Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Girls Next Door

Christies is touting its May 4-5 auction of the Frances Brody collection as the return of good times to the auction business. It's worth noting that the same auction house helped disperse much of the collection of the Brodys' next-door neighbor, Hugh Hefner. While the Brodys were amassing Picassos and Matisses for their mid-century modern home, Hefner was acquiring art for his faux-Tudor mansion. This included pieces by Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, John Chamberlain, Tom Wesselmann, Keith Haring, and, uh, a lot of Leroy Neiman and Alberto Vargas. It's hard not to wonder whether the Brodys and Hefner ever saw each other's collection, and what they thought of it. Most of Hefner's important art was owned by his corporation and has been sold, victim of hard times for magazine publishing and a randy octagenarian's estate planning. A 2003 Christies auction of 300 Hefner artworks and memorabilia netted $3.7 million. That's a trifle next to the $150 million expected for the Brody works.
The 2003 auction didn't include the crown jewel of the Playboy Mansion collection. The counterpart of the Brody Picasso Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust would be Salvador Dali's 1956 Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by the Horns of Her Own Chastity (pictured). Hefner sold it privately. The painting's Wikipedia page contains the interesting factoid that Dali said it was inspired by Vermeer.
Double Torso (1967) is one of Warhol's ultra-violet paintings, designed to be viewed under "black light." As Andy explained it, ""My next series will be of pornographic pictures. They will look blank. When you turn on the lights, then you see them - big breasts. If a cop came in, you could just flick out the lights or turn on the regular lights - how could you say that was pornography?"
You may see a trend. Hefner collected soft porn by name-brand artists, the more gimmicky the better. A lot of the collection does fits that description, but no, it's not quite that simple. Hefner had an eye for the Chicago Imagists — a pretty unsexy bunch, actually. He had works by Ed Pasche and an impressive 1989 Roger Brown, The Human Fly. Playboy commissioned it to illustrate a T. Coraghessan Boyle story of the same name. That literary tone runs through the collection. Among the most recherch√© works Hefner owned was a small pastel drawing of a Rabbithead Logo in the Form of a Butterfly by Vladimir Nabokov.
According to the contents page of the April 1976 issue, "The idea for this month's cover came from—of all people—author Vladimir Nabokov, who wrote, in a letter to PLAYBOY, 'Have you ever noticed how the head and ears of your Rabbit resemble a butterfly in shape?'"

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