphasis.

The Kentucky-born boy with the hand painted Bavarian china collection went on to become founder and continuing owner of the nationally respected Cincinnati-based Cowan’s Auctions and licensed auctioneer.

He said he has seen a sea of change in the auction business in the 21 years as an auction house due to the Internet.

“The availability of art and antiques on the Internet has been transformative,” he said. “Here you have product from everywhere in one place.”

He estimated at any one time there are 50 live auctions underway online and the availability of art and antiques has swamped the buying public’s senses.

On the subject of Asian art and antiquities, Mr. Cowan notes it is so important that notable auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s have also located in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

At the start of the Asian boon, art and antiques that would have sold for $800 in the states were going for $8,000 in China and Americans were bid out of the market and auction houses had a difficult time getting their money.

The bidding concept was new to Asian buyers who, he added, wanted to renegotiate the price after the sale. Today the Asian market and buyers are more discriminating.

What about the marketability of contemporary art?

Mr. Cowan looked around at the AAWR gallery hung with its latest show and added while “this is wonderful stuff and the regional and contemporary art scene is vibrant,” it is not given much notice outside of New York where there is a critical mass of artists, buyers and wealth.

He added for contemporary artists, the same rule holds true today as it always has — when an artist dies his or her work becomes more valuable because they cannot make more.

What’s hot?

Mr. Cowan predicts clocks will be the next big thing as technology makes them a thing of the past and future curiosity.

Arts and Crafts-style furnishings, so big in the 1980s and 1990s, have given way to a demand for mid-century antiques which he describes as “the stuff the younger generation finds in grandma’s basement … Formica tables with shiny stainless steel legs.“

Mr. Cowan also noted that collecting art and antiques is not viewed the same way it was when people were less transient. Collecting among members of the younger generation today is rare because they are on the move and travel light. The burden of collections does not facilitate that very well.

As an aside he pointed out this attitude is what makes the line of disposable Ikea furniture such a brilliant concept.

But it is so different from the post-WWII era when settling down, having some disposable income and a desire to begin amassing an estate, no matter how small, was the thing people did. Now those items which represented stability are on the market again.

Last year, Mr. Cowan, looking to find the right place to branch out, researched locations from Louisville to Detroit.

In the end, Cleveland was the hands-down decision. It offered the perfect population blend of aspiring collectors and seasoned art and antiques lovers. And the latter was of an age that they are downsizing their living space and divesting themselves of their things.

In between his hand-painted Bavarian china phase and his auction business, Mr. Cowan developed a love for American archaeology. After receiving his doctorate, he taught in the anthropology department at The Ohio State University and later moved to Cincinnati to become curator of archaeology at the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History. He began his one-man auction business 21 years ago.

The Cleveland auction house is located at 26801 Miles Rd. in Warrensville Heights. He likes to point visitors to his business by telling them it’s “just past Miles Market … everyone in Cleveland knows Miles Market.”

Cowan’s Auctions accepts consignments and offers occasional appraisal events. Timed Internet auctions are regularly available by visiting www.cowansauctions.com along with live sales room auctions. For more information, call 216.871.1670.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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