Gray’s to Auction Pollocks, Jim Dine, and Frank Stella from the Jacobs Group Collection Tomorrow
Are you looking to buy a Jackson Pollock? I’ll wager you didn’t know you could buy one right here in Cleveland tomorrow – well, if you make the winning bid. Most people are familiar with the big name auction houses – Sotheby’s and Christies move original works of art by famous artists like Pollock regularly. But there is a thriving secondary market for top-notch art across the country, many miles away from the swanky Manhattan auction rooms. Here in Cleveland, Gray’s Auctioneers on Detroit Avenue has been auctioning off fine art, antiques, and decorative arts since 2006. Tomorrow at 11am, Gray’s will be offering works from the Richard E. Jacobs Group’s Art Collection in an auction that includes pieces by Jackson Pollock, Jim Dine, Frank Stella, and photographs by one of the pioneers of color photography, Joel Sternfeld. The demise of corporate art collections such as the Jacobs Group’s has flooded the secondary market with amazing opportunities for collectors, and also for people looking to start collecting fine art (who knows, maybe even you?).
In the 1960s and 1970s it became fashionable for large corporations to collect art, but this trend had reached something of a peak by the 1990s when Dick Jacobs and his brother David began seriously collecting for their corporate headquarters. The Jacobs brothers were real estate magnates, having made their fortunes during the “mall boom” of the 1980s (far from their humble beginnings in Akron – Dick’s first job was peeling potatoes at a Swensons). They built the Galleria at Erieview in 1987, which was the first retail shopping mall in downtown Cleveland, as well as the 57-story Key Center on Public Square designed by the renowned architect César Pelli, that is the tallest building between New York and Chicago. But they are perhaps best known for buying the languishing Cleveland Indians baseball team in 1986 for $40 million, and subsequently turning them into the contender that they are today (during their tenure the team went to the World Series twice, and won five consecutive divisional championships). Jacobs Field was the family’s crowning achievement – the new ballpark replaced the deteriorating Municipal Stadium, and was a much more appropriate size for baseball crowds – today known as Progressive Field, I still affectionately refer to the park as “the Jake”.
But in addition to his love of baseball, Dick Jacobs loved art. In 1990, Richard E. Jacobs was listed as one of the Top 200 Art Collectors of the year, alongside big names such as John P. Getty II, Henry John Heinz III, the Gunds, the Broads, Joseph Pulitzer, Jacob Rothschild, David Geffen, and Charles Saatchi. Jacobs bought art to furnish his Manhattan townhouse, but also for his two-floor penthouse at the top of Winton Place in Lakewood, as well as his company offices. At the time, he employed Citibank art advisers (already familiar with building a corporate collection), one of which was Jeffrey Deitch, who went on to become a major player in the New York art scene. In Cleveland Magazine, March 1987, Deitch said of Jacobs: “He’s becoming one of the great American collectors. He collects like a museum, getting really superb examples of artists who made significant contributions. He’s also given himself a remarkable education in art history. He has astute judgment and very good instincts.”
Hanging art in the hallways, corner offices, and on the walls of the boardrooms was great for Jacobs’ public relations, but was mostly meant to show off the company’s philanthropy and good taste. The bulk of these collections were not open to public view, but like many corporations, Jacobs used the vast public lobby of Key Tower to make a large statement. It was there that he installed perhaps the most famous of his acquisitions, James Rosenquists’ Pop masterpiece, F111 in 1991. The 10-foot-high, 86-foot-long painting was fairly controversial when it was made in 1964; the imagery of a sleek military jet alongside consumer products, spaghetti, and a smiling child was critical of American military power and consumer culture at the height of the Vietnam War. There in the lobby it greeted people as they entered the 947-foot tall skyscraper until 1996 when Jacobs sold the painting to New York’s Museum of Modern Art for an undisclosed sum (the deal was brokered by his advisor, Jeffrey Deitch who was then director of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art). Tom Hinson, a curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art lamented the painting’s departure from Cleveland, saying that he and the late Director Robert Bergman tried several times to meet with Jacobs to discuss a possible arrangement to have the museum acquire the vast painting, but, he said, “We could never do it. We could never arrange it.”
The huge blank space left after the pop icon’s departure was not there for long. The void was quickly filled by a commissioned work that measured the same dimensions: David Salle’s 17-panel piece “Songs for Sale” was purchased in 1997 by Jacobs for $400,000. Rosenquist’s influence can easily be seen in Salle’s work, which also uses pop-pastiche strategies at a cinematic scale.
At some point Jacobs acquired the two Pollock screenprints (Lots 72 & 73), large-scale Jim Dine woodcut (Lot 70), and Frank Stella lithograph (Lot 71) that will be sold in tomorrow’s auction at Grays. All four pieces are spectacular examples of each artists’ work, and the Pollocks even more so because his prints are exceedingly rare. This little known aspect of the celebrated artists’ work began in the 1930s when Pollock created some lithographs for the WPA (Works Progress Adminstration), but these two gems are from late in the artist’s tumultuous life. From 1951-1953 Pollock was experimenting with what he called his “black pour” paintings, a technique to which these screenprints are clearly related. The black pours were made using black enamel paint on unprimed canvases, so the black actually soaked right through the fabric, creating a completely different look than his famous drip paintings which sit atop the canvas surface.
As the scholar James Hall has pointed out, “A number of New York artists – including the abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning – had tried painting in a restricted palette of black and white, but Pollock’s black pours are especially distinctive because of their drily rebarbative, block-like structures. They don’t feel as if they have been effortlessly ‘splashed out’ (code for ‘ecstatically ejaculated’) so much as strenuously carved and kneaded. Rather than being ‘all-over’, with the potential for limitless lateral spread, they often have a tight internal frame that seems to compress the contents. This is most apparent in Untitled (Black and White Polyptych) (1951), which comprises four discrete components of blockish shape lined up horizontally. Each section was turned into individual screenprints that stop well short of the edges of the paper.”
If you take a close look at this photograph of Pollock’s studio taken by Hans Namuth in 1951, you can actually see a version of Lot 72 hanging to dry, still uncut (second from the left top corner – coincidentally, the Gray’s sale also includes two photographs of Pollock drip-painting by Namuth, Lots 20 & 21). These screenprints are tantalizingly restrained by Pollock’s action-standards, and show the artist striving to attain a level of composition that almost seems trapped by its boundaries. Who knows how far this direction of his practice would have led, had he not driven his car into a tree three years later. And as rare as these prints are, they could potentially create quite a stir on the block. They are estimated at $4,000-$6,000, but you never know how high these things may go far in a secondary market such as Cleveland. Stay tuned for an update from the auction floor tomorrow.