An Oscar-winning director is selling off the collection of a lifetime. Director Jonathan Demme, who directed “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia” among many other films, is turning 70 and he is selling off his collection of self-taught art in Philadelphia. Material Culture is holding a weekend of auctions: Direct from the Eye: The Jonathan Demme Collection of Self-Taught Art” runs on the weekend of March 29 and 30. Demme has traveled the world and his taste for self-taught art circles the globe with work from Haitian and American self-taught artists, intuitive painters from Jamaica, as well as art from Africa, South America and Europe.
His love of Haitian art began in 1987 when he discovered a painting in the Haitian Corner, a gallery then located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. This started him on a journey of collecting that had him acquiring not just the works but also a comprehensive knowledge of the artists and the culture that informs their work. The art inspired his trips to Haiti. He has presented several exhibitions of his collections including one in New York City in 1997 titled: “Island on Fire: Passionate Visions of Haiti From the Collection of Jonathan Demme.” He has had many other exhibits in Miami Beach, Toronto, and other cities and has been part of the curatorial team for shows at Ramapo College in New Jersey featuring Haitian art. He also made two documentaries on Haiti including “The Agronomist” in 2002 focusing on t Haiti’s most famous journalist. Jean Dominique, the founder of Radio Haiti International.
His art collection features many artists who got their start at the Centre d’Art in Port-au-Prince which was founded by American artist Dewitt Peters in 1944. That center was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake and Demme plans to donate some of the proceeds to the rebuilding effort. Works such as “Une Deeuse Famme,” by spiritual and surrealist painter Hector Hyppolite—dates to the mid-1940s, not long after the Centre’s birth. Other artists featured in the sale include Gesner Abelard, Montas Antoine, Toussaint Auguste, Wilson Bigaud, Murat Brierre, Bourmond Byron, Etienne Chavannes, Préfete Duffaut, Gerard (Fortune), Jacques-Enguerrand Gourgue, Wilfred Guerrier, Edger Jean-Baptiste, Jasmin Joseph, Pierre Joseph (Valcin), Wesner LaForest, Peterson Laurent, Georges Liautaud, Adam Leontus, André Normil, Gerard Valcin, and Pauleus Vital. The auction may brign in over $1 million.
Before the auctions there will be an exhibition running March 22 through March 29 daily. The exhibition in Material Culture’s gallery space will show Haitian works grouped by region as well as ‘mini-exhibits’ of Carribbean watercolors, ironwork and sequined Vodou Drapeaus paired with self-taught art from other countries. The show is curated by José Zelaya and Wael Qattan. A special celebration for Demme celebrating the auctions and his birthday will be held on March 28 with live music by Sister Carol East. Those not in the area can bid online through LiveAuctioneers.com.