By Carter B. Horsley
S. Cramer has been one of the country's leading collectors of
contemporary art for several decades.
The producer of such television series as "Dynasty,"
"The Love Boat," "The Odd Couple," "The
Brady Bunch" and "Mission Impossible," Mr. Cramer
was a classmate of Jim Dine, the artist, at high school in Cincinatti
and his mother, Polly Cramer, was an interior designer who wrote
a nationally syndicated newspaper column. He became a broadcast
supervisor on Lever Brothers and General Foods programs at Ogilvy
& Mather, the New York advertising agency before becoming
Director of Program Planning at ABC Television in 1962. In 1966,
he moved to Los Angeles to become vice president of television
program development at 20th Century Fox and the following year
he married Joyce Haber, a gossip columnist for the Los Angeles
Times according to a catalogue essay by Dominick Dunne on Mr.
Cramer. Their collection was sold at Sotheby's when they divorced
and he become executive vice president in charge of production
for Paramount Television and then in 1971 formed the Douglas S.
Cramer Company and in 1976 joined Aaron Spelling Productions.
He had a beach house in Trancas, California, adjacent to the home
of Marcia and Fred Weisman, who were leading art collectors. Marcia
Weisman was the sister of Norton Simon, the collector. In 1980
he bought a range north of Santa Barbara, California, and when
he sold the ranch his foundation donated more than 100 works of
art to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary
Art, the Tate Modern and other institutions. He was a founder
of the Los Angles museum of contemporary Art and was president
of its board of trustees from 1990 to 1993 and recently completed
a term as chairman of the Painting and Sculpture Committee of
the Museum of Modern Art in New York where he became a trustee
in 1993. Mr. Cramer moved back to the East Coast in 1997 and purchased
an estate in Roxbury, Connecticut, and is now focusing on acquiring
the work of emerging artists.
The auction catalogue, whose front and back covers are illustrated
with photographs of artists in the collection, also includes essays
on Mr. Cramer's collection by Robert Rosenblum and Jeffrey Deitch.
Lot 14, "Montez Singing," shown at the top of this article,
is a 75 1/4 by 50 1/4-inch encaustic and sand on canvas that was
painted by Jasper Johns (b. 1930) in 1989. It has an estimate
of $3,500,000 to $4,500,000. It sold for $3,745,750 including
the buyer's premium and was the highest priced work to sell at
this auction, which was extremely successful with all 30 lots
selling for a total of $20,748,,950, a bit over the pre-sale high
estimate. Following on the heels of a not very successful sale
the evening before at Christie's, it demonstrated again this season
that "single collector" sales tend to fare much better
than general auctions.
Johns was influenced in this work by a 1936 Picasso painting of
a woman in a straw hat. "It became extremely poetic, something
conveys many meanings at once. While looking at it, it interested
me that Picasso had constructed a face with features on the outer
edge. I started thinking in that direction, and it led me to use
the rectangle of the paper as a face and attaching features to
it," the artist is quoted in the catalogue as having said
in Michael Crichton's 1994 book, Jasper Johns. The catalogue,
however, goes on to observe that the artist also had recalled
a 1952 article by Bruno Bettelheim in Scientific American on the
art of a schizophrenic child and had illustrated a drawing by
a disturbed young girl that seemed very similar to Johns' design
of his 'rectangular head.'
"In the present work," the catalogue stated, "the
vast expanses of the 'skin' are marked with a draped handkerchief,
on which appears a boat with a red sail. The image refers to his
step-grandmother, Montez Johns, and illustrates, metonymically,
the 'singing' part of its title. Montez used to sing 'Red Sails
in the Sunset' while playing the piano, and Johns' allusion to
this personal memory thus accomplishes his intention of finding
an expression that is simultaneously adult and infantile. The
present work is exceptional in terms of this specific pattern
in that the frame face is now more fully figurative. Here, Johns
has added slightly curving lines, sketched off the left side of
the inner rectangle, to suggest hair, with two spheres at the
bottom of the lower edge further suggesting breasts.The intellectual
tributaries that meet together in Montez Singing elevate
it as a masterpiece of Johns' late expression. This cross-fertilization
of something exquisitely sophisticated with something powerfully,
almost effortlessly diagrammatic, imbues Montez Singing
with an extraordinary visual poise and precision. It also, however,
lends the viewer the feeling that this is a work, which relies
on the texture of personal memory, of woven fragments of a remembered
past, which one is not quite sure how to approach. This, in turn,
lends the work its potent, yet delicate poetry: in a sense, one
is witness to the visual equivalents of literary metonyms and
metaphors studously evoked in the subtlest of manners that only
the genius of Johns can achieve."
The reference to a handkerchief above refers to another very similar
version of this work in the artist's collection. In the work in
the auction, the image of the red sail appears to be on a rectangular
piece of paper.
This is an impressive work that recalls the whimsy of a Paul Klee,
albeit on an exploded scale, and the infinite spaces of some of
Richard Diebenkorn's work. The muted palette, the "lashes"
along the inner side of the painted "frame" and the
large red lips in closed but calm expression as well as the cut-off
circles and the triangular sectioning at the bottom are gently
resonant. Johns is very much about texture and this work is very
Another important work by Johns is Lot 10, "Untitled,"
a 47-by-89 1/4-inch charcoal on paper that was executed in 1986
and is based on his large 1984 work, "Untitled, (Red. Yellow,
Blue), an encaustic on three canvas panels, 55 1/4 by 118 1/4
inches, in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.
provides the following commentary on this lot:
"This drawing is a magnificent display of Johns' extraordinary
compositional abilities. He achieves a wonderful organic unity
in this drawing by marking a series of connections, be they through
text or visual devices.Downward-thrusting arrows force the impulse
of the drawing in a vigorous fashion, and yet the strong verticals
of the hands, engendering an extremely energetic movement, like
an invisible zigzag, across the sheet contrast this. Whilst the
work is based upon three independent sections, what makes it such
a remarkable drawing is the way that dissonance and assonance
come together to, ironically, form the most resolved structure.
Johns' technique here is nothing short of dazzling. One is mesmerized
by the combination of hatching, cross-hatching, rubbing, free
hand mark marking and stenciling. It is as if the work was a laboratory
of technical ideas, and yet they all cohere together.There is
a stunning marriage of ideas and technique; of concept and practice
in this drawing.It is this power of perturbation that marks the
genius of Johns as a towering influence in twentieth-century art
and Untitled remains one of the most powerful drawings he has
This lot has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold
for $2,535,750, almost 50 percent higher than the artist's previous
auction record for a drawing.
(1923-1997) is represented by several works in this sale.
Lot 12, "Swimming Figure with Mirror," shown above at
the left, is a oil and magna on canvas by Lichtenstein that measures
60 by 70 inches and was executed in 1977 and was once in the collection
of Marcia and Frederick Weisman. It has an estimate of $1,500,000
to $2,000,000. It sold for $1,875,750.
The catalogue provides the following commentary about this lot:
"Swimming Figure with Mirror is one of Roy Lichtenstein's
celebrated Surrealist paintings. It does not engage with
a single image, per se, however, there are many aspects to the
painting which one can attribute, in terms of influence, to various
Surrealist artists. The construction of the octopus-like female
form may be connected to Magritte's female forms, where mouth,
eyes nose and ears were reassembled, portraying the 'sitter' like
a gnomic totem, yet still distinguishable as a human 'form'. Indeed,
Lichtenstein's female figure (indicated as much by her flowing
golden hair, rosy lips and long lashes) appears to sit on a beach,
by the sea, just as Magritte's do. The way the form seems to 'emerge'
as a human form may also be connected to Dali's phantasmagoric
visages emerging from his cerebral landscapes. Underpinning the
whole composition is, of course, Picasso's work, particularly
his female forms of the early 1930s. The denaturing of the human
form, particularly the rotation of eyes and mouth, and the overlapping
of hair into body, owes a great debt to Picasso, as does the sensuous,
tactile 'refiguration' Lichtenstein present us with. Lichtenstein's
decision to work with the subject of Surrealism seems, at first,
a father curious one. Lichtenstein's work was, if anything else,
rational and ordered formally, and his unified compositions indicated
as much. The breaking down of form, and the subsequent elasticity
o meaning that was generated by the Surrealists seemed anathema
to the logic of Lichtenstein. However, for all of this, the artist
was intensely occupied wit the dynamics of twentieth-century art,
and his affinity for historicism compelled him to engage with
this movement. His logic, (one may almost call it his 'brand'),
when applied to Surrealism results in a shift of orthodoxy. Thus,
Lichtenstein's own practice, which, essentially, deconstructed
the orthodoxy of advertising, may be aligned with the Surrealist
concept of shifting the paradigms and parameters of any given
orthodoxy per se. Swimming Figure with Mirror is
a sumptuous example of Lichtenstein's take on Surrealism. He revels
in the flowing, sinuous form and bold colors, but maintains an
order and control through his extremely strong line. This painting
is wonderfully graphic, typical of the artist's whole oeuvre,
yet it still evokes the power and presentation of the Surrealist
Lot 1, "Brushstroke," is a painted bronze sculpture,
31 3/8 inches high, shown at the right in the above photograph.
It was executed in 1981 and is number 4 of an edition of 6. It
has a modest estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $247,750.
The catalogue provides the following commentary about this lot:
"His sculpture possesses that crisp, formal resonance that
blurs the boundaries between 'matter' and 'finish,' between 'subject'
and 'style,' which serves to confuse the polarity between 'High'
and 'Low' and which gives resonance to the philosophy of Pop.
This is nowhere more apparent than in Lichtenstein's plastic rendition
of a brushstroke, first seen in his paintings of the 1960s. If
the paintings playfully parodied the celebrated spontaneity of
Abstract Expressionism (the mark made being the product of an
existential anxiety) then the sculpture takes the artist at even
further remove. It is this flash of movement; the sweep of color;
the poise of balance; the very precariousness of the object, all
suspended in a distilled moment, that lends weight and dynamism
to Lichtenstein's bronze sculpture, both delighting and captivating
the viewer like no other work in the artist's sculptural oeuvre."
Lichtenstein's painted bronze sculptures, in fact, are considerably
stronger than most of his paintings in part because their almost
lacquered finish and raised surfaces give a more saturated and
strongly definition to his vision than the paintings that are
much flatter and duller in appearance.
Lot 7, "Mirror
#1," is a large oval painting of a mirror, shown above, by
Lichtenstein that was once in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. S.
I. Newhouse Jr. The 60-by-48-inch oil and magna on canvas was
executed in 1969 and has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000.
It sold for $2,150,750, more than three times the previous
auction record for a Lichtenstein "mirror."
The artist did about 50 paintings of mirrors from 1969 to 1972
and the catalogue notes that "Later paintings in the series
introduced bands of solid colors, such as green and blue as well
as colored Benday patterns in red or yellow." Based on catalogue
reproductions, the catalogue maintains that this work "is
the most elegant and graphically pure painting of the series,"
adding that it "is in essence about the sheer beauty and
harmony of line."
The auction has two early and good works by Frank Stella (b. 1936),
Lots 16 and 20. The former, entitled "Pagosa Springs,"
is an "H"-shaped, metallic copper paint on shaped canvas
on board, 27 by 27 inches, that was executed in 1962. The latter,
entitled "Honduras Lottery Co.," is a alkyd on canvas,
85 inches square, that was executed the same year. Both have estimates
of $300,000 to $400,000. Lot 16 sold for $445,750 and Lot 20
sold for $720,750.
Another Stella is Lot 28, "Montenegro II," a lacquer
and oil on aluminum, 90 by 119 inches, that was executed in 1975,
one of his metal reliefs that, according to the catalogue, "represent
Stella's grandest conceptual leap within his oeuvre, always from
the reductive variations of his striped paintings toward a more
dimensional exploration of constructed pictorial space."
"These works addressed Cubism and Constructivist theory in
increasingly dramatic relief, complemented by a more complex vocabulary
of shapes and more expressive painterly surface. Stella considers
the wall reliefs as paintings, not sculptures, maintaining a relationship
between his painted surface and the wall," it added. The
work is from the artist's 1972-4 Brazilian series, in which
each work is named for neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro that the
artist had recently revisited.
This lot has a modest estimate of $180,000 to $250,000. It
sold for $181,750.
Lot 6, shown
above, is a small but fine acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas,
14 by 19 inches, by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) that is entitled "Hammer
& Sickle." Executed in 1976, it has a modest estimate
of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $126.750.
Lot 17 is an untilted, arc sculpture in corten steel, 119 1/2
by 144 inches, by Richard Serra (b. 1939) that was executed in
1984. It has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for
$1,215,750, smashing the previous auction record for the artist
shown above, is "Untitled," by Edward Ruscha (b. 1937),
an acrylic on canvas, 60 by 112 inches, that was executed in 1989
and has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. The image of a Standard
Oil gasoline station relates to photographs made by the artist
of such stations in 1962. It sold for $685,750, way above the
previous auction record for the artist of $464,500.
"Red White Blue," by Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923), a 103-by-30-inch
oil and canvas executed in 1968, sold for $1,435,750, breaking
the artist's auction of $1,215,750.