x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The A-list collection: celebrity-owned art

A look at celebrity-owned art as the bulk of the late Michael Crichton's collection comes up for auction.

A 1961 Pablo Picasso painting titled Femme et Fillettes and Jasper Johns's Stars and Stripes painting, Flag, are among the works collected by the late author Michael Crichton that are going up for auction.
A 1961 Pablo Picasso painting titled Femme et Fillettes and Jasper Johns's Stars and Stripes painting, Flag, are among the works collected by the late author Michael Crichton that are going up for auction.

You might remember Michael Crichton as a best-selling scribe of dinosaur tales, thanks to Jurassic Park, or as one more concerned with hospitals, thanks to his creation of ER. But before he died of throat cancer in 2008 at the age of 66, he also found time to study medicine, produce and direct films, create computer games and investigate spoon-bending and clairvoyance. All this and still he had another substantial string to his bow - he was a serious art collector.

Approximately 100 pieces of his collection, or 80 per cent of it, are soon to come up for auction in New York. Christie's is handling the sale, which is set for May 11. Among the artworks, it is Jasper Johns' Flag that has interested parties dribbling with excitement. A rendition of the American flag in encaustic (essentially, collage materials mixed with hot wax and applied to a surface), it has never been listed on the public market. For its 30 years of existence, it has hung over Crichton's bedroom fireplace, after he bought it directly from the artist's collection.

Three other notable works from Crichton's collection were displayed in London last month ahead of the sale. These included Picasso's 1961 painting of a woman and two girls entitled Femme et Fillettes, a 1965 Lichtenstein, Girl in Water, and a mixed-media piece by Robert Rauschenberg called Studio Painting. Other work in the collection includes pieces by Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Yves Klein. The total expected from the sale, as totted up by Christie's officials, has been pegged at $100 million (Dh367m), which will go to Crichton's estate.

Crichton was among exalted company in his pursuit of art. There are plenty of other big names - some we might deem worthy of the tag "celebrity" - who have spent time amassing serious collections. What else are they going to decorate all those houses with? Dennis Hopper, another man of many talents, can boast a collection including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel, Damien Hirst and Banksy. He bought one of Warhol's first soup cans for $70 in 1962, later selling it to help finance his first divorce. Bonus point to Hopper, though, because some of the collection includes portraits of himself. And it is housed in his Venice Beach home designed by Frank Gehry as an artist's studio. Double bonus points.

Similarly, David Bowie has turned his ambidextrous hands not only to art himself but collecting it, too. He owns a diverse range of work, from the old-school - Tintoretto and Rubens - to more modern pieces by the likes of Gavin Turk and Gilbert & George. Steve Martin is a character whom you might not expect to know a Franz Kline from a finger painting. And yet, not only has he managed to light up our screens in Parenthood and Father of the Bride (parts one and two, lest you forget), but his art collection lists Kline as well as pieces by Picasso, Edward Hopper, Willem de Kooning and Cy Twombly.

David Geffen has quite a collection, too, including seminal pieces by Johns, de Kooning and one of the best private collections of Jackson Pollock's work. The value of this, as Forbes reported last autumn, is a matter of controversy. Some say it could be as much as $2 billion; others estimate around $400m. Either way, not a bad nest egg. The canny material girl Madonna started collecting art in 1987 with the purchase of Fernand Léger's Les Deux Bicyclettes and has since amassed around 300 works including pieces by Frida Kahlo, Man Ray and Salvador Dalí. Her collection was valued at around £80m in 2008.

To be a proper celebrity these days, it seems you need several such baubles. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, are Banksy fans; Robbie Williams, Jane Fonda and Hugh Grant all have a soft spot for Warhol; and Elton John has a solid collection of photography (including shots by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus and Helmut Newton). Even Victoria Beckham can boast a Damien Hirst, one of the artist's heart-shaped canvases covered in dead butterflies. This was a fourth wedding anniversary present from her husband David, showing us perhaps that a piece of collectable art says more than a Hallmark card ever could.