Joseph Cornell

At the beginning of 1976, the whole Art world was still in a very slow recovery after the market collapse which came in June 1974. It caught everybody by surprise as Parke-Bernet had had a particularly successful sale of the Maremont collection from Chicago in May. One main difference with the 1974 crash to more recent ones was that banks would not lend against Art, so many collectors who had been virtually wiped out by the catastrophic collapse of the world’s stock markets were able to keep their collections (albeit worth rather less).
At the Basle art fair of June 1974, Daniel Varenne had a group of exquisite Cornell boxes on his stand and one in particular caught my fancy - The American Rabbit from 1945/6- which I bought for the then enormous sum of $30,000 (this represented about 6 months overheads of the gallery). When the summer was over the depth of the downturn became more and more apparent. At the end of the year and into 1975, we went 10 weeks without even selling a postcard. When I was in Chicago early in 1976 my old friend and colleague Bud Holland, understanding my despair and knowing how great a box this was, suggested that I offer it to Ed Bergman who had a huge collection of Cornells along with other Surrealist masters, the majority of which he and his wife Lindy gave to the Chicago Art Institute. Luckily for me, Ed also fell in love with it and agreed to pay me the $30,000 that I had paid for it. Given the economic circumstances at the time, it was an enormous price. Maybe a lesson that a guaranteed profit, however good a work of art is, is not always there.

Ivor Abrahams

Ivor Abrahams

In February, we held our first of many exhibitions of Ivor Abrahams. Ivor was one of the most innovative artists of recent years, no challenge was too daunting for him - rather like Bob Rauschenberg. He excelled in all mediums and was always experimenting and on the look out for new materials to adapt and play with. He became a sculptor because of his colour-blindness, which, where combined with his use of flocking in his suburban Garden series, led to some interesting coloured shrubbery which playfully walked the tightrope of kitsch. He perhaps became most known for his much-loved Owls, some consider them as self-portraits; depicting them as wise, cross or inebriated, they were his cheeky altar egos. In 1961, he was included in the ICA exhibition ‘26 Young Sculptors’ and his first show in the USA was with Richard Feigen in 1970. His first museum retrospective (and there were many), was at the Cologne Kunstverein in 1973. He was a brilliant teacher and for a time was professor of sculpture at the Royal Academy Schools. 

Andy Warhol, Maurice, 1976, The Scottish Museum of Modern Art


I only met Andy after he had been shot. He appeared to me to be very clean living; hardly drinking, no apparent drugs (in fact he was quite sensorious about it) and I doubt there was much sex. However, he was obsessed with other people's sex lives. When he died, Vogue asked me to write one of the obituaries in which I said that he got people to perform and compete in order to impress him.
Peter Brant and I thought that there might be a good market for pet cat, dog and horse portraits so we made a contract with Andy for exclusivity. In the end we only got 3 commissions. The first was for Jacques Wertheimer’s famous mare Ivanjica who went on to win the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe later that year and 2 dog commissions. The first was Lady Adeane’s King Charles spaniel called Pom who was beautifully behaved throughout, even when owner and dog were on national television (this painting is now in the Norwich Castle museum). The second was Gabrielle Keiller’s dachshund Maurice; Andy, Fred Hughes and I went down to Gabrielle’s house on Kingston Hill where Maurice had no intention of behaving. So poor Andy, on all fours, ended up chasing Maurice around the fishpond trying to get a photograph. Finally he got one and this painting is now in the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art.
The show at the Gallery was of paintings and drawings that we had to buy, Andy ran a sort of cash and carry operation - nothing on tick! The opening was completely mobbed with all the international Who’s Who. I remember particularly Barbara Allen wearing Halston’s Warhol flower dress. After the opening, James Kirkman, an old friend and colleague, offered to lend us his house in Brompton Square for an after party. Unfortunately like so many things in life there was a small misunderstanding, he had thought that it was going to be for about 100 people; in the end it was a large multiple of that. Gerry Elliott, a collector friend from Chicago, admonished me after he discovered that the person from whom he had bought a tie specially for the party was there too (Mr Fish). One of the guests, Paul Getty III, who had left early, was arrested for having oral sex by the grandstand in Hyde Park which turned into a field day for the press, so sadly perhaps we didn’t get as much publicity as we might have done.
I had a girlfriend who was on the board of the Arts Council of Kuwait who had offered to hold an exhibition of any artist of my choice. I suggested maybe Andy Warhol and she jumped at the chance, as did Andy who gave up his invitation to President Carter’s inauguration at the White House to do it. I remember during the lay-over at Frankfurt airport on our way to Kuwait having what I thought would be my last drink for a week or so (boy, how wrong I was!); we were met off the plane by a tomato soup coloured Rolls and ushered away to non-stop parties. At the first dinner we were welcomed by the largest drinks trolley I have ever seen and after dinner the white-gloved English butler offered us all ready-rolled joints on a silver salver. At another lunch a sheik came up to me and said 'You have brought me Andy, now bring me Salvador!' Sadly no commissions materialised but I did manage to sell one Marilyn portfolio and a couple of sets of Soup Cans.
James Mayor and Andy Warhol, Kuwait, 1977
April 23, 2020