Picasso, Degas and Johns, Oh My!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Collectors spread throughout the small rooms of the exhibit at Sotheby’s murmured amongst themselves, taking pictures of pieces of interest. “Look, this one’s hardly seen any light” a visitor said. “I think she’s the only one who’s ever owned it.”

They were there for Magnificent Gestures: Masterworks from the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Collection, a selection from the collection of Dr. Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel and Ambassador Carl Spielvogel. But the exhibition won’t be there for long. Starting November 14th the collection will go to auction over the course of four days.

“About five years ago we were approached by Dr. Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel and Ambassador Carl Spielvogel about the sale of their collection” said Lisa Dennison, Chairwoman of Sotheby’s Americas. “They said that they wanted to start a foundation, and have the proceeds from the sale of their collection go to said foundation.” And true to their wishes, that’s exactly what’s happening. Dr. Diamonstein-Spielvogel and Ambassador Spielvogel did create a foundation in their names, and the proceeds from the auction will be going to a few causes that the couple holds closest, medical research, history and public policy and education.

“You know, when we call it Magnificent Gestures we mean it in more ways than one” said Dennison. “You have the gestures by the masterful hands that created these works, and all of the proceeds are going to these causes.

“Originally they wanted the collection to stay together as a single sale” Dennison continued. “That evolved into this auction after some time, but we’ve treated it like a single sale. We’ve shown it all together, and we’ve marketed it all together.”

Dr. Diamonstein-Spielvogel has held an unfaltering commitment to art for her entire life and career. She was the first woman Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the longest-serving New York City Landmarks Preservation Commissioner and is the current Chair of the New York State Council on the Arts. She and her husband started their collection in the 1980s, amassing  diverse works on paper from artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Edgar Degas. But perhaps the highlight of the exhibition is the group of seven works by Jasper Johns. “He doesn’t believe in a hierarchy of mediums. Sculpture, canvas, paper, they’re all on the same level to him” Dennison said.

In the first room of the auction space is Johns’s ink and crayon Numbers. The piece is hanging on a charcoal grey wall alone, commanding the space. While the surrounding Johns’ pieces lay against white walls. “I don’t know how she managed to get these,” Dennison said with a bit of awe

“Let’s call this the expensive room” Dennison joked leading to the next room of the exhibition, which featured works by Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.

Continuing through the exhibition, the next room holds the rest of the works by Jasper Johns, works by Roy Lichtenstein, which he did as studies of his future paintings.

“Their collection was hung in a very salon style with impressionist over contemporary over modern” Dennison said of Diamonstein-Speivogel’s personal style. “In here we decided to organize in the same spirit.”

True to that spirit, abstraction leads right into the “Women’s Room,” at the center of which is a stunning, double sided drawing by Matisse. The timeless fascination for artists, women in the nude, is well represented around the room with additional works from various artists such as Salvador Dali and Edgar Degas.

“Degas had a fascination with the ballerinas” Dennison said. “He was intrigued by the way they held their bodies when dancing, when not dancing. He would actually draw them in the nude to make sure he got the muscles and tones right, and then he would add the tutus.”

The final room of the exhibition holds a stunning portrait by Lucian Freud entitled Portrait of a Woman, and depicts Clarissa Eden, wife of Anthony Eden, British Prime Minister from 1955 to 1957, and niece of Winston Churchill.

“They collected this all without advisors” said Dennison. “Sometimes when you look at a collection you can tell that they used one dealer for the whole thing, but not with this one. You can tell that there were many dealers from America, from Europe, it’s wonderful.”

The ranging styles at artists throughout the collection truly highlighted Diamonstein-Spielvogel’s appreciation for all art, but Dennison listed the works of Johns and Lichtenstein as potential favorites for the couple because of their sheer number. It’s a collection that must be hard to relinquish. But the Spielvogels wanted to see that the proceeds go to the causes they believe make a difference within their lifetimes. And after November 17th, they’ll be able to do just that.


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