Actor, Director; Collector, Subject

On Nov. 10 and 11, Christie’s will sell highlights of the art collection of the late Hollywood actor, director and photographer Dennis Hopper. Of particularly interest to Tinseltown, and probably way beyond it, is director and artist Julian Schnabel’s 1999 portrait of his friend Hopper in the artist’s trademark cracked plates. Standing more than 6 feet high, it’s estimated, conservatively, to bring $100,000 to $150,000.

Christie’s can’t be accused of underselling the Hopper collection. In a marketing video for the actor’s 100-plus-item trove of Warhols, Basquiats, etc., Christie’s Marc Porter, chairman of its Americas operations, dubs him “one of the most influential figures in American visual culture of the American 20th century.” And in an interview, he noted that art meant something different in Dennis Hopper’s collection than in anyone else’s in the world.

We’ll leave it to movie critics to judge the relative place in history of Hopper’s performances in Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet and even Speed (Hopper was the mad bomber). What is certain is that the actor and director was beloved in the art world. A frequent donor of his photography, and his celebrity, to charity auctions, he was gracious, chatty, and prescient in his art choices. He bought a Warhol soup can 40 years ago for less than $100; Andy repaid that early support with an iconic portrait of him in a cowboy hat, also to be sold this week. Hopper died earlier this spring, at the age of 74, of prostate cancer.

In the months since, his estate has become embroiled in a legal battle with his last wife, whom Hopper’s lawyers accuse, in court papers filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, of stealing art. (Hopper had five wives, including Brooke Hayward and Michelle Phillips.) He’s also had a retrospective devoted to him at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, curated by Mr. Schnabel,

A New York love story, the two men met at a Keith Haring after-party at Indochine. (In July, Mr. Schnabel told the L.A. Times that Hopper was key to the artist making his first film, Basquiat, because after he had signed on to take a small role, it became easier to get other actors.) Mr. Schnabel has since gone on to Oscar nomination for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. He moved into film as his art, albeit briefly, went out of fashion, a trajectory Mr. Hopper reversed. 

At its current price quote, the Hopper portrait is within the range, though at the low end, of similar cracked-plate Schnabels from the same period and of the same size. But there’s a West Coast rumor going around that Jack Nicholson, a friend to Hopper and a noted art collector, is interested. So the painting may not be out of Hollywood for long. Actor, Director; Collector, Subject