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Christie's Sale of Dennis Hopper's Movie Mementos Does Boffo, Despite Legal Challenges -

Christie's Sale of Dennis Hopper's Movie Mementos Does Boffo, Despite Legal Challenges

By Judd Tully

Published: January 13, 2011

Courtesy Christie's Images LTD 2011
This photograph of Michelle Phillips commemorating their eight-day marriage in 1970 sold for $5,625.

NEW YORK— Despite last-minute drama stemming from a dispute between Dennis Hopper and a former wife of his, ephemera from the late actor's estate pulled in $148,682 yesterday at Christie's New York, boosting the overall auction tally for the late actor's art and memorabilia — including major works of contemporary art that sold in November — to $14,741,657. While Tuesday's $1.8 million session primarily comprised contemporary art from Hopper’s eclectic and impressively funky collection (much of it offered without minimum price reserves), the lion's share of material in the Wednesday sale focused on Hopper's extraordinary film career.

Items related to "Easy Rider," the classic 1969 road film inspired by Jack Kerouac's most famous Beat novel and starring Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, and Hopper (who also directed the film), sparked furious bidding. The movie's original poster, featuring the profile of a leather-jacketed Fonda, sold for $5,250 — more than twice its $2,000 high estimate — and the 158-page unbound shooting script for "Easy Rider" fetched a whopping $20,000 against its $2-3,000 estimate

Nothing, however, came close to the previous day's session, which saw a bullet-perforated Andy Warhol screen print of Mao go for $302,500, ten times its $30,000 high estimate.

There were great bits of Hollywood style memorabilia, including a black-and-white photograph of rock-star beauty Michelle Phillips with a dedication reading "TO MY DARLING DENNIS IN MEMORY OF EIGHT GLORIOUS DAYS OF MARITAL BLISS LOVE MICHELLE" that sold for $5,625 on a $600-800 estimate. The message, both hand-written and stamped, relates to the counterculture icons' eight-day marriage in 1970.

Hopper was married five times, and when he died in May in Venice California, weeks shy of his 74th birthday, he was in the midst of trying to divorce yet again, this time from 42-year-old Victoria Duffy Hopper. His estate was estimated to be worth $40 million, and lawyers representing both parties are keeping the couple's heated falling out alive in the courts. The former wife successfully petitioned a Los Angeles court to remove certain items at from Tuesday's auction, including relatively minor works by Billy Al Bengston, Peter Schuyff, Ed Ruscha, Allen Ginsberg, Manuel Ocampo and Sam Francis — making a small dent in a decidedly successful sale.

To quote a Christie's representative, "As a result of a title claim brought by Dennis Hopper's estranged wife, Christie's withdrew 32 items from the sale until such time as the title claim is resolved."

Another piece of choice memorabilia illuminating Hopper's storied film career was the Frontier Award that the Texas Hall of Fame bestowed upon Hopper for his performance in "Giant," the 1956 epic Western starring James Dean. Comprised of a roped film reel and set on a film canister and wood base, the Lone Star objet made $4,750 on a $200-300 estimate. (The catalogue note incorrectly dated the film from 1954.)

All told, the actor's lots made for a successful opener to Christie's 2011 auction year in New York. As the auction house's Cathy Elkies put it, "Dennis Hopper's refined taste and curatorial eye resulted in an illustrious sale at Christie's."

Indeed, the Tuesday sale found several discerning art buyers in California museum. The Hammer Museum acquired Llyn Foulkes' "The Scene that is God's Mouth," a 1962 collage in charcoal, oil, and printed paper on paper (est. $3,000-5,000) for $10,625, and San Diego's Museum of Contemporary Art bought John Valadez's 2001 figurative painting "Car Show" ($6-8,000) for $7,500.

Christie's Sale of Dennis Hopper's Movie Mementos Does Boffo, Despite Legal Challenges -