John Morrissey keen about Ain Cocke, Justin McAllister art, now at Ann Norton Scultpure Gardens
By Jan Sjostrom
For many contemporary art collectors, the past year and a half has been a time to scale back on buying. Not so for John Morrissey.
The West Palm Beach-based collector has bought about 50 works during the past couple of years, double his pace during the boom years.
“I’m not spending more,” he said. “I’m spending the same amount, but I’m getting more.”
Prices have plummeted, in some cases to half what he was paying before the market meltdown.
He’s also continued his practice of investing in works by fresh-out-of-art-school artists. Two of his recent finds — Ain Cocke and Justin McAllister — are featured in an exhibition at the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens in West Palm Beach.
Morrissey, 41, is an attorney who started collecting soon after he graduated from law school. In the late 1990s, ARTnews magazine named him one of the nation’s top young collectors.
Works from his collection have been exhibited at the now-shuttered Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art and loaned to museums such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Cocke and McAllister are recent graduates of Yale University’s art school. Both have had their first solo gallery exhibitions in New York in the past three years.
Like most of the artists whose work Morrissey collects, they are figurative artists.
Cocke’s paintings and drawings portray fresh-faced soldiers and sailors from World War I and World War II. They’re often in pairs and locked in companionable embraces.
The figures are set against elaborate, romantic backdrops and rendered in colors more often seen in greeting cards than contemporary art.
Cocke might borrow his colors from the frothy paintings of Boucher and Fragonard, but not his themes.
His sources are photo-booth shots of military men. The improbable backdrops are inspired by the actual backgrounds in the photographs.
His paintings consider the nature of portraiture and the anonymity that overtakes subjects with time. They also reflect on male intimacy, which he says has been stigmatized since the war years, and the imminent death that claimed many of the men in the photographs.
“I’m rarely happy when looking at these images,” Cocke said. “It is a disturbing experience. It’s a marker or some kind of evidence, but there is no mistaking that it means sadness, and following that thought — death.”
McAllister paints eerie landscapes of bonfires in the woods or glaciers bearing down on rural communities. His inspiration is the Hudson River School of 19th century American landscape painters — a type of art that was disdained when he was in art school.
“I looked at following that painting as working in a space I wasn’t supposed to,” McAllister said. “By doing so, I discovered they were amazing paintings.”
Part of what attracted him was the sense of danger he saw in many of the older painters’ grandiose paintings of the wilderness.
McAllister’s paintings depict the tamer farmlands of Pennsylvania. The most common focal points are not the sunsets often glorified by the Hudson River School, but trash fires.
Critics have compared his paintings to apocalyptic visions. That’s OK with the artist. But “for me, they are about a really intense aesthetic experience,” he said. “It’s more about being physically in front of these things.”
The art market has begun to recover from the low-water points when Morrissey was taking advantage of discount prices. As evidence, Morrissey points to recent sales, such as the $43.7 million paid at auction in November for Andy Warhol’s 200 One Dollar Bills, more than three times its high estimate.
Over the years, Morrissey has bought more losers than winners, when measured strictly by price. But “all you need is one $44 million Warhol, and you consider it a winner from a global perspective,” he said.
If You Go
What: ‘Recent Acquisitions from the John Morrissey Collection’
When: Through April 18
Where: Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens,
253 Barcelona Road,
Information: 832-5328 or www.ansg.org