Heffel Fine Auction Art House (2247 Granville Street) will orchestrate its spring live auction sale in Toronto this year on May 24. While Heffel headquarters still boast a Vancouver address, the art house has facilitated auctions in Toronto since 2003, staging a spring sale in Vancouver and a fall sale back east.
Robert Heffel, vice president of the company, told the Straight that it made sense to move the spring sale to Toronto. Not only is the eastern time zone more convenient for international bidders but they have a new auction facility housed in the art-deco Toronto Design Exchange, a building that was once home to the Toronto Stock Exchange.
“The city has the Toronto Film Festival, a successful art fair, and the TSX. We want to focus our attention on developing a world-class centre and having the auction in one place helps us achieve that goal,” Heffel added.
The auction house presents its sale in two main sessions, which are first distributed as catalogues: Fine Canadian Art, and Post-War & Contemporary Art. Recently, Heffel dropped the word “Canadian” from the latter. But the omission was not made to dismiss all things Canadiana. Robert Heffel believes Canadian art now transcends the domestic market, skyrocketing in value and garnering international appreciation from collectors.
“Jack Bush, Alex Colville, Jean-Paul Riopelle—they weren’t working in a vacuum. They happened to be Canadian artists but they were also painting and exhibiting abroad,” Heffel said. “By contextualizing Canadian art and not regionalizing, we’re helping establish their market not just in Canada but outside, too.”
He also stressed that the art auction business cannot take full credit for the increase in value. It is part of a larger group effort. “We feel interconnected with the private galleries, museums, and cultural institutions across Canada."
Last November, Heffel's live auction made heads spin when Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris’s 1926 painting Mountain Forms sold for a record-setting $11.21 million. “That’s equal to a sale result on an international scale. The conservative estimate for Mountain Forms was $3.5 million,” Heffel said.
Harris has been in the global arts spotlight for a while now, aided in part by actor and art-lover Steve Martin's championing of the painter. Martin cocurated a show in 2016, The Idea of North, with the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and a partnership with the Hammer Museum, which introduced Harris’s iconic landscapes to audiences in Los Angeles and Boston before returning north to Toronto.
In painting a picture of what the May 24 live auction at the historic Toronto Design Exchange will look like, Heffel suggested this time the jaw-dropping piece does not come with a Harris signature—although his abstract piece LSH 89b is also featured.
Instead, the highlight is Jean-Paul Riopelle's expressive 1953 work Vent du Nord. Formidable in size and dynamic in style, the work is estimated at $1 million to $1.5 million.
According to a news release, Heffel has sold more Canadian art than any other auctioneer worldwide, with sales totalling more than half a billion dollars since 1978. “We’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s because we believe in the value of these artists and the Canadian art market. I think people, whether they can afford to buy the paintings or not, should just come and see these phenomenal works of art. And if you can afford to buy, it’s really great to collect art – you get a lot of enjoyment out of it,” Heffel said.
Elsewhere the auction will feature works by A.Y. Jackson, William Kurelek, David Milne, Paul-Émile Borduas, and Frederick Varley. For those who missed the Vancouver preview, a comprehensive online virtual tour is available at the Heffel auction website.