Laura Vere-Hodge of Christies walks along a gallery containing Picasso's "Femme et Fillettes" (L) and "Flag" by artist Jasper Johns at the auction house in London February 5, 2010. The paintings are part of the collection of Michael Crichton, best selling author of Jurassic Park, which will highlight a sale of post-war and contemporary art at Christies in New York on May 11. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs.
LONDON - Christie’s is honored to announce that it will offer at auction this spring in New York major works from the collection of the late Michael Crichton. Best-selling author and screenwriter, film director and producer, Crichton is renowned for his terrifying and sometimes controversial scientific thrillers such as The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Timeline, The Lost World, Rising Sun, and State of Fear, and for creating the television series ER.
Crichton is also acknowledged as a leading authority on the American artist Jasper Johns. Crichton’s novels have sold more than 150 million copies worldwide; they have been translated into 36 languages, and many have been made into blockbuster movies. He wrote and directed classic films such as The Great Train Robbery with Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland. In 1994, Crichton became the only creative artist ever to have works simultaneously charting at Number 1 in television, film, and book sales (with ER, Jurassic Park and Disclosure, respectively).
Early in his career, Crichton developed a keen interest in contemporary art and friendships with David Hockney (who made a portrait of Crichton in 1976), Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg and Claes Oldenburg. In the 1970s, Crichton also became a close friend and an avid collector of Jasper Johns. He was asked by Johns to write the catalogue for his major retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1977. This publication and its revised and expanded edition are considered one of the preeminent studies on America’s foremost living artist.
In 2006 Crichton was appointed to the board of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Crichton was modest about his role as collector, and only his close friends and family were fully aware of the quality and comprehensive range of his collection. “I never really cared whether a particular piece was major or minor, typical or atypical of the artist’s work, or whether the artist was fully or thinly represented in my collection,” Crichton wrote. “I just bought images that I enjoyed looking at, and in the end, that is the only significance that I attach to them. I feel fortunate to have been able to live with the works.”
“It is a unique opportunity for collectors and institutions to have access to these works from such an extraordinary private collection,” said Brett Gorvy, Deputy Chairman of Christie’s,Americas. “Michael was the rarest breed of collector: a true renaissance man in every sense, whose passion for art was fueled by his search for answers to the basic tenets of art. In the same way Michael challenged accepted scientific dogma, he continually challenged his own understanding of an artist or work of art.He became intimate friends with artists and responded as a creative equal to their own searches and challenges.He was able to assemble an amazing range of rare works, acquired over thirty years with passion and quiet dedication.He collected artists in depth to truly know them. These works were chosen with an intense intellect and instinct, and understood through direct relationships with some of the greatest artists of the 20th century.”
Christie’s will be showcasing four important works from the collection of Michael Crichton as part of the preview exhibition of major Post-War and Contemporary Art to be sold at Christie’s in London next week.The works will be on public view from Saturday 6 February to Friday 12 February. “ While specific estimates will not be set until after the London sales,” stated Brett Gorvy, “the aggregate estimate of the four works will be in the region of GBP 20 million ($30 million).”
“This exhibit in London is an incredible insight into the mind and personal journey that Michael Crichton made as a collector,” says Brett Gorvy. “We will show wonderful works by Picasso, Lichtenstein, Johns and Rauschenberg - artists whom Michael ranked as the greatest of our age.We are thrilled to be exhibiting an extremely rare example of Jasper Johns’ Flag, one of the most famous icons of American art. Johns’ Flags had an enormous impact on artists worldwide. It is an image which literally changed the course of art history.”
The works on view in London will be:
• Jasper Johns, Flag, 1960-1966
• Robert Rauschenberg, Studio Painting (Combine), 1960-1961
• Pablo Picasso, Femme et fillettes (Woman and Children), 1961
• Roy Lichtenstein, Girl in Water, 1965
A spokesperson for the Crichton family states, “Michael was a visionary. He loved art and treasured his relationships with artists. It is a very difficult decision to sell works that have had such a personal place in his world.We are confident that the auctions and exhibitions at Christie’s will commemorate Michael’s eye and deep passion for art.” Jasper Johns' Flag
Jasper Johns’ Flag, 1960-66, a painstakingly beautiful rendition of the American flag in encaustic, has never been on the public market. It was acquired by Michael Crichton over thirty years ago directly from the artist’s own collection. It was last seen in public 18 years ago as part of a major Pop Art survey organized originally by the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
Jasper Johns’ Flag paintings are credited as the first icons of Pop Art, ending the supremacy of the Abstract Expressionism of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, and opening the gates to the everyday consumer images of Warhol and Lichtenstein. “Alongside the Mona Lisa and Warhol’s Marilyn, Jasper Johns’ Flag has become one of the great cultural artifacts of all time,” states Christie’s Brett Gorvy.
The critic Robert Rosenblum wrote of Johns’ Flag paintings: “Is it blasphemous, disrespectful, simple-minded or recondite?”
Jasper Johns recounted to Michael Crichton how he was inspired to paint the Flag pictures as the result of a dream. Crichton wrote,“Johns had a dream in which he saw himself painting a large American flag. Soon after, he did his first one, in encaustic. He recalls thinking: ‘It was something I could do that would be mine’. Paradoxically, in that impersonal image, the young artist found his self-identity.”
Johns told Crichton that “using the design of the American flag ‘took care of a great deal of things for me because I didn’t have to design it. So I went on to similar things like the targets – things the mind already knows.That gave me room to work on other levels... Flags and targets are both things which are seen and not looked at, not examined, and they both have clearly defined areas which could be measured and transferred to canvas.’”
Crichton described further: “the act of painting a flag at this time seemed to many observers an absurdity: an American flag might be many things, but it was certainly not art. Yet Johns presented a carefully worked, elegantly executed painting. Such a painting was surely art – or was it? That became a problem for the viewer, alone. Johns is gone; he has already made the painting, he has already presented the problem.The viewer is left to resolve it as best he can.”
It was this ambiguity and cool detachment that inspired Michael Crichton to want to better understand Johns’ art. He has said of his 1977 Johns catalogue: “I agreed to do it because… Johns was in those days very reclusive and mysterious. I figured if I wrote the catalogue, he would have to answer all my questions.”
Jasper Johns’ Flag is painted in encaustic, a difficult, seldom-used technique that dates back to the Egyptians in which pigment and collage elements such as newspaper are mixed with hot wax and applied to a surface. The fast-setting medium of encaustic enabled Johns to make each brushstroke distinct, while the forty-eight-star, red, white and blue flag design – contiguous with the perimeters of the canvas – provided a structure for the richly varied surface, which ranges from translucent to opaque.