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Michael Crichton Collection Preview at Christie’s Auction House, LA

March 22, 2010

In the cultural landscape of Los Angeles, an uncommon pleasure is available at Christie’s Auction house headquarters in Beverly Hills where for only seven days 42 works of art from the private collection of polymath Michael Crichton are on view before they make their way to the NY auction of post war and contemporary art in May.

The pleasures are many. The quality of the individual pieces is exquisite. The exhibition is thoughtfully installed with the reverence and erudition of a museum exhibition. But perhaps the greatest delight on display is the eye of the collector.

Collections reflect their owners. And great collections are built through the conscious and unconscious intuition of passionate consumers of visual art. Crichton wielded narrative tension in his literary output and a fascination for tension, implied and overt, metaphoric and literal, can be felt throughout the works on display. These synaptic leaps pull together Picasso and Johns, Mark Tansey and Agnes Martin, Rauschenberg and Ruscha in ways that illuminate and expand not only each artist’s artistic paradigm but also visual concerns of post-war art history.

Mark Tansey, Push/Pull, 2003, 84 x 109 inches

Christie’s Images Limited 2010

The large Mark Tansey painting Push/Pull, 2003 is executed in Tansey’s signature grisaille, this time pale blue. It depicts adventurers on a cold watery landscape divided approximately midway on the horizontal picture plane. The reflection in the water is of Egyptian pyramids and the Sphinx while the landscape that hovers above is a windswept arctic glacier. Upon further examination these snowy mountains reveal themselves to be an anamorphic image of a walking female figure. This latter image can only be seen if one views the painting from about a 10-degree angle. With each answer the picture provides four questions.

Robert Raushenberg, Studo Painting, 1960-61, 72x 72 inches

Christie’s Images Limited, 2010

The tensions continue with a marvelous Rauschenberg combine diptych. Studio Painting, 1960 is filled with bold colorful brushstrokes mimicking abstract expressionist tropes. The two panels are hung about four inches apart and are pulled together by a rope fastened to the center of the left panel. This rope extends to the right and is looped through a pulley and weighted by a filled canvas bag, which hangs beyond the plane of the bottom right section. Pop art’s dialogue with Abstract Expressionism is made manifest further by a silk-screened image of telephone poles in the upper left hand corner.

Jasper Johns, Study for a Painting, 2002, Encaustic on Linen, 63 x 78 inches

Christie’s Images Limited, 2010

Tension can whisper as well. Jasper Johns’ Cantenary painting is just such a stage whisper. The encaustic painting Study for a Painting, 2002 bears the luscious tactility of sheet lead. It’s the same metallic grey that his sculptmetal objects bear and it both absorbs and reflects light. Two wooden slates are attached vertically with hinges, one to the left and right. The slates recall the rulers used for Device Circle, 1960 or Good Time Charley, 1962. A single cotton twine creates an arc descending from the top left to the top right in graceful gravitational collaboration.

Roy Lichtenstein, Girl in Water, 1965

Christie’s Images Limited, 2010

Similar visual oppositions can be witnessed in the pale blue and pink stripes of an Agnes Martin Painting (Untitled #14); The locks of hair and the reflected water in Lichtenstein’s Girl in Water, 1965 a sensational collage and drawing; and the sexual male/female innuendo bravado of Oldenberg’s Hanging Three Way Plug, 1970.

Crichton’s aesthetic fascination also held an interesting pendulum swing of scale. While the major pieces in this collection are significant in scale, there are gems of intimate scale as well. Hung almost with nonchalance over a phone in the hallway of the Beverley Hills exhibition space is a 5-inch square Tansey pencil drawing Eve, 1982.

There are several other epiphany instances but suffice it to say that the quality of each work does not rest with this curatorial red thread. It’s simply marvelous however to pursue viewing the collection with this in mind.

-Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, March 2010

Monday March 5th through March 12th, 2010
Christie’s Beverley Hills
360 North Camden Drive, CA 90210

Christie’s Press Release


My awareness and delight of Michael Crichton’s writings was inverted to many who became fans of this prolific and imaginative author. Long before Jurassic Park and ER became touchstones to American pop culture, I read and reread his smart monograph on Jasper Johns. Published in 1977 in conjunction with an exhibition at the Whitney Museum that same year, it was, I suspect, the first monograph that I owned and read cover to cover. Probably a couple of decades passed till I made the blinding connection that the Michael Crichton whose writing I so admired and whose conversational and humble prose introduced me to Jasper Johns was the same author of bestseller fiction, groundbreaking tent pole movie blockbusters and sweeping television series.

-MMM, LA, 2010


From → Fine Art

One Comment
  1. Thea Klapwald permalink

    I was lucky enough to see this with you, and Wolfgang, and thought it was intriguing. I look forward to reading some of his art crit.

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