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Sotheby's to Sell Property from the Collection of Mary Schiller Myers and Louis S. Myers
Wayne Thiebaud, Hillside, 1968. Est. $650/850,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Beginning this fall, Sotheby’s will offer for sale Property from the Collection of Mary Schiller Myers and Louis S. Myers, noted collectors and arts benefactors from Akron, Ohio. Over a period of 40 years Mrs. Myers, with her husband, assembled a classic collection of Contemporary paintings and sculpture comprising a broad spectrum of American artists as well as an interesting group of European and British artists. Among the highlights are two outstanding works by Willem de Kooning: a painting from 1977, Untitled XV (est. $5/7 million) and a sculpture from 1974, Large Torso (est. $4/6 million). Important pieces by Calder, Judd, Mitchell, Neel, Thiebaud, Oldenburg, Noguchi, and others, will also be offered. Approximately twenty works will be included in the Evening Sale on 11 November 2009, with more than fifty being offered the following day. Later this fall, a select group of American and Latin American paintings will be sold, with additional sales in other categories planned for early 2010. Together, works from the Myers’ collection are estimated to bring in the region of $30 million. Highlights to be offered in the Contemporary Art Evening Sale will be shown in Hong Kong in early October and in London during Frieze Week. A special exhibition of nearly the entire group of works from the Myers’ collection will be presented at Sotheby’s in New York from 30 October – 4 November 2009.

Anthony Grant, International Senior Specialist of Contemporary Art said, “The Myers’ collection represents 40 years of collecting in the days before art fairs, websites and digital images, by collectors who lived in a city that has world class museums and burgeoning kunsthalles, but was not a commercial center for international Contemporary art. It was amassed with integrity to the evolutionary process of collecting that was honed not in their backyard but through travel, publications, and correspondence with artists, critics, dealers, galleries and auction houses.”

Mary Schiller Myers (1922-2008) and her husband, Louis S. Myers (1913-1993), made their first significant art purchase in the early 1960s. From there commenced a decades-long pursuit of spectacular works of art for their homes as well as a determination to support the arts in Ohio. Mrs. Myers was part a group of forwardlooking women - including Agnes Gund, Nina Castelli Sundell and Marjorie Talalay - that played a significant role in introducing Contemporary art to Ohio in the 1960s. She sat on the board of the Akron Art Museum for 10 years, and was president for two of them. In the 1970s, she commissioned Claes Oldenburg to create a monumental work of art brought the artist to the city for its installation in 1975. The spectacular Inverted Q is installed at the museum in Akron and remains a fixture of each visitor’s experience at the institution. In 1997, Mrs. Myers endowed the school of art at the University of Akron, her alma mater, and today the Mary Schiller Myers School of Art has more than 800 enrolled students in ten undergraduate degree programs and two master degree programs. Mrs. Myers served on various councils and committees at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art and the Cleveland Art Museum. Mr. Myers was also a trustee of the Akron Art Museum, and together, both were supporters of the Ohio Ballet.

As collectors, the Myers bought mainly through a small group of dealers with whom they had forged strong relationships. They also sought out dealers who represented the individual artists that interested them, often purchasing works near their date of execution. Although their home base was in Akron, they spent a considerable amount of time in New York and were among the first to purchase an apartment in Museum Tower, the apartment building which is part of the Museum of Modern Art complex.

Among the most important pieces in the Myers’ collection are two works by Willem de Kooning from the 1970s. Untitled XV from 1977 is one of the de Kooning’s abstract landscapes from perhaps the most exuberant period in the artist’s rich and complex career (est. $5/7 million). Coming on the heels of a long period of abstinence from painting, the present work, and other canvases from the mid 1970s explode with vibrant color and are executed in lush, sensuous paint strokes. De Kooning began spending summers in East Hampton in 1959, following the lead of Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky. In 1964 the artist permanently relocated to East Hampton, reveling in the nostalgic remembrances of the Netherlands of his youth. The ocean became a part of his daily regime and de Kooning was captivated by the spectacular light in Long Island and its effect on the reflections in the water. Executed in 1977, the Myers’ purchased the present work from de Kooning’s dealer Xavier Fourcade, in 1979.

Also by Willem de Kooning is Large Torso a spectacular bronze which dates from 1974 (est. $4/6 million). Other than Barnett Newman, de Kooning is the only Abstract Expressionist painter to produce major sculptures. For both artists, sculpture served to distill the most quintessential nature of their art: in the case of de Kooning, his role as a master of kinetic touch is rendered as eloquently in bronze as in oil. The present work, along with the full-figured Clamdigger and Hostess, is one of the grandest figurative sculptures created by de Kooning. Knotted, curling sinews of bronze wind themselves through the face, torso and hands of the figure, almost seducing the viewer into touching the surface and following the muscle sense of the artist’s presence in the working of the sculpture. Total engagement with the material – with the substance in his hands – is the most striking feature of de Kooning’s aesthetic soul. When painting he didn’t constrict the paint to his will; instead the pigment flows and swirls across the canvas. The faithfulness to the nature of his material extends to his sculptures. As with Untitled XV, the Myers purchased the present work from Xavier Fourcade in 1980.

A superb group of sculpture from the Myers’ collection will also be offered in the November Evening Sale, led by a very early standing mobile by Alexander Calder, Cantilever from circa 1940 (est. $1/1.5 million). Conceived of sheet metal and steel wire, the piece is remarkable for its extreme use of balance. A more recent articulation of the theme of balance in industrial materials is Mark di Suvero’s Nux, executed nearly 50 years later in 1992 (est. $350/450,000). In addition to the abstract and the figurative, the Myers’ interests also included minimalism as evidenced by the fabulous wall progression by Donald Judd conceived in copper – Untitled from 1970 (est. $800,000/1.2 million). Two works by Isamu Noguchi will also be offered -- Strange Bird, a striking form in cast aluminum from circa 1945-72 (est. $400/600,000), and Basin and Range, conceived in mihara granite and dated 1982 (est. $400/600,000).

Works by major female artists in the Myers’ collection include a monumental canvas by Joan Mitchell, First Cypress from 1964 (est. $1/1.5 million), as well as Lee Krasner’s Twelve Hour Crossing, March Twenty-First, circa 1971-81 (est. $400/500,000), both of which were acquired at the Robert Miller Gallery. One of the most striking works in the collection is Alice Neel’s Jackie Curtis and Rita Red from 1970 (est. $400/500,000). The present work is among Neel’s earliest portraits of gay couples, which captured various players at Andy Warhol’s Factory.

Among the interesting group of works by British artists are paintings by “School of London” artists Frank Auerbach, whose Head of Julia was executed in 1990 (est. $350/450,000), and Leon Kossoff, whose Dalston Lane Spring was painted in 1974 (est. $250/350,000).

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