Early Chuck Close Painting Unrolled, Stretched and Sent to Auction

A face is a roadmap of someone’s life. Without any need to amplify that or draw attention to it, there’s a great deal that’s communicated about who this person is and what their life experiences have been.
— Chuck Close

An early painting by Chuck Close (1940-2021) has an interesting story behind it. The story has a beginning, a middle, and soon, hopefully, it will have a happy ending. It began at a time when he was still known as Charles Close, and had not yet become the famous Chuck Close.

 

After completing his MFA at Yale, Close studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna on a Fulbright grant. He returned to the U.S. and took a position as a professor  of art at the University of Massachusetts Amherst from 1965 to 1967. His first solo show, at UMass, was shut down for “indecency” because of it included paintings of male nudes and complaints about some of the paintings titles. 

 

The the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Association of University Professors objected to the university’s decision. Close sued the university on First Amendment grounds. His lawyer was Isidore Silver. A Massachusetts Supreme Court justice ruled the exhibit should remain open, but the case was lost on appeal. It’s still debated in law school classes. Close lost his job, left UMass and moved to New York. (Ironically, UMass gave him an honorary doctorate in 1995).

 

That was the beginning of the story. We know Chuck Close went on to have an astonishing career. It is also known that Isidore Silver, who lived in Manhattan with his poodle, Phillipe, had a painting from that controversial show rolled up in his closet for nearly fifty years. 

 

When Silver’s health declined, he hired dog walker, Mark Herman, to care for Phillipe. Herman looked after Silver, as well as Phillipe. When Silver died last March, the family gave Herman, who was not included in Silver’s will, $5,000. Herman told The New York Times that he took Phillipe and was “basically” given the painting.

 

Because it’s an early work, and more of an expressionist style than the grid style that Close is know for, it was difficult to authenticate. Sotheby’s looked at it, stretched it, but declined to auction it because they could not authenticate it. They charged Herman $1,742 for stretching it and told him that they would charge him storage fees if he didn’t pick it up. Herman rented a van for $125 and took the painting back to his apartment, where the six-foot-tall stretched work took up a lot of space in his living room.

 

Finally, an archivist at UMass found a picture of the painting in the school newspaper; part of an article about the the controversial exhibit. 

 

Heritage Auctions has agreed to auction the painting on November 14th. Initial estimates for the work are $20,000 to $30,000 but, its history may have made the work more valuable.

 

Hopefully, the story will have a happy ending for Mark Herman and the painting’s new owner.

 


 

References:

John Leland. The Dog Walker With the Chuck Close Painting Finally Has His Day. The New York Times. August 10, 2023.

John Leland. Was the Rolled-Up Painting in the Dog Walker’s Closet Worth Millions? The New York Times. July 23, 2023.

Steve Pfarrer. Back in Black — and White and Color: UMass exhibit debuts iconic photography of one-time art teacher Chuck Close. Daily Hampshire Gazette. November 13, 2015.

August 15, 2023
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