Dennis Hopper's 300-work collection up for auction

CENTRAL FIGURE:  This 1990 portrait of Dennis Hopper by photographer Victor Skrebneski will be sold by Hopper's estate during a two-day auction at Christie's this week.
CENTRAL FIGURE: This 1990 portrait of Dennis Hopper by photographer Victor Skrebneski will be sold by Hopper's estate during a two-day auction at Christie's this week. (Christie's Images Ltd. Via Associated Press)
By Ula Ilnytzky
Sunday, January 9, 2011

NEW YORK - Dennis Hopper shot two bullet holes through an Andy Warhol portrait of Mao Zedong, but instead of getting mad, Warhol called the "Easy Rider" star a collaborator.

Warhol's "Mao" is among 300 works of fine art and memorabilia up for auction at Christie's this week that were owned by the late actor and director of the 1969 counterculture film. The 1972 colored screenprint is expected to bring $20,000 to $30,000.

Most of the items adorned the actor's home in Venice Beach, Calif.

Hopper, who was twice nominated for Oscars and earned a star last year on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, died of prostate cancer at his home in May. He was 74.

Hopper was already stricken with cancer when he attended the ceremony for the unveiling of his commemorative star. The framed plaque of the star that Hopper received as a memento of the event is being sold next week for $1,000 to $1,500.

Hopper began collecting in the 1960s after actor Vincent Price, an avid collector of impressionist art, told him: "You need to collect. This is where you need to put your money," said Cathy Elkies, director of iconic collections for Christie's. "This really was his calling."

Hopper, a photographer and painter himself, became immersed in the West Coast artist scene and pop art movement, becoming close friends with Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and many of the other artists whose works he collected.

Although eclectic, the collection features some artists in more depth, including Wallace Berman, Bruce Conner and George Herms.

"Mao" and Conner's "Picnic on the Grass" are the highest-priced items.

The shooting involving "Mao" occurred in the early 1970s at Hopper's Los Angeles home, said Alex Hitz, a family friend and a trustee of the estate.

"One night in the shadows, Dennis, out of the corner of his eyes, saw the Mao, and he was so spooked by it that he got up and shot at it twice, putting two bullet holes in it," Hitz told the Associated Press in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "Andy saw it, loved it and annotated those holes," labeling them "warning shot" and "bullet hole."

Hopper's four children are auctioning the collection because "it was Dennis's wish to sell everything," Hitz said. "How do you cut a Warhol and all those other wonderful pieces by four?"

Elkies said Hopper's Venice Beach house was filled "literally from floor to ceiling with art, and realistically [the children] couldn't take that on."

She said the family was holding on to more sentimental pieces, including Hopper's own photography and paintings.

Posters from the movies he starred in, including "Apocalypse Now," "Blue Velvet" and "Speed," are estimated to sell for $200 to $500.

A 158-page unbound "Easy Rider" script, with extensive handwritten notes on the back of two pages, is being offered at a pre-sale estimate of $2,000 to $3,000. A three-sheet poster from the film, which also starred the then-unknown actor Jack Nicholson, is estimated at $1,000 to $1,500.

Hopper co-starred with Peter Fonda in "Easy Rider," about two pot-smoking, drug-dealing hippies on a cross-country motorcycle trip. He also starred as a drugged-out journalist in Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 Vietnam War epic, "Apocalypse Now."

Christie's offered 30 works from the Hopper collection in November, when a 1987 Jean-Michel Basquiat mixed media work, "Untitled," sold for $5.8 million.

- Associated Press

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