The highlights from the L.D. “Brink” Brinkman collection of Western Art came to Dallas on January 24th. The entire collection, with more than 350 paintings and sculpture, will be auctioned at Bonhams on February 8th.
The exhibition was held in the swanky Rosewood Mansion Hotel. Elaborate walls were flawlessly assembled for a show that would last just a few hours. (All works would be packed and shipped to Los Angeles before the wine glasses could be washed.) The installation was something special to see and it did not hurt to have the old-world hotel charm.
The auction house also did a fantastic job with marketing. The hall was packed and, except a few art gallery owners, I didn’t see any of the familiar faces from art openings. This was not that surprising. Brinkman’s collection is about Western art – horses, Indians and cowboys. The works had spread over Brinkman’s nearly 14,000 square feet home, the former Louis Schreiner Mansion, on a hill above Kerville, Texas. Such works feel at home in the Hill Country, but perhaps a little foreign in Uptown Dallas. It’s a niche market.
Browsing through the highlighted works, I learned that Brinkman not only collected blue-chip painters such as William Leigh, Ernest Martin Hennings and Oscar Berninghaus, but also supported contemporary artists who carry the torch of Western art. He was an early patron of G. Harvey and befriended with Joe Beeler, Ken Carlson and Douglas Van Howd, to name a few. Some of these contemporary works hang alongside the Western masters.
Drama, often arising in the moments where life and death come close, abound in Western-themed paintings. However, I feel much closer with works of the Taos school. Berninghaus’ San Antonio Chapel at Taos (estimated between $120,000 and $160,000) places the earth-tone adobe chapel between the azure sky and snow covered foreground, echoed with a band of jewel-colored Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It breathes in the crisp clear air of the high desert. The humanized nature, in this case, looks both imposing and enchanting.
Walter Ufer’s Lone Rider in Old Santa Fe (estimated $100,000 to $150,000) hung next to it. The summer light makes the play along a trail – a warm dirt road is dotted with cool shadows, only dense enough to create a purplish tapestry. A breeze just brushes off the top of sycamores. There is a sense of comfort and tranquility as if the only sound is from the horse hoofs.
Together with Hennings’ Taos Twins (estimated between $500,00 and $700,000), these works exemplify the sterile, lonesome land of American Southwest and the fortitude and resilience of its people. Without much fanfare, they sooth the eyes with its intimacy and grandeur. Mr.
Brinkman was successful in many business ventures including floor-coverings, cattle and restaurants.
Amassed from the 1960’s, his holding is probably one of the most significant Western art collection in the second half of the 20th century. He had many giants to look upon, William Hogg, Amon Carter and C. R. Smith, to name a few. Although there were not many exceptional Bierdstadt paintings left in the market (a Mount St. Hellen painting by Bierdstadt is included in this sale), Brinkman had the opportunity to patron the best living artists and studied/collected works from the Taos art colony, an area his predecessors did not recognize in their time.
Yet, unlike his predecessors, these paintings don’t seem destined for art museums. In recent memory, Richard Mellon Scaife donated his collection to two Pennsylvania art institutes (and some went to auction afterward). One may argue that Western art by living artists may have a limited chance of landing in museums, but I am sure many art institutes would line up for courtship. When National Gallery of Art accepted the collection from Herbert and Dorothy Vogel, they cherrypicked first then partnered with other museums to place remaining artwork. Would Brinkman have wanted his paintings in a museum? We don’t know, but a quick internet search gives some insight into the path to auction.
Before we left the show, we noticed a sculpture piece behind the wine bar. Allan Houser’s “War Pony” is a horsehead with a harness. Cast in bronze as a hollow skeleton, the horse head recalls calaca from Mexican culture. Polished with dark brown patina, with ropes flying in the air, its dynamics, fluidity, assertiveness and absurdity make it almost out of place. Interestingly, it is not offered in the current single-owner sale, but will be included in Bonham’s Native American Art sale in June 2019.
It was perhaps the most captivating piece in the show.