Nearly three dozen works by iconic artist Ed Ruscha will hit the auction block at Christie’s on September 27, when bidding opens on the high-profile sale event, Thirty-five Works by Ed Ruscha from the Clarke Collection.

Highlights include word paintings like 1988’s A Person Who is Very Nice, (est. $500,000 – 700,000), 3 Forks, a gunpowder on paper piece from 1967 (est. $400,000 – 600,000), and 1975’s Wavy Robot, another word painting, (est. $400,000 – 600,000). Ruscha’s  high mark is $30.4 million, paid in 2014 for the large-scale oil painting Smash.

“We were collectors before we were buyers,” says architect Fred Clarke who, with wife Linda Weir Clarke, amassed this treasure trove of art over the past 50 years. “We were putting a collection together in our heads. We knew what we were interested in. We had no money in the late sixties and through the mid-seventies, but we were collecting practically every weekend, anticipating what we might be able to buy one day.”

What they have bought since then illustrates an evolution of Ruscha’s work beginning in the late sixties with one of his books, Some Los Angeles Apartments, which they picked up for a few dollars at the now-shuttered Pickwick Bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard while on their way to the Palladium for a Stevie Wonder concert.

“I realized one of the things that I wanted to do was have very good examples of as many of those pieces of his work that are truly searching,” Clarke explains. “So, we tried to have examples of mainly the kind of exploration that he looked at. We wanted it to be something that had real depth to it and see the conversations.”

Ed Ruscha, Standard Station (Engberg 5)
screenprint in colors, 1966. Estimate: $200,000 – 300,000 (Christie’s Images Ltd.)

Originally from Texas, the Clarkes frequently drove the expanse between L.A. and their home around the holidays. It’s a similar drive to the one Ruscha used to frequent from his native Omaha, Nebraska, to L.A. – open highways through high and low desert – and would come to markedly impact his esthetic. A longtime fixture of the L.A. art scene, Ruscha graduated Chouinard Art Institute, (later California Institute for the Arts), and began his career in pop art at the famed Ferus Gallery.

Co-founder of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, the firm behind Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers, the tallest twin structures in the world, as well as West Hollywood’s multi-hued Pacific Design Center, Clarke and Cesar Pelli first met at L.A.’s Gruen and Associates in the early 1970s. Within seven years they formed their own practice in New Haven while Pelli was Dean of the Architecture School at Yale. Pelli passed away last month at the age of 92.

Subsequent sales from the Clarke collection include Post-War to Present, Prints & Multiples in October, Post-War & Contemporary Art Day in November, and Design in December. Highlights throughout the season include Vija Celmins’ Untitled (Long Ocean #5) from 1973 (est. $1.5 – 2 million), Slate Cup II made by Ken Price in 1972 (est. $200,000 – 300,000), and Donald Judd’s Frame Chair, no. 72 (est. $20,000 – 30,000).

“Each of these pictures has a story. We’ve never just simply bought things. There’s always been a reason or a place or a moment. It was a huge part of our social cultural milieu in Los Angeles in those days,” Clarke explains. “We really saw much of the city through the work of Ruscha, through the work of Ken Price, through the work of Vija Celmins. It allowed us to see things in common objects that we really had not seen before. That kind of emotional connection really sticks with you.”

Ed Ruscha, Palm, gunpowder and pastel on paper, 1970. Estimate: $400,000 – 600,000 (Christie’s Images Ltd.)

An Ed Ruscha Library. A collection of 16 of the artist’s books, first or only editions, signed where indicated together with a small collection of exhibition catalogs. Estimate: $20,000 – 30,000 (Christie’s Images Ltd)

Ed Ruscha, Wavy Robot, gunpowder on paper, 1975. Estimate: $400,000 – 600,000 (Christie’s Images Ltd.)

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