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The theater world mourned the loss of a national treasure when Edward Albee died last September. A three-time Pulitzer winner, he is best known for his Tony winner, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which later became a classic film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Albee touched the lives of many in the theater world, which is why stars like Kathleen Turner, Sally Field, Bill Irwin and now Mercedes Ruehl participated in a series of videos about their work with the playwright to help promote the Sept. 26 auction of his art collection at Sotheby’s. Hitting the block are 100 pieces, most of them by 20th century masters like Wassily Kandinsky, Jean Arp, Kurt Schwitters, John McLaughlin, Lee Krasner and Richard Sera. All proceeds from the auction will benefit The Edward F. Albee Foundation, which provides residencies for writers and visual artists in Montauk, New York, on the eastern tip of Long Island.
“What is important about Edward’s work,” says Ruehl in the video, to be posted Thursday by Sotheby’s. “It’s that he reaches down deep into the unconscious life of human beings to find the thing that disturbs, animates move and finally defines us.” Ruehl was nominated for a Tony for her role in the 2002 Broadway production of the playwright’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?
“Great literature, great art, is timeless,” Field, who took over Ruehl’s role in The Goat, says in her three-minute short. “Every generation can look at it and find themselves in it. And Edward Albee is that. He will always strike a chord in human beings because he writes about the difficulty of the human experience.”
Albee’s art collection also includes an early work by Marc Chagall, as well as a vast assortment of African and Oceanic sculptures. “He was a promiscuous collector, someone really curious, looking at all different categories, all different historical eras, and really considering the status and gravitational pull of each object,” says Sotheby’s fine art division chairman Amy Cappellazzo, who knew the playwright. “He was a very expansive thinker. He was very quick to put things together that wouldn’t seem obvious.”
In his essay “Context Is All,” Albee wrote, “There is something that makes something art. … It doesn’t have anything to do with anything except the piece itself is art in context.” Parallels can be drawn between Albee’s artwork and his plays. The clean precision of lines in paintings like McLaughlin’s V-1957, where a slash of red on white emanates from a mid-point meeting of two black corners, suggests spare dialogue as well as clear and concisely stated conflict, an Albee hallmark.
“As I think about my tastes in music and the visual arts I suspect it all is a piece with my playwriting,” Albee wrote in A Playwright’s Adventure in the Visual Arts. “How I ‘see’ and how I ‘hear’ determines how I think, and that determines how I write, and that, of course, determines who I am.”
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