A pioneering pursuit of the new — The Robert B. and Beatrice C. Mayer Family Collection

Extraordinary works by Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol head one of the strongest selections of Pop art ever presented on the auction market

Robert B. ‘Bob’ Mayer and his wife, Beatrice ‘Buddy’ Cummings Mayer, were hugely influential figures in the development of contemporary art. ‘I collect because I believe that I am building for posterity,’ Bob Mayer once declared. ‘I collect because I believe it adds dimension and perspective to my way of life... I collect for the thrill of discovery.’

The collection will be offered across several auctions commencing with Christie’s 20th Century Week this Spring and will include a dedicated selection of 11 lots which will lead directly into the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale.

Further lots from the collection, which was assembled over more than 25 years and also includes European painting and sculpture, Chinese ceramics, and African and Oceanic figures, will be offered over the course of 2019.

Bob and Buddy created a lasting legacy in art. Through their patronage of emerging artists, they helped to secure the success of some of the 20th century’s most important figures, and in seeking to share their collection with others, they became an inspiration to succeeding generations.

‘Their collection is comprised of works that speak to their extraordinary taste, and their keen desire to embrace and facilitate change, both in the art world, and within the socio-economic climate of their community in Chicago,’ says Sara Friedlander, International Director, Head of Department, Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s in New York.

Highlights from the collection

Completed and acquired shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Robert Rauschenberg’s Buffalo II  is an extraordinary representation of post-war America, a moment in which the country was rapidly evolving and the art that was being produced challenged preconceived notions of what fine art was and could be.

Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), Buffalo II, 1964. Oil and silkscreen ink on canvas. 96 x 72 in (243.8 x 183.8 cm). Estimate on request. Offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 May at Christie’s in New York © 2019 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation  Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), Buffalo II, 1964. Oil and silkscreen ink on canvas. 96 x 72 in (243.8 x 183.8 cm). Estimate on request. Offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 May at Christie’s in New York © 2019 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

At more than eight feet high, this imposing canvas is dominated by a large photograph of the then Senator John F. Kennedy, around which Rauschenberg assembles an eclectic range of motifs that, for him, define America — the space race, the military, iconic consumer products and patriotic symbols are interspersed with more innocuous images of the urban landscape and personal objects.

A pioneer of the silkscreen technique (along with Andy Warhol, who had begun using the technique just a couple of months earlier), Rauschenberg appropriates images he collected from newspapers and magazines — along with his own photographs — to produce a portrait of a country in the midst of social and political upheaval.

The painting also marks a pivotal point in Rauschenberg’s development as an artist. By bringing together pre-existing images from popular culture with an array of drips and painterly gestures, Buffalo II  acts as a bridge between the now declining dominance of Abstract Expressionism and the new burgeoning world of Pop.

Exhibited at the XXXII Venice Biennale in 1964, Buffalo II  was part of a group exhibition of young American painters for which Rauschenberg was awarded the coveted International Grand Prize in Painting.

Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), Kiss III, 1962. Magna on canvas. 64 x 48 in (162.6 x 121.9 cm). Estimate on request. Offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 May at Christie’s in New York © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), Kiss III, 1962. Magna on canvas. 64 x 48 in (162.6 x 121.9 cm). Estimate on request. Offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 May at Christie’s in New York © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

Another major highlight offered from The Robert B. and Beatrice C. Mayer Family Collection  is Kiss III  (1962), a pivotal canvas from one of Roy Lichtenstein’s most acclaimed bodies of work which was painted in the same year as the artist’s inaugural solo exhibition at the legendary Leo Castelli Gallery in New York.

In 1961, Lichtenstein had broken with his earlier practice and begun to reproduce the visual qualities of printed ephemera. Among his subjects were works based on advertisements and comics that featured war stories and romantic themes, of which Kiss III  is a prime example.

Andy Warhol’s Liz [Early Colored Liz] is a unique painting from a group of 13 colourful portraits of the actress that Warhol executed in late 1963. Although Warhol employed the mass-media technique of screen printing, he brought a high level of personal involvement to the ‘Liz’ series, carefully embellishing her skin, eyes and make-up with hand-applied paint.

Robert and Beatrice Mayer

After graduating from the University of Chicago in 1931, Bob Mayer began work at the Chicago department store owned by his uncle, Maurice Rothschild. He started out sweeping the floors but was soon promoted to sales, and rose through the ranks of Maurice L. Rothschild & Co. before eventually being named president of the firm in 1957.

In 1942, Mayer was enlisted in the U.S. Army. His experience in Europe during the Second World War was punctuated by a remarkable exploration of European art and artists. He found solace from the ongoing conflict by acquiring examples of art from across the ages, including works that he purchased directly from Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse while on leave in the south of France.

The collector’s return to America heralded the beginning of another great life journey, following a blind date with the Montreal-born Beatrice ‘Buddy’ Cummings, the daughter of the food entrepreneur Nathan Cummings, founder of what became the Sara Lee Corporation. It was the start of a devoted partnership that lasted nearly 30 years, until Bob Mayer’s untimely passing in 1974.

Buddy Mayer was a practical, straightforward woman with a sharp wit and a dedication to family. During the Second World War she had volunteered with the Red Cross Home Service Program and tended to the families of service members in some of Chicago’s poorest neighbourhoods. Throughout her life, she earned a reputation as a woman committed to empowerment.

Like many collectors of the era, the Mayers initially focused on acquiring classic Impressionist and European Modernist works. By the late 1950s, Bob and Buddy had assembled a collection that spanned European painting and sculpture, Chinese ceramics, and African and Oceanic figures. Yet, as Buddy later noted, ‘By the early 1960s, Impressionism had outpaced our pocketbooks.’

It was a realisation that prompted the couple to look towards the art of the present day. As active, engaged members of their community, the Mayers foresaw vast changes occurring in art, particularly in the United States.

The Collection ‘elevated contemporary art in Chicago at a time when the city’s exposure to current trends was limited’ — Marla Hand

What followed in 1960 was the Mayers’ first substantive acquisition of Contemporary art: Larry RiversThe Last Civil War Veteran, 1959-1960, a painting merging Abstract Expressionism and the nascent Pop movement within a uniquely American tableau. Within a few years, Bob and Buddy would establish themselves among the earliest proponents of Pop art.

Attuned to the era’s turbulent political and social landscape, the Mayers actively sought out opportunities to make a difference. Buddy Mayer travelled from Chicago to Mississippi in support of the Civil Rights Movement, sleeping in the home of a local agricultural worker and tutoring children on African-American art and artists. In 1965, her husband purchased Robert Indiana’s The Confederacy: Mississippi  at an auction to benefit the Coalition for Racial Equality.

As the Mayers expanded their collection, they began to recognise the effects of their efforts. The Collection’s curator, Marla Hand, observed that it ‘elevated contemporary art in Chicago at a time when the city’s exposure to current trends was limited.’

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In 1964 Bob Mayer, alongside prominent local collectors including Lewis Manilow, Joseph Randall Shapiro and Edwin Bergman, met to consider how to better present contemporary art in the city. Three years later, the fledgling Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago opened, housed in a single-story space formerly occupied by a bakery and the photography studios of Playboy  magazine. As a founding trustee and treasurer of the board, Bob was a leading force in the success of the MCA in its formative years.

Following the passing of her husband in 1974, Buddy Mayer also became an MCA trustee, and, in the decades that followed, she focused her energies on educational programming, also becoming one of Chicago’s leading advocates for accessibility. Today, the Robert B. and Beatrice C. Mayer Education Center is home to the MCA’s world-class arts education initiatives.