Wolper's Million-Dollar Modern-Art Auction


Television producer David Wolper will sell nine modern artworks from his collection at Christie's New York. Four pieces by Pablo Picasso, two by Joan Miro and one by Jacques Lipchitz will go up for auction on May 1, 15 and 16. Two other works, a Picasso metal cutout and a Lipchitz bronze will be sold in October. The auction house has estimated the total sale price at $4.4 million to $6.3 million.

"I was a little stunned when I found out the value," said Wolper, who bought the works in the '70s and early '80s at undisclosed prices. "I have been reading about the rising art market in the newspapers, but I hadn't really related that to my own collection," he said.

The most valuable piece in the upcoming sales is a 1971 Picasso painting, "Femme a Chapeau Assise," estimated at $2.5 million to $3.5 million. Picasso's 1962 painted metal cutout, "Jacqueline With a Green Ribbon," is valued at $1 million to $1.5 million. The other Picassos to be auctioned are a linocut, "Bust of a Woman in a Hat" ($220,000 to $260,000); a painted earthenware piece, "Big Bird" ($40,000 to $50,000), and a metal cutout, "Grande Forme Visage de Femme" ($30,000 to $40,000).

Lipchitz's 55 1/2-inch-tall bronze "Mother and Child" is valued at $400,000 to $600,000, while his 4-inch-tall interpretation of the same theme is expected to bring between $10,000 and $15,000. Christie's has estimated Miro's painted bronze "Personage" at $150,000 to $200,000 and his ceramic "Tete" at $60,000 to $80,000.

Wolper said he has never bought art as a speculative venture, and he is still an active collector. He probably will use the proceeds of the auctions to buy more art, he said.

"I don't fall in love with inanimate objects. I don't bond with them. I only fall in love with people," Wolper said, noting that the upcoming sales are "part of an ongoing process of buying and selling."

He has sold a dozen Picassos from his collection during the past year or so, and he recently bought a sculpture by Aristide Maillol. While he has kept a Henry Moore sculpture for many years, other pieces have only stayed in his collection for a few years, he said.

Wolper is a trustee of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and has donated large sculptures by Alberto Giacometti and Picasso to the museum. He began collecting in his youth, but for many years he concentrated on documents containing rare autographs.

He credits his shift to fine art in the early '60s to a visit to the Fondation Maeght in St. Paul de Vence, France. While other people were looking at art, Wolper admired artists' signatures on a group of lithographs. "I bought 50 of them at $100 apiece and sent some of them to friends as Christmas gifts," he said. Now those lithographs are worth up to $25,000 apiece.

Wolper soon became more interested in artistic images than names, and he eventually developed a preference for sculpture. "I once sat by a psychiatrist at a dinner party who said I probably like sculpture better than painting because I can't touch what I make. I don't know if he's right, but I do like the feel of sculpture," Wolper said.

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