OSCAR DIRECTOR ART AUCTION
Art Collections of Oscar-winning Film Director Jonathan Demme,
Movie Set Designer Ford Wheeler to be Auctioned March 19
n March 19, the Philadelphia auction house Material Culture will shine its spotlight on premier works from the folk and self-taught art collections of Academy Award-winning Hollywood director Jonathan Demme and his friend and past collaborator, movie set designer Ford Wheeler. “I believe many motion picture professionals would argue that, between the two, Jonathan and Ford are the best ‘eyes’ in Hollywood,” said George Jevremovic, owner of Material Culture.
Demme’s phenomenal art collection has attracted headlines before, most notably in the run-up to a Material Culture sale in 2014 that captured the imagination of both the public and the media. “As we admired Jonathan’s artworks entered in that auction, we could see that the same passion and intensity he brought to films like ‘The Silence of the Lambs,’ ‘Philadelphia,’ and ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ also guided him in his wonderful art acquisitions,” said Jevremovic. “This month’s sale is a continuation of the themes we established three years ago, and at an even higher level.”
For the March 19 ”Heart of the Collection” auction, Demme has parted with some of his most highly prized Haitian, Jamaican, African and American artworks. “Many of the pieces are works that formed the backbone of his collection and which he valued and perhaps enjoyed the most,” Jevremovic said.
A true masterpiece, Hector Hyppolite’s (Haitian/St. Marc, 1894-1948) painting-on-board titled Bosou Toi Conne is a magnificent fusion of primary colors and surrealist figures. Formerly in the collection of Mrs. Malcolm I. McBride, Cleveland, Ohio, it is the auction’s centerpiece and top-estimated artwork, at $30,000-$50,000.
An early 1950s oil painting by Laurent Peterson (Haitian/St. Marc, 1888-1958) is appropriately titled Three Fishes, since it depicts a trio of colorful sea inhabitants, with large eyes and spiky teeth. The work’s distinguished provenance includes exhibitions at Centre D’Art, Port-au-Prince, Haiti; and museums in Brooklyn, N.Y., Milwaukee, and New Orleans. Estimate: $15,000-$20,000. Other Laurent paintings include: Three Vases, previously exhibited in Baden-Baden, Germany and at Cornell University, estimate $15,000-$20,000; and Boardwalk Houses, ex George Nader collection, $15,000-$20,000.
Among Demme’s finest American art holdings is an oil-on-Masonite painting by Laura Pope Forrester (American/Georgia, 1873-1953) titled Four Planes in a Golden Sky. Retaining the artist’s original frame, it is estimated at $25,000-$35,000. A vibrant Minnie Evans (North Carolina, 1892-1987) mixed-media depiction, Profile at Sunset, is signed and dated “1946,” and is expected to make $9,000-$12,000.
Victor Joseph Gatto’s (American, 1893-1965) oil-on-canvas titled The Pearl Divers (Under the Sea) is a lively work filled with imagery of underwater explorers swimming among marine and sea life. A label on verso indicates prior ownership by Epstein/Powell American Primitives. Estimate: $15,000-$20,000
Ford Wheeler, who says he was “born with the design gene,” has collected whimsical objects throughout his life and previously operated Craft Caravan, a wildly popular SoHo shop that specialized in African and Asian art and furniture. Wheeler has served as production designer and set decorator for dozens of films, several of which were directed by Demme, including Philadelphia. In a 2011 profile of Wheeler that ran in The New York Times, Demme remarked of his friend and collaborator: “[Ford] reads the script, makes a little movie in his head and feeds the look. What Ford saw, I wanted to see.”
One of the most treasured artworks in Wheeler’s personal collection is an important Howard Finster (American, 1916-2001) sculpture titled Castle #2240. Standing 80 inches high, the four-part structure is constructed of painted wood with mirrors and is both artist-signed and numbered. Its auction estimate is $20,000-$30,000.
“A common thread that connects the Demme and Wheeler collections is the heartfelt embrace of artists and traditions outside of the ‘mainstream’ – eloquent proof that there is no such thing as the ‘art world,’ only worlds of art,” Jevremovic said.