Monday, August 11, 2014

Animation Art - Who buys this stuff?

SOLD! - Original hand painted production cel of Cruella De Vil from "101 Dalmatians," 1961

I have been buying and selling animation art now for over 20 years, and during that time I have met many collectors and dealers.  The first shocking thing for me to realize was that so many dealers know very little about animation art and in some cases don't even know what they are selling.  As an example years ago I was looking at a drawing of Sir Hiss wearing his feathered hat from "Robin Hood," and the dealer selling it said to me, "It's Dino (from Hanna Barbera's "Flintstones") with a hat!"  "Oh really?", I said; and I thought to myself this is one dealer who I will never trust.  The second realization about dealers was when I discovered that many of them don't care at all about what they are selling; it really is nothing more than a commodity to them.  When I was just starting out as an art dealer, I visited an established Animation Gallery owner at his Gallery and the way in which he was tossing and sliding vintage cels around was really upsetting.  He did not care at all if a cel lost a little more paint or if a drawing added a few more creases; for me it was un-nerving.  We were in the back room of his Gallery and I just wondered if he ever did this type of thing in front of clients, or was he just doing it in front of me because he assumed all dealers don't care about the art?  Not all dealers (certainly not me) treat the art so recklessly; but I have been surprised by the number that fall into that category.

By comparison, collectors seem to go in the opposite direction; they become completely spell-bound by the collecting experience and the original animation art becomes a thing of great importance and an object deserving of great respect.  I think one reason collectors never change out of cheap metal frames, is a fear of damaging the artwork.  The majority of collectors seem scared to handle unframed art but still take great pride in what they have acquired.  I have always thought of my collection as a responsibility to some degree; to preserve the work for future generations.  The great thing about animation art is that it falls into multiple categories: art, collectible, movie memorabilia, Hollywood memorabilia, childhood memories, etc., and therefore there is a wide public appeal to the art form. 

Once a kid of sixteen years old called the Gallery and said that his Grandmother had given him $1000 for his birthday (I know, what a great Grandmother!) and he wanted to use the money to buy a cel.  The one he chose was a beautiful cel of Briar Rose from "Sleeping Beauty."  It was a full figure image, eyes open, she was carrying her basket, the cel was placed on a copy background; and the whole setup was custom matted and framed!  We shipped it and I never heard from him again.  I hope he still has the cel and thinks of his Grandmother when he gazes upon it. 

I think every collector has a set of "rules" that he or she uses in determining what and how to collect.  It can be just about any range of parameters you can image.  An early patron of the Gallery wanted to collect drawings by the legendary Disney animator Frank Thomas, and if they were or if we could get them signed (Frank Thomas was alive at this point and we were sending him drawings and cels to sign and even dedicate), all the better!  The most interesting client was one that only collected cels or drawings of a character being hit over the head.  The studio did not matter, so we were always looking for Hanna Barbera characters like the Jetsons or Scooby-Doo in a battle, Friz Freleng's Pink Panther hitting the Inspector on the head, or Warner Brothers Yosemite Sam hitting his camel or dragon for not stopping, etc.  It was much harder to find these exact frames than you may think!  As to why he wanted characters hit in the head... I never asked.  He was a bit odder than the norm, because most collectors just want Disney Princess or Villains (like myself), collect from their favorite films or shorts, or cartoon characters that they loved as a child.  The Gallery had a married couple that only collected from Disney's "Jungle Book."  Over the years they purchased cels of every character from the film and had them all framed and hanging in their dining room.  I have met collectors who only wanted drawings, or those who only wanted cels.  One of my favorite stories was an article in Art In America years ago that showcased a woman's personal collection.  She owned Warhol, Picasso, Chagall, etc. but stated that one of her favorite pieces was an animation cel of Bugs Bunny that hung in her breakfast room.  She saw it every day and it always made her smile.

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