You’ve been at Swann nearly seven years, can you tell us about what your work is like?
And a wonderful seven years it has been! My title here is Vintage Posters Specialist and Department Manager. I’ve been a Specialist for about four of those years, and more recently became Department Manager as well. In my role, I work on each step of the auction process: taking in new consignments, examining and researching the posters, proofing images for the catalogues, working on catalogue layouts and edits, and setting up for previews and auction days! I work closely with our Director Nicho Lowry and Department Administrator Jenny De Candia to put together four or more poster sales a year.
Have things changed over the years?
Many aspects of Swann haven’t changed a bit, which I love. We have made some great additions and improvements to our technology, i.e. our Swann App for mobile bidding and a revamped website since I first started here. I think the most exciting change so far has been the addition of The Pride Sale this year, which was a multidepartmental venture.
Poster-wise, I don’t know that the market has changed drastically in the past seven years, but we certainly see shifts in which poster genres gain popularity from year to year, and which fade out a bit. What has surprised me most is the degree of unpredictability that we see sometimes. It’s always exciting when we take risks by offering items that we are drawn to—but that don’t have an auction history—and the market is receptive. One of my favorite examples is this rare 1876 American circus poster for Captain Costentenus—a famous tattooed man. We thought it was fun and an interesting piece of New York City history, but placed a conservative estimate of $800-1,200 based on a lack of comparables. The tattoo history aficionados must have caught on, because it sold for a total of $6,750! I think we’ll continue to see clients coming back for the more traditional and recognizable posters, but also steering a bit toward the oddities and unique finds that keep things fresh.
As far as contemporary poster artists, I’ve been following the politically and socially charged works of Winston Tseng. He’s a local graphic artist who creates provocative—sometimes highly controversial—posters that he posts in the subways and on trash cans. Inevitably the posters are ripped down, which fits right into one of their historical functions: to make a clear statement with an immediate impact, using an ephemeral medium. Check out his work!
What led you to the Vintage Posters Department?
I didn’t choose posters—posters chose me! I knew I wanted to work in the auction business and upon interviewing at Swann, discovered that the open position was in the Vintage Posters Department. I couldn’t have been more thrilled to dive headfirst into a medium that combined my passion for art with my interests in history and graphic design. Prior to Swann, I spent a year working at a Contemporary art gallery, and an art recruiting firm. In school I worked as a Student Docent at Vassar’s Lehman Loeb Art Center.
Have you worked on any exceptional sales during you tenure?
The most exciting sale I’ve worked on would have to be our Mucha and Masters of Art Nouveau auction of the Meyerhoff Collection. It was incredible to handle so many important and valuable Art Nouveau works at once, and to see our longstanding clients and new buyers get excited about it too.
Do you have a favorite piece that has come through your department?
It’s very difficult for me to pick a favorite piece because I’ve had the chance to handle some spectacular works—I even have a hard time finding one favorite work per sale! The first to come to mind is the rare Man Ray London Underground poster we sold in last year’s Graphic Design auction for nearly $150,000. I love London Underground posters in general, and this one diverges from all the others in its spectacularly graphic contrast, with the stark black background, and photogram images of the Underground logo and Saturn.
Is there anyone who has influenced you in your career?
I can’t say I’ve had specific teachers or professors who have served as a mentor to me, though I had many wonderful Art History professors in college. Instead, the very first artist I met was my great grandmother, “GG,” who encouraged me to love art and to make it, even though I was only 3 years old at the time. From that age, I knew that I was going to be an artist someday, and that art would always be a huge part of my life. I’m so lucky that both of my parents have always fostered my love of art by taking me to every museum we could find, and for bringing me to many years of art classes. I always knew that my decision to major in Art History and pursue a career in the arts would not be met with any skepticism, but would be expected and encouraged. Thanks, Mom and Dad!
We’re currently in Poster House, which has Alphonse Mucha and Cyan exhibitions on view. Do you have any favorite movements within poster-making?
I couldn’t be more excited to have Poster House just a few blocks away from Swann. It’s incredible that in a country where we have museums for just about everything, it took until now to have a museum solely for posters, which are such a ubiquitous art form! Start looking for vintage posters in the backgrounds of TV show and movie sets—I promise you’ll never escape. I love seeing the Mucha and Cyan exhibits side by side, because they represent such distinct ends of the design spectrum, but the creators were innovators in printing techniques and masters of color and composition.
I’ll always love Art Nouveau and early poster design, but I’m also drawn to mid-century poster aesthetics. As I said earlier, the colorful Underground posters always catch my eye, and I also love the clean forms and simplicity of German and Swiss Sachplakat (object posters). My first acquisition for my personal collection was a chartreuse Wes Wilson psychedelic rock poster, and the second was a 1930s advertisement for a furniture store exhibition, so you could say my aesthetic is varied and a little random! If I had an endless art budget, I’d be spending most of that money in our Graphic Design auctions of Modernist posters.
Eclectic! We love it! Did you ever think vintage posters would be part of you collecting habits?
I wouldn’t have thought of collecting vintage posters before working at Swann—then I started noticing that even people I knew had framed vintage posters in their apartments, and sometimes didn’t even know much about what they were worth or their history. I definitely had reproduction music posters plastering my walls in college, and grew up with Broadway posters in my bedroom, so I guess I wasn’t too far off! I haven’t collected any fine art yet, but since I started working here, I’ve been wanting to own a Whistler print, since he was the subject of my college thesis and I adore his lithography. My collecting habits tend to lead me toward smaller, NYC apartment-friendly items, like nineteenth-century medicine bottles, and World’s Fair memorabilia. I’ll expand to more fine art someday, hopefully with the expansion of my living space.
Before we go, what should we expect next?
Posters, posters and more posters. I’m always looking forward to seeing what comes to us next—whether it be a big private collection or individual pieces that we’ve never seen before!