S.I. Newhouse (1927-2017) was one of the most important art collectors of the 20th century and well into the 21st. The co-owner of a media empire that included The New Yorker, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Architectural Digest and many other leading publications, he was a hugely influential figure in the cultural life of America.
‘Si personified the rare combination of a great intuitive eye and great intellectual curiosity,’ says Tobias Meyer, Advisor to the Newhouse family. ‘He read voraciously about the artists he admired, and nothing could stop him once he decided to acquire a work of art that measured up to his exacting standards.’
‘Si loved the hunt for art,’ confirms his wife, Victoria Newhouse. ‘It was as much a part of his enjoyment of putting together a collection as living with the art.’
This May, Christie’s in New York offered 11 extraordinary works from The Collection of S.I. Newhouse, each of which represents his renowned taste and instinct for quality and historical significance.
From the compositional inventiveness of Cézanne’s Bouilloire et fruits, 1888-1890 (sold for $59,295,000) to Andy Warhol’s Little Electric Chair, 1964-1965 (sold for $8,220,000), the 11 works trace key developments in the evolution of modern art.
No work is more emblematic of Mr. Newhouse’s unerring eye for the revolutionary and the sublime than Jeff Koons’ 1986 sculpture, Rabbit (sold for $91,075,000), a work of art that marks a pivotal moment in the timeline of art history.
Unveiled at the Sonnabend Gallery’s New-Geo exhibition in 1986, Rabbit signalled the end of all previously held notions of traditional sculpture, and the beginning of a new era for contemporary art. One of an edition of four, the work offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 May is the sole example left in private hands.
‘For me,’ says Alex Rotter, Chairman, Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s, ‘Rabbit is the anti-David. It signalled the death of traditional sculpture and disrupted the medium in the same way that Jackson Pollock’s Number 31 permanently redefined the notion of painting. From my first day in the auction world this was the work I fantasised about handling.’
‘You see in Si’s collection a very curious acceptance and kindness towards humanity, the understanding that things are complex’ — Tobias Meyer
Simultaneously confounding and alluring, Rabbit is the embodiment of the time in which it was created — a period defined by an explosion of personal wealth and an insatiable desire for manufactured popular culture. As an object it simultaneously inspires feelings of lust, humour and devotion.
Over the past three decades Rabbit has become a true icon of contemporary art, starring in major museum exhibitions at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Tate Modern in London, the Château de Versailles, The Broad, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others.
Paul Cézanne’s Bouilloire et fruits, 1888-1890, represents another milestone in modern art history. A sensual profusion of still-life objects positioned on a table according to relationships Cézanne detected among their shapes, colours, and textures, the painting presents the aesthetic vision that made Cézanne’s art a revolutionary force in the early 20th century.
‘There was no one like Si Newhouse,’ remarks Max Carter, Head of the Impressionist and Modern Art Department at Christie’s in New York. ‘To spend time in front of these masterpieces, from the magnificent Cézanne still life to Van Gogh’s Arbres dans le jardin de l’asile, is to be inspired.’
Vincent van Gogh painted Arbres dans le jardin de l’asile in October 1889. The work depicts a garden path in the grounds of the asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole where the artist had been a voluntary patient for over four months. He had already painted many notable canvases during his stay at the converted monastery in Saint-Rémy, including, on 18 June, The Starry Night, the iconic work that’s on display at The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The fiery red and yellow hues in Van Gogh’s autumnal landscape anticipate the vivid colours and vigorous brushwork of Matisse’s Fauvism. When exhibited in Berlin and Zurich nearly 20 years later, the painting was the subject of intense excitement among the artists of the nascent Expressionist movement in Germany.
Andy Warhol’s Little Electric Chair (1964-1965) remains one of the most powerful and disturbing icons of 20th-century art. The electric chair first appeared as a subject in Warhol’s painting in 1963, the image taken from a black-and-white wire photograph of the notorious Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York.
In Little Electric Chair, the artist intensifies the contrast of the image to spectacular effect, highlighting the unoccupied chair while allowing dark shadows to pool in the corners of the empty room like gathering storm clouds. Poignant and provocative, Little Electric Chair is the quintessential image from the Death and Disaster series, and one of the most resonant in the artist’s entire oeuvre.
Completing the selection offered in New York will be works by Edgar Degas, Alberto Giacometti, Giorgio Morandi, Roy Lichtenstein, Lucian Freud and Richard Prince. ‘You see in Si’s collection a very curious acceptance and kindness towards humanity, the understanding that things are complex, the understanding that things are not obvious,’ says Meyer. ‘For him, beauty had this depth.’
‘The Collection of S.I. Newhouse is one of the most sought-after groupings of art in private hands,’ states Alex Rotter. ‘This is due entirely to the passion that Mr. Newhouse had for brilliance, whether that be found within the art that he collected or the magazines that he published.
‘The selection that we are presenting in New York epitomises each artist at a pivotal moment in their career when they established themselves as pioneers within the canon of art history.’