Published: September 25, 2018
Review and Photos by Madelia Hickman Ring
NEW YORK CITY – On the evening of September 18, a five-day non-selling exhibition of works from the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation’s collection of outsider art was capped by a reception attended by, among others, Louis-Dreyfus family members and Foundation executives, traditional and contemporary folk-art artists, collectors, dealers, curators and executives from the Harlem Children’s Zone.
Many of the people attending the reception seemed surprised at the depth and variety of the exhibition. The exhibition of approximately 80 works combined outsider works that will be sold at Christie’s in its upcoming January 2019 outside art sale with pieces owned privately by the Louis-Dreyfus family and works belonging to the Foundation that are not currently scheduled for sale, but which will, at some point, be sold to benefit the Harlem Children’s Zone. Given the great depth of the holdings in the Foundation, Christie’s has planned a multi-year sale strategy beginning in January 2019, with additional property to be offered in forthcoming sales for the category. A portion of proceeds from future sales of the Foundation artworks are earmarked to benefit the Harlem Children’s Zone.
Driven by his own eye and great passion for the art he acquired, Louis-Dreyfus assembled a unique collection spanning work by well-known artists, such as Jean Dubuffet, Helen Frankenthaler and Alberto Giacometti, alongside pieces by contemporary artists such as Graham Nickson, Catherine Murphy and John Newman. As a collector, Louis-Dreyfus was particularly fascinated by self-taught artists and focused his attention on James Castle, Bill Traylor, Nellie Mae Rowe, Thornton Dial and Willie Young, who makes complex, poetic drawings on scavenged paper. Louis-Dreyfus regarded the work of his favorite self-taught artists with the same intense enthusiasm as he did anything else in the collection, acquiring their work in depth. As such, the selection presented at Christie’s will include superb examples by Castle, Dial and Traylor, among others.
William’s daughter, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who was not at the reception, has said, “My father was never shy about what he believed in, and more than anything, he believed in art and justice. That he has found this way to marry those two beliefs is a sweet miracle for him. It makes sense for his soul. He once told me that when he first started to collect outsider art, he didn’t know that it was ‘outsider’ art; he just thought it was good. That his good art will do good for generations to come at the Harlem Children’s Zone is deeply satisfying for our whole family.”
Louis-Dreyfus put his extensive art holdings into the service of his other great pursuits: supporting educational programs and improving the lives of people of color. “William had a very specific long-term vision in mind when he established the Foundation,” said Jeffrey Gilman, president of the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation. “He donated roughly 4,000 works of art to the Foundation, along with a beautiful space in Mount Kisco (N.Y.) to house the collection. The next phase in realizing William’s vision is to expand public awareness of the Foundation’s holdings and purposes and to begin selling select works to raise funds for the Harlem Children’s Zone. I believe that the September exhibition and our multi-year collaboration with Christie’s provides an excellent showcase for the Foundation’s collection and is a promising start to the next phase in the Foundation’s life.”
A model for communities around the world, the Harlem Children’s Zone has created an innovative network of education, health and social-service programs that is breaking the cycle of generational poverty. Working with 26,000 children and adults annually, its birth-through-college pipeline has already graduated more than 800 students from college and is on track to change the odds for generations to come. The organization’s CEO, Anne Williams-Isom, who was in attendance at the reception, has said, “William’s keen eye gathered together a wonderful collection of works by artists in whom he personally believed and saw potential. It seems so right that his singular combination of generosity and genius would lead to a new chapter for the collection – helping to nurture the growth of underserved children, in whom he similarly believed and saw potential.”
Christie’s is at 20 Rockefeller Plaza. For information, 212-636-2000 or www.christies.com.
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