WOODBURY, Conn. — Having spent his entire career in the art world, running some of the country’s most important museums and collections, Tom Armstrong (1932-2011) amassed an amazing collection of art from across the creative spectrum. With his beloved wife Whitney (better known to all as Bunty) having passed in 2022, the family has decided to return the Armstrong collection to the market via Schwenke Auctioneers on Tuesday, February 13. The catalog is now available for bidding at LiveAuctioneers.
Armstrong’s resume reads like a who’s-who of the American art establishment intelligentsia. At the time of his passing in 2011, he was director emeritus of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Andy Warhol Museum. He was also a board member of the New York School of Interior Design.
A prime example of Armstrong’s insider status can be found in this Alexander Calder (1898-1976) wire sculpture of both an elephant and bow tie, depending on the viewing angle. Calder gave it to Armstrong in appreciation for the latter’s retrospective on the artist’s career mounted at The Whitney Museum of American Art in 1976. The highly personal gift is estimated at $20,000-$30,000, and Schwenke has applied for registration of the piece with the Calder Foundation.
Andrew Masullo (b. 1957-) is a modern abstract artist who has said he uses a numbering system for his work titles so that viewers won’t be tempted to interpret what any given painting might “mean.” The Armstrongs purchased 3330, an oil on canvas with a multitude of small ovals and circles, from Washburn Gallery in New York. It is estimated at $5,000-$7,000.
The Armstrongs collected many bronzes, with one particular example worthy of further examination: Galapagos Penguin, a 1932 bronze by James Lippitt Clark (1883-1969). Clark was an artist working primarily in bronze, but also served as curator of arts and a taxidermist at the American Museum of Natural History, part of the Smithsonian Institution. Working there would have given him access to taxidermied penguins from which to fashion his bronze. The 9.5in penguin is estimated at $3,000-$5,000.