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Generations of Fine Art

Off the Cuff with art dealer Timothy Cobb

Feb. 13, 2017
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If genetics are destiny, perhaps Timothy Cobb was fated for a career in the arts. But if environment is at least as much a factor, then Cobb may have arrived by osmosis. As he likes to say, he is a “third generation” art dealer from a family tree with branches spread across the arts. He began in music. Off the Cuff spoke with Cobb in his soon-to-be-moved gallery, Timothy Cobb Fine Arts in the Marshall Building (207 E. Buffalo St.).

You lived in many places before coming to Milwaukee?

I was raised on Long Island and got my MA at Southern Methodist University, where I was a student of Anshel Brusilow, who later conducted the Dallas Symphony. I was on the conducting staff of the Knoxville Symphony.

How did you come to Milwaukee?

I was in a relationship with a cellist who lived in Milwaukee. I left the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra in 1991 to come here. I continued to conduct—for the Waukesha Area Youth Orchestra, for a fundraiser at the Pabst Theatre for the Brady Street Clinic with members of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra.

And you went into art dealing…

In 1998 I opened a by-appointment gallery in the Astor Hotel—Timothy Cobb Fine Art. It was not known to the general public in Milwaukee—my main business was buying and selling paintings, Old Masters, in the U.S. and Europe. I was there for 10 years. Subsequently, I had a by-appointment gallery in the North Shore.

Why did you decide to move the gallery to the Third Ward?

I opened in the Marshall Building in 2012. I came to the building on Gallery Night that year and the lobby was packed. Shortly thereafter a prime space opened in the lobby. I decided it was time for me to have more contact with the art scene in Milwaukee.

And you expanded the size of your gallery when you took over Elaine Erickson right next door.

In 2015 I had the opportunity to represent the artists represented by Elaine Erickson and expand into her space when she moved to California. It was an opportunity to represent living artists—living Wisconsin artists such as Bilhenry Walker, Susan Falkman, Tyler Meunincke.

Why are you leaving the Marshall Building?

I have been representing estates and have the opportunity to represent a fine collection of 18th through 20th century Chinese paintings—a single collection amassed over the last several decades. The Chinese market is hot and both the government and private collectors are eager to repatriate those paintings. Since I will be traveling a lot, I won’t have the time to manage a full-time gallery that represents living artists. When an artist entrusts you with their work, it’s incumbent on the dealer to be present. And since I’ve always been a one-man band with no employees, I need to let go of the retail schedule.

How do you feel about your experience in operating a brick-and-mortar gallery?

It was successful on several fronts. First and foremost, l learned about the rich Wisconsin heritage in art and came to deeply respect the work and lives of living Wisconsin artists. I came away with colleagues and friends and more of a feeling of belonging to my own city.

I’d already known collectors in Wisconsin for 17th and 18th century paintings and was delighted to expand into the 19th through 21st centuries. Being in the Marshall Building was the kind of exposure that allowed me to do that.

Any regrets? 

The art buying public in Milwaukee is small and conservative, and the city is rich in art reporters but poor in serious, knowledgeable, inquisitive art critics, but the Shepherd Express has been my champion.

What’s next for the gallery? 

Our moving date is Feb. 28. Everything in the gallery—paintings, antiques, collectibles—is available at the best prices a dealer can offer. Our current exhibition will run through Feb. 19. I’m keeping the name, Timothy Cobb Fine Arts, and will continue to do appraisals and represent collections. I can be reached through my website.

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