Culture Monster

Sotheby's to auction part of L.A. gallerist Joni Gordon's collection

Celebrated L.A. gallerist Joni Gordon's collection will get the Sotheby's treatment in September

Joni Gordon was a maternal figure to many local, up-and-coming artists,  painter Martha Alf told The Times after Gordon died in 2012.

Gordon owned the celebrated Newspace Gallery on Melrose Avenue from 1975 to 2006. She had no formal education in the arts, but her gift for recognizing talent came naturally. As did her ability to create a thriving and intellectually curious environment that attracted local talent to the salons she held at her home. There she hosted diverse speakers including sculptor Edward Kienholz and painter Vija Celmins.

A piece by the latter, titled "Burning Plane" (1965), is one of the works from a part of her private collection that Sotheby's will auction on Sept. 24 in an event called, "Good to Go: Property From the Collection of Joni Gordon of the Newspace Gallery."

The painting by Celmins is valued between $900,000 and $1.2 million. Other highlights from Gordon's collection (which she cultivated with the help of her husband, Monte Gordon) include works by John Baldessari, John McLaughlin, Joe Goode, Andy Warhol, Robert Motherwell and Ad Reinhardt.

"Overall, I would characterize it as a phenomenal cross-section of West Coast artists, in addition to post-war artists," said Scott Nussbaum, Sotheby's vice president of contemporary art, who also maintained a friendship with Gordon over the years.

"During the 30 years she ran Newspace she developed a strong program that nurtured a lot of artists and helped develop the L.A. arts scene," Nussbaum said. "She was an incredibly influential and wonderful person who helped L.A. become as important as it is today."

She was the first person to buy a piece by Celmins. She also regularly gave tours of prominent artists' studios and helped found the nonprofit Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary art.

In 1975, during the course of her research for the institute, she first came to Newspace gallery. At the time it was owned by the painter Jean St. Pierre, and it was struggling to stay afloat. Although not wealthy, Gordon walked in to borrow some books on performance artist Chris Burden and walked out with the keys to the gallery, which cost 26 cents. The rent was $200.

Sotheby's will show the portion of Gordon's collection that is being auctioned at its Los Angeles galleries from Sept. 9-11.

"We're really hoping that not just those interested in purchasing the works will come," Nussbaum said.

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