Art/Auctions logo

Contemporary Art

from the Douglas S. Cramer Collection


Wednesday, November 14, 2001, 7PM

Sale 7726

"Montez Singing" by Jasper Johns
Lot 14, "Montez Singing," by Jasper Johns, encaustic and sand on canvas, 75 1/4 by 50 1/4 inches, 1989

By Carter B. Horsley

Douglas 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 painterly.

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.

The catalogue 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 ever completed."

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.

"Swimming Figure with Mirror," left, and "Brushstroke," right by Roy Lichtenstein

Lot 12, "Swimming Figure with Mirror, by Roy Lichtenstein, oil and magna on canvas, 60 by 70 inches, 1977, left, and Lot 1, "Brushstroke," by Roy Lichtenstein, a painted bronze, 31 3/8 inches high, 1981, number 4 of an edition of 6.

Roy Lichtenstein (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 dogma."

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.

"Mirror #1" by Roy Lichtenstein

Lot 7, "Mirror #1," by Roy Lichtenstein, oil and magna on canvas, 60 by 48 inches, oval, 1969

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.

"Hammer & Sickle" by Andy Warhol

Lot 6, "Hammer & Sickle," by Andy Warhol, acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, 14 by 19 inches, 1976

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 of $431,500.

"Untitled" by Edward Ruscha

Lot 25, "Untitled," by Edward Ruscha, acrylic on canvas, 60 by 112 inches, 1989

Lot 25, 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.

Lot 11, "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.


See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's that follows this auction November 14, 2001

See The City Review article on the Post-War Art evening auction at Christie's November 13, 2001

See The City Review article on Contemporary Art evening auction at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourgh November 12, 2001

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction in the Spring of 2001

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's May 15, 2001

See The City Review article on the Christie's Post-War Art evening auction May 16, 2001

See The City Review article on the Post-War art day auction at Christie's May 17, 2001

See The City Review article on Post War Art evening auction at Christie's, Nov. 15, 2000

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's, Nov. 14, 2000

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Phillips, Nov. 13, 2000

See The City Review article on Contemporary Art Part II auction at Phillips, Nov. 14, 2000

See The City Review Article on the May 18-9 Contemporary Art auctions at Phillips

See The City Review article on the May 16, 2000 evening auction of Contemporary Art at Christie's

See The City Review article on the May 17, 2000 Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall, 1999 auction of Contemporary Art at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Sotheby's Nov. 17, 1999 auction of Contemporary Art

See The City Review article on the auctions of Contemporary Art from a European Private Collection and Contemporary Art, Part 2, at Sotheby's Nov. 18, 1999

See The City Review article on the May 18, 1999 Contemporary Art Auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on Contemporary Art Part 2 auction at Sotheby's May 19, 1999

See The City Review article on the Christie's, May 19, 1999 Contemporary Art auction

See The City Review article on the Christie's, May 20, 1999 Contemporary Art Part 2 auction

Use the Search Box below to quickly look up articles at this site on specific artists, architects, authors, buildings and other subjects



Home Page of The City Review