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Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme to celebrate milestone birthday with auction
‘Birds and Flowers’ by Hector Hyppolite, (Haitian/St. Marc, 1894-1948), est. $30,000-$35,000. Material Culture image.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- Jonathan Demme has reached the pinnacle of Hollywood success as the visionary director of Philadelphia, The Manchurian Candidate (2004) and the 1991 thriller The Silence of the Lambs, for which he earned an Academy Award. Unfailingly, Demme brings passion and intensity to the movie set – the very same qualities that have been a constant in his 27 years of collecting self-taught art. Now, as he nears his 70th birthday, Demme is returning to a city he loves – Philadelphia – for the March 29-30 auction of his spectacular collection of primarily American and Caribbean artworks.

“Of course, being a world-class director, Jonathan was thinking two or three shots ahead when he made up his mind to sell the collection,” said George Jevremovic, whose company, Material Culture, will produce the auction event. “He envisioned the auction as a joyous celebration, so we’re not only going to present his art collection to bidders worldwide, we’re also going to host a birthday party for him at the Friday-night preview, which will feature a Caribbean band and one of Jamaica’s top entertainers, Sister Carol.”

Material Culture will auction more than 800 paintings and sculptures in the 1,050-lot sale. The collection transcends borders, from contemporary Jamaican intuitive painters to Haitian and American self-taught artists of the 1940s through present day.

After acquiring a small Wilson Bigaud painting in 1986 at a New York gallery, Demme made the first of many visits to Haiti, a country that captivated him. There he learned Creole and befriended artists and musicians while shooting footage for the documentaries Haiti Dreams of Democracy (1988) and The Agronomist (2002), about the life of activist and prominent Haitian journalist Jean Dominique. Once he discovered the vibrant Centre d’Art in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, there was no turning back from the collecting journey that would take him to the present day.

In 1997 Demme curated “Island on Fire,” a Manhattan exhibition of more than 100 Haitian paintings from his collection. The show included not only the very best of Haitian art, but also lesser-known artists, touching on every aspect of Haitian life, from depictions of everyday scenes to the people’s quest for liberation.

“You can become spiritually engaged and even transformed by the history and art of Haiti, which are intermeshed. It’s a rich and endless body of work,” Demme said.

The weeklong auction preview at Material Culture (March 22-29) will feature rare works by Haiti’s most celebrated painters, many of whom began their careers at the Centre d’Art. Founded in 1944 by the American Dewitt Peters, the Centre d’Art showcased some of Haiti’s greatest artistic masterpieces and some of the most important works in the Demme collection. An example would be the mid-1940s painting Une Deeuse Famme, by the surrealist painter Hector Hyppolite.

Haitian works will be displayed by region, from Haiti’s northern city of Cap-Haitien to the artistically vibrant port of Jacmel. The installation will feature mini exhibits, Caribbean watercolors, iron crosses and devotional drapeaux (sequined Vodou flags) alongside works by highly regarded American self-taught artists.

Asked why he chose to part with his collection, Demme replied, “Over the years I had gathered many, many pieces of art. I had cleaned and framed them, and moved them around on my walls to make room for new art, but eventually I ran out of room. It had gotten to the point where nine-tenths of the art was in storage, which is expensive and smacks of hoarding. That’s not how art should be treated. I decided there should be a big farewell party to celebrate this body of work and see the paintings go off to new homes. I became excited about it. I want others to share the joy I experienced as a collector.”

Demme will attend the March 28 birthday reception and art preview along with friends and family. Art lovers are invited to attend and view a legendary American director’s collecting vision before the carefully curated collection is passed on to the next generation of art guardians.

Art & artists featured in this sale:

American Self-taught: John Robert Ellis, Walter Ellison, Minnie Evans, Charlie Lucas, Justin McCarthy, J.B. Murray, Daniel Pressley, Roger Rice, O.L. Samuels, Jon Serl, Slingshot Ham, Edward Welch and Purvis Young.

Jamaican Intuitive Painters: Albert Artwell, Everald Brown, Jah Calo, Evandney Cruikshank, Ras Dizzy, Byron Johnson, Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, Sylvester Woods, Allan Zion

Haitian Self-taught: Gesner Abelard, Montas Antoine, Toussaint Auguste, Wilson Bigaud, Murat Brierre, Bourmond Byron, Etienne Chavannes, Préfete Duffaut, Gerard (Fortune), Jacques-Enguerrand Gourgue, Wilfred Guerrier, Hector Hyppolite, Edger Jean-Baptiste, Jasmin Joseph, Pierre Joseph (Valcin), Wesner LaForest, Peterson Laurent, Georges Liautaud, Adam Leontus, André Normil, Philomé Obin, Senêque Obin, Andre Pierre, Odilon Pierre, Ernst Prophete, St.Pierre, Micius Stephane, Gerard Valcin, Pauleus Vital

Americana & Collectibles: Vintage etched-glass soda bottle collection, bird cage, Americana wood carvings, tramp art, trade signs, photography, film posters, African art, Bahia paintings, molas, weathervanes, canes, European self-taught, religious art, trade signs, curiosities, new discoveries and anonymous works

All forms of bidding will be available for the March 29-30 auction, which will begin at 11 a.m. Eastern Time on both days. For information on any item in the sale, call 215-438-4700 or email Preview: March 22-29, 10-6. Jonathan Demme free birthday celebration and preview party: March 28, 7-11 p.m. RSVP for the party and purchase optional buffet tickets online at

Sign up to bid absentee or live via the Internet during the auction at

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