While attending the University of California, Berkeley, in the mid-1960s, Chara Schreyer was assigned to study Henri Matisse’s Femme au chapeau, a 1905 oil painting on display at the San Francisco Museum of Art. Schreyer, who would go on to amass an exceptional collection of conceptual, post-war and contemporary artwork, later described the project as “the beginning of my understanding” of art.
Nearly sixty years after Schreyer’s interest in artwork was first sparked, her vast collection is coming to auction in a series of Sotheby's sales. The first is set for this November in New York, and the entire collection is expected to fetch more than $70 million, according to the auction house.
Schreyer, who died in February at age 75, served on the boards of the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Hammer Museum and was a trustee of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The German-born daughter of Holocaust survivors, her stature in California’s art world was not just linked to her vast collection, but the way she displayed it. She “transformed her entire surroundings to showcase and live among the art that inspired her in a way that few collectors ever have,” said Elizabeth Webb, Sotheby’s senior specialist of contemporary art, in a statement.
Converting houses into galleries
Her five California homes, located in areas like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Marin, were unconventionally designed to prioritize the exhibition of her works over domestic needs—even Schreyer’s soap dispensers were works of art. The homes, one of which is currently on the market for $4.9 million, were often opened to students and cultural groups for private tours. They were carefully designed with Gary Hutton in a partnership detailed in the 2014 book Art House, while another title celebrating Schreyer’s collection, 2021’s Making Strange, explored hundreds of her works through essays.
In one case, Schreyer even purchased a house specifically to display a sculpture by Donald Judd. The artist’s 1969 Untitled, which inspired the collector to acquire her home in Los Angeles, was anchored to the south wall of the building with stainless steel, and Schreyer invited Judd to personally polish its platforms and approve the installation. The work will head to auction this fall with a high estimate of $10 million.
For her bedroom in Marin, Schreyer designed a “sanctuary-like space” featuring a small collection of art by women, according to Sotheby’s. Displayed above the fireplace was Eva Hesse’s Top Spot, a 1965 three-dimensional work that has a high estimate of $7 million. Georgia O’Keeffe’s Pelvis IV (Pelvis Front), which will also be in Sotheby’s first sale, was also in the bedroom.
But the star of Schreyer’s Marin home was her 1952 La Boite-en-Valise by Marcel Duchamp, which consisted of a leather suitcase containing sixty-nine miniature reproductions of the artist’s work and is expected to fetch between $1.8 million and $2.5 million. Previously owned by Andy Warhol, the work is intended to be opened in various stages to showcase Duchamp’s career. As Schreyer once said, “with his work, art becomes conceptual.”
Leading the Schreyer sale is one of the earliest iterations of Frank Stella’s Concentric Square paintings. Measuring in at more than seven feet, the 1962 Honduras Lottery Co. was previously owned by film and television producer Douglas S. Cramer before it was acquired by Schreyer more than twenty years ago. It is expected to sell for between $10 million and $15 million, according to Sotheby’s.
Other works in the sale include Robert Gober’s Deep Basin Sink, one of his earliest sink sculptures, and Andy Warhol’s Rorschach, made during the last decade of the artist’s life, with respective high estimates of $3 million and $4 million. Highlights of the sale will go on display in Hong Kong, London and Los Angeles before the November auction, with additional sales of Schreyer’s collection offered through 2024.