Dicke is also a major supporter of the Dayton Art Institute. A representative from Crown Equipment who confirmed that the work was in the Dicke Collection beginning in 2008 said that Jim Dicke loaned it to the Dayton Art Institute in June 2008, and that it remained on view until May 2010. In 2011, the museum hosted the exhibition “Creating the New Century: Contemporary Work from the Dicke Collection” and Helter Skelter I
appears in a photo in the catalogue, and a contemporaneous story in the Dayton City Paper mentions
seeing it installed in the Dayton Art Institute’s rotunda room. A curator at the Dayton Art Institute also confirmed that Helter Skelter I
was for a time in the Dicke collection.
Jim Dicke held onto the work for about five years. In 2013, the art advisor Josh Baer was sniffing around for a Bradford and heard from another private dealer that Helter Skelter I was very quietly back on the market. Thrilled, Baer passed the word along to one of his biggest clients, the retired tennis champion and commentator John McEnroe, who was nearly as famous for his on-court tantrums as he was for his serve and volley.
McEnroe has been collecting art since the 1980s, and in 1994, the retired champ even went so far as to open his own gallery in Soho, having learned the ropes from friends such as Larry Gagosian. After making the gallery appointment-only, he continued to build his collection and became interested in purchasing a Bradford after getting a recommendation from Ann Philbin, who was then the director of the Drawing Center
, and now runs the Hammer Museum
in Los Angeles.
Speaking with Baer in an interview published in the Phillips catalogue, McEnroe said, “When you said you can get me one, but it’s going to be the mother of all Bradfords, I was like OK. When we did go and see Helter Skelter I, I remember just thinking to myself, ‘Oh my God, here we go again.’”
It was a prolonged extraction process—McEnroe makes passing reference to “all the effort of getting Helter Skelter I ” in the interview—but he was finally able to purchase the massive work and transport it, rolled up, to his pied-à-terre in Soho, the entire second floor of 41 Greene Street. After a few years of living with it, in early 2017 he started planning to redecorate his loft, which would mean parting ways with the gigantic work.
The timing, a Phillips official said, was excellent. With the Venice Biennale coming up, Bradford was about to become a household name. And with the artist’s newfound fame, McEnroe thought that it could benefit from a public offering at auction.
“John has this history with very large scale works that he has to own for a limited period of time—he enjoys them, absorbs them and then moves on,” said Jean-Paul Engelen, deputy chairman, Americas, at Phillips. “And, the timing was good.”
Engelen said he began talking with McEnroe in the fall of 2017, and eventually came by the Soho pad to see it. Until then, he had only read about the work and seen photos of it. “I remember coming through the door in his loft and thinking, Oh my God, this is incredible,” Engelen said.
Consignment negotiations ensued, but stalled because there was no third-party guarantee—the irrevocable bid from someone outside of the auction house that reassures the seller she or he will receive a minimum guaranteed price. Eventually, the house was able to rope in someone to put up the money to match the minimum price.
When asked about the third-party guarantor, Engelen said that development was “very, very helpful” in convincing McEnroe to part with the work—and to do so specifically at Phillips, not at its higher-profile rivals, Christie’s and Sotheby’s—but also that the pedigree of the guarantor was much to everyone’s liking.
“The third party knew the painting, knew of the rep of the painting—he had seen it in the New Museum show and was very excited, and didn’t want to miss the opportunity,” Engelen said. “It made it easier that the third party did see the work initially.”
When asked on the phone why he advised McEnroe to go with Phillips, Baer said, “This is an opportunity for Phillips to demonstrate that they can sell this masterwork, and build their brand.”
“It’s an achievement to make a new auction record for an artist,” added Baer, who also runs the well-read art industry newsletter, The Baer Faxt. “They know what's at stake and I think they’ll get it done.”
Phillips declined to comment on the identity of the guarantor, beyond denying it was one collector whose name had been thrown around by several sources. But being guarantor does not necessarily mean going home with the prize pony. People all over the world seem to want to buy Mark Bradfords. Hauser & Wirth is set to open its first gallery in Asia during Art Basel in Hong Kong next month, and the first show will once again be a stack of new work by Mark Bradford.
Marc Payot, who is partner and vice president at Hauser & Wirth, admitted that Bradford’s high-profile auction appearances—coupled with the shows in Venice and at the Hirshhorn—do affect the way in which the gallery prices the work, but maintained that “the leading factors influencing price and demand are the quality and impact of the art itself.”
“Mark’s work is outstanding—it’s uniquely radical and resonant—and this has become clearer and clearer with his numerous institutional shows over the past couple years,” Payot added in an emailed statement.
Engelen acknowledged Bradford’s market has been fanned by the number of shows around the world, and believed there were plenty of potential bidders ready to outbid the guarantor.
“We’ve been approached by several people who want to come in and take a look at the painting,” he said.
And Bedford, as the director of a major city’s biggest art museum, was less concerned with the identity of the buyer than with the buyer’s intentions—that is, whether or not they would be willing to purchase the work and then gift it to an institution.
“There are certain works, in their scale and ambition and effect, that are pretty unique in their communicative capabilities across those thresholds,” he said. “I think Helter Skelter I is one of them—it would be a remarkable thing if that painting would be committed to a public collection as a promised gift.”