Death of an artist

April 12, 2011

Dear Rodney,

Yesterday, Jamillah Ausby of Brooklyn, New York wrote, "My husband, the abstract 
artist Ellsworth Ausby, passed on March 6th. I have a lot of his art which I would 
love to sell. He wanted exhibitions in Europe, Africa, and all around the world. 
His one request was to divide the money between his three daughters and son. I 
plan to clean out his studio, take photos, set up a web site and hopefully I'll 
find a dealer or a gallery to sell his work. What do you suggest?"

Thanks, Jamillah. Ellsworth's work explored the relationship of man and the 
universe. He was also a popular art instructor with a BFA from Pratt. His paintings 
were exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Boston Museum of Fine 
Art; the National Museum of Fine Arts, Lagos Nigeria; The Aldrich Museum of 
Contemporary Art in Connecticut and the State Museum of New Jersey. He is listed in 
"Who's Who in America," "Who's Who in American Art" and "Who's Who Among Black 
Americans." FYI, we've put a selection of Ellsworth's paintings at the top of the 
current clickback.

Jamillah's situation is similar to many artists' beneficiaries when the main 
thrust of the life's work was in academia. Their credentials may be great, but 
their prior interaction with the commercial gallery system may be limited. Often, 
it's difficult to understand that dealers are not necessarily looking for depth 
or creativity. They're looking for marketability. This often includes:

*A large and consistent opus of the artist's work.
*A degree of exclusive access to the work for a period of time.
*The potential of higher and higher prices.

This often means that your new dealer would like to take control of the work. 
To this end he might try to buy or option it all. If the amounts of money are 
significant, I suggest you get a lawyer with knowledge of the shenanigans of the 
art world. A cautious art executor should read "The Legacy of Mark Rothko" by 
Lee Seldes.

Further, your idea of putting up a memorial website--heavy on Ellsworth's story 
and passion, light on commercial considerations--will keep his flame burning 
bright. The memorial website is the statue of the 21st Century.

Take your time. Send out letters to prospective dealers and refer them to the 
website. Ask their advice and opinion. In the event that none show interest, 
archive the work in a clean, dry environment. Further fame and acceptance may 
become the task of another generation. 

Best regards,


PS: "Full lasting is the song, though he, the singer, passes." (George Meredith)
Esoterica: On hearing of Ellsworth's death, Andrew Thornton, a former student of 
Ellsworth's wrote, "Professor Ausby was my first painting teacher at The School of 
Visual Arts. I spent many hours in the studio with him, learning about cast 
shadows, mixing paint, and 'Ausby's Black' (a rich shade of black made with 
alizarin crimson and phthalo green). We kept in contact. He wrote countless 
recommendation letters for me. Finally he gave me a stack of twenty signed letters 
with the recipient line left blank. He said, 'Thornton, don't use 'em all up in 
a week.' "