What you see: A Jim Dine landscape screen, created in a limited edition of 30 in 1969. Wright estimates it at $7,000 to $9,000.
The expert: Richard Wright, president of Wright auction house.
Who is Jim Dine, and what makes his work compelling? Jim Dine is a pretty famous artist. He starts working in the late 1950s and very early 1960s, and participates in the very first Happenings in New York City. His work is not really Pop Art, but there’s Pop Art sensibilities in early work of his. He’s famous for his heart paintings and his bathrobe prints. Dine’s art is very human. It’s about being alive. To me, there’s a sense of joy and wonder about the world in the screen. The panels refer to the sky, the grass, a rainbow, and–it’s open to interpretation–a starry night.
How prolific is Jim Dine? Has anyone done a catalogue raisonné on him? There might be a catalogue raisonné of his prints and multiples. This screen is a multiple [an artwork deliberately produced in a series of identical pieces]. He’s a master printmaker from the early 1960s to today, and it’s a really important part of his output.
Is it fair to say he’s done several thousand artworks over his seven-decade career? Oh yes, sure.
Where was Jim Dine in his career in 1969, when he made this limited edition screen? By 1969, I think he’d left New York and was coming into his very personal style. The colors and the mood of this piece is pretty 1960s. It’s of its place and time.
Do we know how he came to make this limited edition screen? I don’t. He’s definitely always worked in prints, and done other multiples. I don’t know of other screens he’s done.
What can we tell, just by looking, about how challenging this Jim Dine screen might have been to make? It’s a screenprint, published by Petersburg Press, London. It’s all individual panels hinged together. I don’t think it was that complicated. It’s a screenprint on linen canvas, so it gives the feel of a painting. It’s always interesting when an artist conceives of a painting in three dimensions. He could have had it [the screen] totally flat, have it read as 2-D. The fact that it can stand freely in space… painters want [their works to be] strong enough to get off the wall. That’s what this does. It has the presence of a painting in space.
Do you think that’s what Jim Dine was trying to achieve here–a painting in space? I do. There’s no reason to pursue a folding screen other than wanting to be out in space, a divider standing apart from the wall.
Is the Jim Dine screen double-sided? It is double-sided.
Did he design it and hand it off to others to fabricate, or was he physically involved in the creation of the limited edition? I think he designed the prototype and handed it off for production. He would have overseen the final production and okayed it by signing it.
What motifs and details present in the Jim Dine screen appear in his later work? Definitely the rainbow. There’s a great little rainbow painting in the Whitney’s permanent collection–The Black Rainbow, from 1959 to 1960. I don’t know how long he used the motif, but he definitely used it throughout the 1960s.
In what ways is this Jim Dine screen typical of his work, and in what ways is it atypical? I don’t think he did a lot of screens. The screen, in and of itself, is atypical. It feels to me, looking at it, as pretty identifiable as Jim Dine. The color palette and the juxtaposition of imagery feels like his work.
Is the color palette part of his visual signature? I think, from the 1960s, yes. Again, there’s a kind of Pop-iness to the color palette and the way it’s put together–blue to yellow to green to black to rainbow–the colors are almost banging up against each other, a cacophony of color. He uses color in an almost riotous way, almost a discordant way.
In prepping for this story, I found a 2017 Chicago Reader article in which Dine was quoted as saying, “I’ve always viewed my work as self-portraits, no matter what it’s been.” Do you think that holds true here? If so, in what ways might the screen serve as a Jim Dine self-portrait? Yes, I think it’s kind of what I said about his work being very human. I think his work is less about him and more about being alive, the essence of the vitality of life. The landscape screen [reflects] all hours of day and night. The rainbow is up against what I think is a night sky. Summer grass is up against yellow and a blue sky. Obviously it’s not literally a self-portrait. I read it as the feeling of being alive and outside, of being in the world and seeing it all.
What is the Jim Dine screen like in person? Are there any aspects or details that the camera doesn’t pick up? In person, you get the nice texture of the canvas, which gives more warmth than you would get with paper. And you get the height–it’s six feet high. It has a bodily presence as well.
The photos make the Jim Dine screen seem cheerful-looking. Is it a mood-lifter in person? Particularly now, with everyone stuck in place because of COVID-19? [Laughs] Yeah. Again, what I value about his work is his sense of humanity. In a time of social isolation, you feel the joy of feeling alive. It can be one of the hardest things to tune in to and be aware of. The screen reminds you to look at the sky, the grass, take a deep breath, smell the earth. It’s all pretty real stuff.
How heavy is the Jim Dine screen? It’s easy to move around. One person can move it, but I haven’t actually moved it.
This Jim Dine screen is number three in an edition of 30. How often do they tend to come to market? On the world-wide auction market, it appears roughly once in 18 months.
This particular screen was owned by Gene Summers, who was a friend of Jim Dine. Does that provenance make it more interesting to collectors? Gene was a dear friend of Jim and wanted to buy one example of everything he produced in prints and multiples. Summers was an architect, and he worked with Dine on hotels and restaurants. It’s always wonderful when something is acquired directly from an artist by someone who had a long relationship with him, and has never been on the market. I don’t want to overstate it. It’s a multiple. I don’t know if [the provenance] adds that much. But if you’re a connoisseur, it’s a really great one, and it has a story that’s quite nice.
What condition is the Jim Dine screen in? It’s definitely in very good condition. With careful use, it’s pretty easy to maintain the condition of this piece.
In your experience, do clients use the Jim Dine screen as a screen, or do they treat it more like a work of art? Kind of both. I think a lot use it against a wall, or up against a window that shows another building, or in an ugly corner, creative uses like that.
What’s the world auction record for this Jim Dine screen? It was $15,000, set at Swann in May 2015.
Why will this Jim Dine screen stick in your memory? We’re dealing with Gene Summers’ family. I never got to know Gene personally, but I’ve worked with the widow and the extended family. I’ll remember the piece because it was part of Gene’s life. That’s how it stays with me.
Images are courtesy of Wright.
Richard Wright has appeared on The Hot Bid previously, discussing a pair of Pedro Friedeberg Hand chairs that were offered in the same Rago auction, a record-setting Walter Dorwin Teague-designed Nocturne radio, a record-setting Isamu Noguchi table, and an Isamu Noguchi sculpture.
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