Record-Setting Joan Mitchell Painting to Lead Personal Collection of Gallerist John Cheim this November at Sotheby's

Thursday, September 7, 2023
Record-Setting Joan Mitchell Painting to Lead Personal Collection of Gallerist John Cheim this November at Sotheby's

Beginning this November, Sotheby’s will present the collection of esteemed gallerist, curator and publisher John Cheim, who for the last 45 years has been a pivotal figure in the New York art world renowned for his long-standing commitment and dedication to artists. The lasting personal relationships he forged with these artists stand at the center of the collection.

The group is led by Joan Mitchell’s monumental Sunflowers – a masterwork from the artist’s late period, and an important testament to their close relationship. Cheim selected the painting in 1991 in response to an offer from Mitchell to choose any work he liked as a gift. After remaining in Cheim’s collection for over three decades, Sunflowers will appear at auction for the first time this November with an estimate in excess of $20 million, and is poised to set a new auction record for the artist.

Regarded today as one of the most respected figures in the art world, Cheim is a true champion of artists. He has dedicated his career to supporting their creative genius, establishing meaningful and deep relationships with many of the most notable postwar and Contemporary artists of our time. After spending nearly twenty years as director at Robert Miller Gallery before co-founding Cheim & Read, Cheim’s unparalleled commitment to promoting and supporting artists has made him a stalwart of the New York gallery scene. His exceptional reputation is distinguished by a lifetime of advocacy - particularly for women artists – whether recognizing the unique talent of Alice Neel, encouraging the revelatory journey of Louise Bourgeois, or embracing Lynda Benglis's sculptural trajectory. Across more than four decades of breaking new ground for artists, Cheim assembled a thoughtful personal collection which reflects an intense love and appreciation for the artworks and their creators. Each work bears a story more special than the next, from the roaring abstract paintings by Joan Mitchell, Ron Gorchov, and Cy Twombly, to honest photographic works by Diane Arbus and Robert Mapplethorpe, to the compelling figuration of Alex Katz, Andy Warhol and Alice Neel.

From an early age, John Cheim was surrounded by artistic inspiration, which drove his passion for art and artists as a principal partner of the New York gallery Cheim & Read. Born in 1953 in San Jose, California, Cheim’s public school education sparked his interest in art. He became known as his high school’s “best artist” and went on to earn a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Surrounded by gifted peers early in life, Mr. Cheim developed a unique passion for understanding and supporting artists and their work. In 1978, following a pivotal internship with Martha Beck at the Drawing Center, he joined Robert Miller Gallery. Testament to his instinctive drive and aptitude for recognizing talent, Cheim was named Director – a position he held for twenty years – and solidified the gallery's highly influential reputation. The gallery's opening altered the art world at large, helping to center the New York art scene in Chelsea, and reinvigorating a new type of gallery space – later termed the 'white cube' – that radically simplified the gallery space to position art in the foreground.

As one of the first supporters of women artists in the 1990s, Cheim brought many artists to the gallery including Alice Neel, Louise Bourgeois, Joan Mitchell, Louise Fishman, among others; and artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Milton Resnick. Among his notable successes at Robert Miller was his curation of  Alice Neel – Diane Arbus: Children (1989), described by Roberta Smith in her New York Times review as ‘an unusually powerful exhibition’, and ‘one that can trigger a deeper understanding of both the making and the seeing of art that flows effortlessly into a meditation on life itself.’ In 1990, he curated the first ever survey of works on paper by Basquiat, which is still regarded as one of the most important exhibition of works on paper by the artist, and in 1994, he curated Mitchell's exhibition at the São Paulo Biennial.

In 1997, John Cheim opened Cheim & Read with his longtime friend and collaborator Howard Read. With a goal of committing to a loyal stable of artists and managing their sizable careers on an intimate scale, their compassionate, innovative approach proved immensely successful. Cheim & Read opened with the gallery’s inaugural exhibition of Jenny Holzer’s Living series juxtaposed with Louise Bourgeois’ Spider1996. In 2009, Cheim curated The Female Gaze: Women Look at Women, an exhibition featuring artists from multiple generations and backgrounds including Marlene Dumas, Tracey Emin, Maria Lassnig, Joan Semmel, and more.  Following this presentation was Cheim’s 2016 exhibition The Female Gaze Part II: Women Look at Men featuring contemporary works by Cecily Brown, Katherine Bradford, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and Dana Schutz.

Image : Joan Mitchell’s Sunflowers (1990-1991), as displayed in John Cheim’s loft in New York 

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Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.


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