Christie’s Will Sell a Major Diebenkorn ‘Ocean Park’ Painting Owned by the Late Mary Tyler Moore

Will a Diebenkorn masterpiece formerly owned by the iconic actress make for a historic price?

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #137 (1985) Courtesy Christie's Image Ltd

Christie’s has just unveiled another highlight of its upcoming postwar and contemporary art evening sale on November 15: a monumental painting from Richard Diebenkorn’s famous “Ocean Park” series that was formerly owned by the late actress Mary Tyler Moore and her husband, S. Robert Levine.

Mary Tyler Moore with her husband, Dr. Robert Levine. Photo: Patrick Demarchelier.

Mary Tyler Moore with her husband, S. Robert Levine. Photo: Patrick Demarchelier.

The work, which carries an estimate of $18 million to $22 million, could potentially set a new auction record. The current high for Diebenkorn, of $23.9 million, was set earlier this year at Christie’s New York when a work from the same series, Ocean Park #126 (1984), sold for $23.9 million against a presale estimate of $16 million to $20 million. The second-highest price of $13.5 million was paid for Ocean Park #48 (1971), in 2012, also at Christie’s New York.

The artnet Price Database lists more than 1,700 auction results for Diebenkorn. Five of these have sold for over $10 million, and all are from the “Ocean Park” series.

According to Christie’s, the current work on offer measures over eight feet tall and was executed on the largest canvas that the artist could possibly fit through his studio doors in Los Angeles.

Of course, the fact that it was owned by one of the most beloved American actresses in television history will only add to its allure. Moore, who became famous for her groundbreaking role in the eponymous CBS series and, prior to that, The Dick Van Dyke Show, acquired the work with her husband in 1988. The Christie’s sale marks the first time it has changed hands since then.

The painting was shown in a solo show in New York at the Knoedler Gallery shortly after the artist completed it.

Diebenkorn began the “Ocean Park” series in 1967 after he relocated to Southern California from San Francisco and accepted a teaching position at UCLA. Sam Francis, his friend and fellow painter, offered to let him take over his studio in Ocean Park in Santa Monica, and the large windows afforded a view out on the roofs, building, strips of beach, and sky and water beyond.

“Diebenkorn was hardly alone in his new neighborhood,” Christie’s notes. “Ocean Park’s inexpensive rent attracted a wide range of artists including James Turrell, William Wegman, Robert Irwin, and John Baldessari.” The artist was happy to be there and “almost immediately began painting the large-format geometric abstractions that would seal his place in history.”

In addition to Moore’s trailblazing television roles, for which she won seven Emmy awards (out of 15 nominations), the actress was famous for her outstanding performance in the Oscar-winning 1980 film Ordinary People, directed by Robert Redford.

Moore, who battled type 1 diabetes for more than four decades, was also committed to helping others who suffered from the disease, including championing research for a cure through the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. She passed away at the age of 80 in January, 2017.

Levine, her husband of 34 years, has pledged a portion of the proceeds of the upcoming sale to the Mary Tyler Moore and S. Robert Levine Charitable Foundation in order to continue their philanthropic mission, which includes supporting animal rights and performing arts, in addition to diabetes research.

Fittingly, the Diebenkorn painting is on view at Christie’s Los Angeles, the same city where it was painted, through October 27.

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