“I was a collector before I was a buyer,” Fred Clarke told Christie’s marketing team as they prepared his collection of Contemporary art for sale. “To be a buyer you have to have money, but to be a collector all you really need is to look and to do the work.”
Partnered with Cesar Pelli, Clarke designed some of the world’s most recognizable large-scale building projects like Canary Wharf in London, The World Financial Center in New York and Salesforce Tower in San Francisco. Partnered with his wife Laura, Clarke acquired a collection of art works, mostly on paper. The most valuable work is Vija Celmins’s Untitled (Long Ocean #5), from 1973 ($1.5-2m) but the most interesting aspect of Clarke’s collection that will be sold at Christie’s throughout the Fall is the group of 35 prints and works on paper by the artist Ed Ruscha.
Although none of the prints on offer are major works, the fact that Christie’s has grouped the Ruscha prints into a single artist sale to be held on September 27th is a signal of the firm’s faith in the Ruscha market. Last year, the auctioneer did something similar, but on a larger scale, with a large collection of Richard Diebenkorn paintings owned by real estate developer Donald Zucker. That sale exceeded the goals set by a global guarantee by a significant margin. It will be interesting to see how Ruscha’s very different market responds to this sale.
Here’s Christie’s release:
Christie’s is honored to be entrusted with The Clarke Collection, an exceptional selection of Post-War & Contemporary Art featuring 35 pristine works by Edward Ruscha. The collection of works on paper, prints, sculpture, and design will be offered across several New York sales throughout the fall beginning with a single artist sale, Thirty five Works by Ed Ruscha from The Clarke Collection, preceding the Post-War to Present sale on 27 September. This will be followed by the Prints & Multiples sale in October, Post-War & Contemporary Art Day sale in November, and the Design sale in December.
Highlights by Ed Ruscha to be offered in September include A Person Who is Very Nice, executed in 1988 (estimate: $500,000 – 700,000), 3 Forks, executed in 1967 (estimate: $400,000 – 600,000), and Wavy Robot, executed in 1975 (estimate: $400,000 – 600,000).
Additional highlights of The Clarke Collection to be offered throughout the fall include Vija Celmins’ Untitled (Long Ocean #5), executed 1973 (estimate: $1.5 – 2 million), Andreas Gursky’s PCF, Paris, executed in 2003 (estimate: $300,000 – 500,000),Ken Price’s Slate Cup II, executed in 1972 (estimate: $200,000 – 300,000), Gerrit Thomas Rietveld’s ‘Hogestoel’ Chair, 1960 (estimate: $30,000 – 50,000), and Donald Judd’s Frame Chair, no. 72 (estimate: $20,000 – 30,000).
Laura Weir Clarke and Fred Clarke
The Clarke Collection represents Laura and Fred Clarke’s lifelong passion for self-discovery through art. After moving from their native Texas to Los Angeles in the mid-Sixties, the Clarkes quickly immersed themselves in California’s dynamic cultural scene. So curious to enrich their knowledge, they would occasionally knock on studio doors of artists whose work they admired in order to get a closer look at their creative process. The young couple eventually found themselves surrounded by progressive minds who would influence and inspire them from artists Chris Burden and Larry Bell to gallerist Margo Leavin and architect Frank Gehry.
The Clarkes’ interest in Ed Ruscha’s work began during that time with the discovery at Pickwick Bookshop in Hollywood of a book called “Some Los Angeles Apartments” for only $4 “years before we could afford to start buying,” explained Fred Clarke. “We could buy an extraordinary work of art for just a few dollars. I was a collector before I was a buyer. To be a buyer you have to have money, but to be a collector all you really need is to look and to do the work. It’s not about cost, it’s about value.”
From the beginning, the Clarkes had a deeply emotional connection to Ruscha’s iconic Pop Art imagery and saw the images, attitudes, ideas, and atmosphere of the artist’s work connected to their own journey. Driving between Texas and Los Angeles the pair encountered many instances of long, flat roads and endless horizons, which are often reflected in Ruscha’s work.
Similarly, the artist was influenced by his own trips along Route 66 from California to visit family in Oklahoma where he, too, was captured by the seemingly endless stretches of bleak pavement punctuated by angular gas stations, which ultimately served as inspiration for his Standard Station series. This parallel experience inspired the Clarkes’ love affair with Ruscha’s art and launched a collection that eventually grew to include great works by other contemporary artists including Tony Smith, Thomas Demand, Andreas Gursky, Ken Price, and Donald Judd.
But at the heart of the couple’s collecting has always been a deep respect for and admiration of the artists’ craft. At their home in New Haven, Conn., the couple constructed a custom-designed set of racks to carefully house their prized collection where they preferred to visit it at whim rather than have it all on continual display. “What I realized a long time ago was that if I see something every day, I actually stop looking at it,” noted Fred Clarke. “There’s a difference between seeing and looking.”
A portion of proceeds from the sale of The Clarke Collection will be used by the family’s charitable trust to support several educational institutions that have had an impact on the couple and their sons.