In a stellar display of what only the art market can produce, the prices for artworks by Lynne Drexler skyrocketed in the last few months at auctions. In other words, a confidential artist from a small Island in Maine whose paintings could be acquired for under $2,000 ten years ago is now a boiling hot commodity of the art world, with two works acquired for over a million dollars in March and May 2022 at Christie’s New-York.
But who is Lynne Drexler? Born in 1928 and deceased in 1999, Drexler was an American painter who is nowadays often associated with abstract expressionism—although her work is deeply imbued with figuration and the tradition of landscape painting. The artist grew up in Newport News, Virginia and began painting quite early on, when she was around 8 years old. Her childhood paintings already displayed a lot of abstract landscapes, although she also painted many figurative portraits and still lifes. In the mid to late 1950s, in her twenties, she went on to study art at Hunter College in New-York, taking classes from great pioneers of abstract painting such as Robert Motherwell and Hans Hofmann. Both painters had a great impact on Drexler’s interest for Abstract expressionism. During that decade, her paintings were true patchworks of colours: in similar fashion to the great names of post-impressionist painting, the artist meticulously overlapped repetitive touches of vivid colours. Influenced by Matisse, Drexler displayed a great deal of attention to colours and their optical effects on the viewer. But Drexler was part of the second generation of abstract expressionists, who found inspiration in the external world rather than the inner self. Hence, the artist’s need to gaze outwardly was not only reflected in her abstract landscapes, but also in the influence classical music played in her own compositions: she would often go see opera performances and symphonic orchestras—at Carnegie Hall, notably—with a sketchpad and coloured crayons to translate her musical experiences, before later working on paintings based off her sketches. From the 1960s onwards, Lynne Drexler left New-York more and more often to find peace and quiet on the secluded Monhegan Island, in the State of Maine. The luxurious sceneries of the Island profoundly inspired the colourful paintings of the time, for which the artist is now renowned. In 1983, Drexler finally moved there, and went on to live the last 16 years of her life on the Island.
Like many of her European counterparts—as far as abstract female painters are concerned—, recognition came quite late for Lynne Drexler’s work. In the twenty years or so since her death, regional art dealers and auction houses progressively pushed her prices towards five figures (hardly attaining $10,000 before 2020). In 2018, the show “European exhibition of the women of Abstract Expressionism” displayed some of her works. Then came this year’s shockwave with two paintings from the early 1960s—Flowered Hundred (1962) and Herbert’s Garden (1960)—selling for over 1.2 million and 1.5 million in March and May at Christie’s. The first of these two paintings was acquired by business angel Amy Cappellazzo’s art advisory firm Art Intelligence Global on behalf of an anonymous client.
So how can this sudden rise to stardom be explained? Firstly, the most evident factor at play is the important discrepancy between the rising—and increasingly globalized—demand for quality artworks and the low availability of such works. As Abby Schultz reported in her September 14. article in Penta, the art world can make it extremely difficult even for top tier collectors to get their hands on artworks by good artists. This creates a favourable setting to push forth talented young artists such as Christina Quarles, but also previously disregarded or forgotten artists with great aesthetic qualities. And Lynne Drexler is clearly one of them: her talent shines through the colourful vibrancy of her artworks. It should also be added that her market is being pushed notably by female gallerists and collectors Martha Campbell, Christine Berry and Saara Pritchard—partner at Art Intelligence Global—, who are more than happy to rectify the injustice of her lack of recognition during her lifetime when her own husband, the painter John Hulbert, was thriving and recognized by major galleries in New-York. Indeed, Berry Campbell Gallery—which now represents Drexler’s estate—and Mnuchin Gallery are now organizing an exhibition titled “Lynne Drexler: The First Decade”, the artist’s first solo show in New York in almost 40 years, which will open on October 27. And Art Intelligence Global is showcasing Drexler’s work in a Hong Kong exhibition named “Shatter: Color Field and the women of Abstract Expressionism”.
The wave is now well on its way: in a selling exhibition of female artists that closed September 9., the auction house Bonhams included several of Drexler’s paintings, and although sale prices were not disclosed, interest in her work was apparently as high as it had ever been—Bonhams asserting that the show generated “really strong sales”. There are also rumours of a great retrospective in the works for Lynne Drexler in a major American institution, which would undoubtedly solidify the artist’s price range in the coming years, were it indeed to take place.