Christie's to offer property from the Collection of Senator Frank R. Lautenberg

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Christie's to offer property from the Collection of Senator Frank R. Lautenberg
Jasper Johns’s (b. 1937) Flags 1 screenprint in colors, from 1973. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2013.

NEW YORK, NY.- Christie’s will offer artworks from the collection of Senator Frank R. Lautenberg in a series of sales in New York this fall and next spring. Well-known as a five-term senator from New Jersey and successful co-founder and CEO of Automatic Data Processing Inc., Lautenberg was also an ardent philanthropist and art collector. His life epitomized the American Dream: Growing up in poverty, he served in World War II and earned his college degree through the GI Bill, then parlayed an innovative idea – payroll processing services – into a successful multinational business. He served on the board of the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey and supported several political campaigns before being urged to run for the office of U.S. Senator in 1982. A popular legislator, he was reelected four more times by large margins and was the Senate’s last serving World War II veteran when he died in June of this year.

Lautenberg was equally successful, if less well-known, as an art collector, accumulating works that echoed his highly personal vision of America: patriotic, progressive and multifaceted. He assembled a collection of some of the best Post-War and Contemporary artists and photographers, predominantly American, with a discerning eye, including Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Edward Ruscha, Cindy Sherman, and Andy Warhol. His collection also includes works by French Modernist Fernand Léger, and mid-century photographer Robert Frank, and New Jersey native Alfred Stieglitz. His extraordinary collection of paintings, multimedia works, photographs, and lithographs will be offered in various sales in fall 2013 and spring 2014: Prints and Multiples (Oct. 29), Impressionist and Modern Art (Nov. 6), Post-War and Contemporary Art (Nov. 12 – 13), and Photographs (April 20, 2014).

“Sen. Lautenberg was a passionate collector of artists whose works capture the complexity of what it means to be American in the 20th and 21st centuries. We are honored to offer his collection and to share his appreciation for these signature works of great American artists and photographers.” declared Laura Paulson, Deputy Chairman, International Director – Post-War and Contemporary Art.

 Post-War and Contemporary Art
One highlight of the collection is Edward Ruscha's (b. 1937) cinematically scaled canvas Untitled, 1985, which is paradoxically both a patriotic and haunting image of that ultra-American emblem, the "Stars and Stripes," in all her glory. The American flag became a Pop Art fixture in the 1950s when artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Claes Oldenburg began infusing familiar objects such as the flag with irony and anti-art gestures and complicated their representation with encrusted canvases, combines, and painted sculptures. By changing format, color, and medium, they challenged traditional representations of blandly familiar things. The common thread unifying all Ruscha's work is his exploration of the common image or object and his ability to elevate those simple images to fine art status. Ruscha, like many Pop artists, used serial repetition and often conveyed an ambiguous attitude toward his subject matter. In Ruscha's hands, however, this flag is no longer a ready-made symbol, but rather an object alive with both figurative and symbolic meaning. In this portrait, "Old Glory" blows majestically on a strong breeze. Ruscha handles the paint expertly, seamlessly depicting the voluptuous folds in the fabric with deeply shadowed ripples and layering. This painting is one of five renditions of the American flag that Ruscha painted between 1985 and 1987. One remains in the artist's collection, and the other three are in prestigious private and museum collections, including the collection of Emily Fischer Landau and the Bank of America collection. (Estimate: $1,500,000-2,500,000).

Jasper Johns’s (b. 1937) Flags 1 screenprint in colors, from 1973, is the definitive masterpiece of Jasper Johns' prolific career as a printmaker. Large in scale, and rendered in rich, multilayered color, the work has been praised as the most painterly and vivid of all his silkscreen paintings. Signature to Johns’ work is the use of a variety of media—from encaustic to silkscreen, bronze to charcoal—to actively provoke the viewer into an endless re-evaluation of everyday imagery. Working from a photograph of his own painting, Two Flags, executed the same year, Johns creates Flags 1 with the same staggering beauty and visual complexity, embedding it with new meaning and wonder. "To me the flag turned out to be something I had never observed before. I knew it was a flag, and had used the word 'flag'; yet I had never consciously seen it. I became interested in contemplating objects I had never before taken a really good look at,” declared Johns in 1978. Executed in 1973, Flags 1 holds special poignancy, as evokes at once the generational hope of the post-war period as well as the turbulent years after, which tested the patriotism of the entire country as the Vietnam War drew on. (Estimate: $250,000-350,000).

Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) Untitled, 1965, celebrates the passage of civil rights legislation, which took place in 1964-65 first championed by John F. Kennedy, carried through by Lyndon Johnston. Rauschenberg used a collection of mostly American icons of the time, as an allegory of the political events, the fight for liberty and equal rights. The most powerful images, the blue portrait of President John F. Kennedy is juxtaposed against another black-and-white picture of the president pointing a finger. Robert Rauschenberg’s political and social views radically changed in response to the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. JFK became an American popular icon, and the artist repeated the image of the president frequently in his silkscreen paintings of first half of the sixties. As Pop art emerged, Rauschenberg used some of the visual language of contemporaries such as Andy Warhol. Most importantly, among the words contained on the street signs Rauschenberg used is the word STOP, which is verbal code to communicate with the viewer in the same way that his images utilize a visual code. The work of Rauschenberg is a quintessential point of reference in American art. Unlike the artists of post-WWII movements in Europe, Rauschenberg stresses that his inspiration and line of thinking have no social or political undertones. However, it is very difficult not to attribute political significance to a piece of art that uses portraits of prominent political figures or commemorative monuments such as the profile of the Native American, which is in full color and not in duotones and shows a dichotomy to the progress taking place in the lands that once belonged to them, (Estimate: $300,000-500,000).

Edward Ruscha’s Gasoline Stations, 1962, is a portfolio of 10 gelatin silver prints, number 16 of 25, (Estimate: $60,000-80,000). Ruscha originally conceived the portfolio as a way to report the "news" from his numerous road trips across the United States on Route 66 between Oklahoma City and Los Angeles, where he was located at the time.

The collection also includes a complete set of ten Campbell's Soup I screen prints in colors, from 1968, by Andy Warhol. Based in Camden, NJ, the Campbell Soup Company was more than a pop art symbol to Senator Lautenberg, it represented jobs and significant philanthropic investment in the Camden area (Estimate: $200,000-300,000).

Untitled #196, executed in 1989, is a seminal image in which Cindy Sherman (b. 1954) captures in a single iconic self-image the principal themes that define the artist’s oeuvre. Through the incorporation and imitation of costumes, poses, interiors and settings that characterize classical portraiture, this series digs deeply into the canon of European art. Untitled #196 evokes familiar American portraits of the Founding Fathers, such as George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. It is a tribute to his signature combination of patriotism and willingness to challenge the status quo that Sen. Lautenberg hung this compelling portrait in living room of his New Jersey residence. (Estimate: $180,000-220,000)

 Impressionist and Modern Art
Painted in 1951, Fernand Léger’s Untitled (Still Life with Dove) is one of a series that the artist created in the early 1950s featuring birds in flight. This modernist and schematic treatment of an essentially natural scene embodies Léger's mature oeuvre and captures his colorful, joyful vision at this late stage in his career, (Estimate: $600,000-800,000). The dove symbol of love and peace had a deep significance for the Senator who championed the cause of peace in the Middle East and worked to strengthen relations between the U.S. and Israel during his entire 30-year Senate career.

 Photographs
The collection includes a selection of photographs signed by Edward S. Curtis, Robert Frank, and Alfred Stieglitz, among others, which will be offered in April 2014 at auction. Sen. Lautenberg’s life story is reflected in the photographic works he collected, ranging from a 1907 Alfred Stieglitz image of immigrants in steerage class on an ocean liner, to a 1986 color photograph of the Meadowlands marsh in New Jersey, where in 2003, the state opened a new railroad station bearing his name, in homage to his tireless advocacy for public transportation. An image from Swiss photographer Robert Frank’s seminal “Les Américains” series, City Fathers, Hoboken (taken in 1955 and published in 1958), captures a timeless image of political pomp in nearby Hoboken, NJ, where top-hatted city officials were celebrating the city’s centennial in 1955 (Estimate: $40,000-60,000).

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