Chapter 53. The Case of the Solitary Surrealist
Recently I was asked to appraise two paintings by Gregg Simpson for fair market value for donation purposes. Simpson is a West Coast Surrealist artist living on Bowen Island. He has an extensive exhibition record dating back to 1967 at the Bau-Xi Gallery in Vancouver, and most recently exhibited his Abstract Surrealist paintings in Rome, Venice and Berlin. He is represented in public and private collections in Spain, France, Chile, Portugal, the United States, Hong Kong as well as Canada.
Surrealism seeks to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind by exploring a resolution to the contentious relationship between dreams and reality. The theoretical underpinnings of Surrealism reference psychoanalysis and the sophisticated philosophical discourse associated with it.
Patricia Ainslie, writing in Correspondences: Jack Shadbolt (Glenbow Museum 1991), noted that in the 1930s, Jack Shadbolt, also a West Coast artist, was referred to as a British Columbia Surrealist. It would appear, then, that Surrealism, as an artistic movement practiced by local visual artists was and is not unknown in B.C.
Over the course of a long and distinguished career, Simpson has found recognition along with celebrity status as an important contributor to Surrealist practice elsewhere in Canada and Europe. However, his artistic achievements have historically received a somewhat tepid reception here on the West Coast. Why? Is it because were lacking in West Coast sophistication?
A recent article by Kerry Gold in the Globe and Mail (July 9th, 2016) quoted the former Vancouver artist Tanya Marquardt on the difference between Vancouver and New York. Marquardt observed when speaking of Vancouver, But if a world-class city is defined as one with major arts and culture amenities, a financial district, a high income job market, vibrant industries and efficient transit system, do we (Vancouver) qualify? Or are we confusing world class with expensive housing and nice views?
I would argue that the perception of market value is not only affected by economic factors but also cultural factors, which includes the celebrity status and exhibition history of the artist. Such celebrity status often comes from critical acclaim, signifying an important contribution to visual culture. This cultural attachment has economic as well as investment value, which affects sale prices on the secondary market. The art market is now a global market generally unaffected by regional biases.
s it possible to invest in a work by an artist such as Gregg Simpson in an environment historically plagued by a lack of cultural sophistication and endemic insecurity, a society more concerned about its manufactured perception as a world class city? At present, the answer may be no, but there is hope in continuing to develop an openness to innovation and difference.