Dennis Hopper Goes to the Block
I’m not one to look through keyholes or go through medicine cabinets whilst ducking into bathrooms during dinner parties. I do, however, admit that upon visiting new friends’, collaborators’ or interview subjects’ houses for the first time, their bookshelves have me in fast orbit, my eyes spinning over titles. I don’t have to go as far as Tatiana in Eugene Onegin, reading annotations written in margins. But is there any surer, faster way to learn about a person’s personality, passions, even peccadillos, than a perusal of his or her library? (And if there are no books, well, that speaks volumes too.)
The same principle holds true with people and their art collections. Take Dennis Hopper, the actor, zeitgeister, drinker, drugger, director and artist.
2010 was a big year for Hopper. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his long Hollywood career (which included appearances in films Rebel Without a Cause, Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet, and several Oscar nominations, both for acting and writing); he filed for divorce from his fifth wife; he had a major one-man show of his artwork at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (the first, molto high profile exhibition under MOCA’s new director, Jeffrey Deitch, and curated by Hopper’s old friend, artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel). He also died, on May 29, following a protracted battle with prostate cancer.
And so his art collection goes to the block. The first installment—a cache of 30-something big dogs, the biggest being a Jean-Michel Basquiat mixed media work, Untitled, which garnered $5.8 million—was part of Christie’s November Post-War and Contemporary Art sales at Rockefeller Center (the works as a whole realized $12.8 million).
This Tuesday and Wednesday, January 11 and 12, as part of Christie’s Interiors sale, the remainder of Hopper’s collection will go under the gavel—nearly 300 items, many by major artists and erstwhile Hopper pals such as Andy Warhol, Wallace Berman, Bruce Conner, George Herms, Ed Ruscha, as well as Jasper John, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, Helmut Newton, Kenny Scharf, Gerhard Richter, even Lord of the Rings actor Viggo Mortensen (yet another Hopper chum). In addition, there’s memorabilia and ephemera like Hopper’s annotated script from Easy Rider.
As much as giving insight into a creative man who was unafraid to draw, walk and transgress his own lines, the collection also gives more than a glimpse into the arts “scene” that formed in Los Angeles in the late 1950s, centering first on Stone Brothers Printing, which art critic Walter Hopps and artists Wallace Berman and Robert Alexander launched in 1957 (and which soon became a gathering spot and creative cauldron for artists, writers, poets, musicians and actors who were questioning post-war conventions while marching toward the Age of Aquarius), as well as The Ferus Gallery, opened later in 1957 by Hopps and artist Ed Keinholz—and where Andy Warhol had his first-ever gallery show, 32 Soup Cans, in 1962 (Hopper later bought one of these seminal works: for $75).
What, then, does his collection say? Hopper may have been well “out there,” but there was also a real “there there”. What that may have been, I wouldn’t presume to say; I’ll leave that to Ph.D. candidates. But it’s interesting to ponder while looking at his picks.
Pictures from top:
Andy Warhol, Mao: one plate; screenprint in colors. Estimate: $20,000-30,000 (but let’s be real: the final price will likely be a multiple). One of the marquee lots, this full-sheet, framed screenprint of Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong is from Warhol’s iconic series from the 1970s. As the press release notes: “Hopper’s version is uniquely accessorized with two bullet holes—the result of a particularly wild night when Hopper mistook the portrait on his wall for Mao himself and shot at it. As the story goes, Hopper later showed the bullet punctures to his friend Warhol, and the pair agreed to call the work a collaboration, with Warhol drawing circles around the two holes and labeling them ‘warning shot’ and ‘bullet hole’.”
Roddy McDowall, Dennis Hopper; gelatin silver print, 1955. Estimate: $1,000-1,500.
Bruce Conner, Picnic on the Grass; assemblage, executed in 1962. Estimate: $10,000-15,000.
Wallace Berman, Untitled; verifax collage, 1963. Estimate: $12,000-18,000.
George Herms, Red Springs; mattress springs and scrap metal wall mounted assemblage, 1985. Estimate: $2,500-3,500.
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