Art Market Watch
The word ephemera can be traced to the Greek word ephemeros, meaning literally “lasting only one day.” Many of the unusual collectibles in artnet’s “Artist Ephemera” auction, which closes on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011, originated in such a transitory manner. A chance encounter with an artist at an opening, for instance, might result in a small drawing on an announcement or other scrap of paper, captured on the spur of the moment.
In just such a way was a group of 41 drawings assembled for Burt Britton at the Strand Book Store, by Berenice Abbott, Arman, Philip Guston, Alex Katz, John Wesley and other notable literati who frequented the store in the 1970s. While they were browsing, Britton asked if they would create a self-portrait. Occasionally they would oblige by sketching quirky and spontaneous portrayals of themselves on book pages and paper bags. Estimates for each drawing range from $700 to $15,000.
Alexander Calder’s friendship in the 1970s with his print publisher George Gordon yielded some special favors. Calder painted his familiar monograph on a work shirt and a necktie and both are included in the sale (est. $6,000-$8,000 each). Warhol did a similar mitzvah for his printer, Rupert Jason Smith. In 1980, while artist and printer were busy silkscreening laundry bags with images of Joseph Beuys, the artist took a break and drew dollar signs on a spare bag and then signed and dedicated it to Smith, who cherished it until his death in 1989 (est. $5,000-$7,000).
In 1963, to celebrate a special birthday, Robert Motherwell gave his wife, Abstract Expressionist painter Helen Frankenthaler, a handmade card containing a watercolor on the front and a birthday greeting on the back (est. $3,000-$4,000). The couple was together from 1958 until their divorce in 1971. The erotic wedding invitation of another famous couple (est. $1,200-$1,500) is in the sale. In 1991, Jeff Koons engaged Annie Leibovitz to photograph him and his porn star fiancée (and former Italian MP), La Cicciolina (Ilona Staller). The couple posed naked under a garland of lilies. The invitation is quite rare, since the couple was married in Budapest and sent out very few invitations. They were divorced a year later.
One of the rarest objects in the sale is a signed exhibition poster along with a signed invitation from Jean-Michel Basquiat’s exhibition in 1988. It would turn out to be Basquiat’s final show before his untimely death a few months later (est. $6,000-$7,000).
The sale includes a marvelous trove of vintage Pop posters, cards and catalogues, including an invitation to Roy Lichtenstein’s very first exhibition at Leo Castelli in 1962. “Castelli Handshake Poster,” 1962 (est. $1,200–$1,800) announces “Opening Saturday, February 10, all day,” with the Castelli Gallery at 4 East 77th Street. A poster to Lichtenstein’s very first opening at the famed Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles is also included in the auction. “Sock Announcement,” 1963 (est. $3,000-$3,500), was also signed by the artist at the opening.
The sale offers an exact replica of Marcel Duchamp’s 1937 chessboard (est. $1,200-$1,500) fashioned into a wooden case that contains an exhibition catalogue from a 1991 exhibition at the Van de Velde Gallery. Featuring numerous facsimile reproductions of Duchamp’s works, as well as a cassette tape containing an interview and photograph of the artist at 85 years old, it is a must-have for Duchampians.
A one-of-a-kind item is a group of six gallery sign-in books signed “tagged” by the most famous graffiti artists of the 1980s (est. $2,500-$3,500) from the collection of Rich Colicchio and Ed Kurpell, who founded 51X Gallery, the famous St. Marks Place hub for graffiti artists (the artists Crash and Zephyr both had their first shows at the gallery and their tags are in the books).
The Artist Ephemera sale is live for bidding on artnet Auctions August 17-24, 2011.