The Form of Ideas | Contemporary Art Online

The Form of Ideas | Contemporary Art Online

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 701. JOHN M. MILLER | ABSTRACT #6.


Lot Closed

March 8, 05:01 PM GMT


5,000 - 7,000 USD

Lot Details


The Form of Ideas: Conceptual Art from A Distinguished California Collection


1939 - 2016


signed, titled and dated 1976 on the reverse

acrylic on canvas

86⅜ by 76½ in. (219.4 by 194.4 cm.)


By Paul Schimmel

I remember the first time I realized how special Arnold Forde was. After introducing him to Richard Bellamy during a visit to the Long Island City studio of Mark di Suvero, Richard, with that familiar twinkle in his eye, remarked to me, “He’s one in a million.” Arnold and his wife, Marie, were making their first visit to collections, galleries, and artist studios in New York as acquisition committee members of the Newport Harbor Art Museum (now the Orange County Museum of Art), where I was then chief curator. The Fordes had already purchased a significant sculpture by Louise Nevelson as well as a charming work on paper by Camille Pissarro, but this was the first of many trips we had together over the next decade that would quickly cement one of the most important collections of contemporary art in Southern California. It was clear to me that day that Arnold and Marie weren’t just interested in helping the museum grow its holdings—they wanted to be both immersed and versed in the history of postwar art.

On that same trip, we had a long visit at Paula Cooper Gallery, where we saw works by Robert Gober as well as significant examples of Minimal art from the 1960s by Carl Andre, Donald Judd, and Tony Smith. I soon had an indication of how quick Arnold was on his feet. Having lunch around the corner afterward at Emilio’s Ballato, he leaned over to ask, “Do you really think the works we just saw are as historically important as you said they were?” I responded, “Which one interests you?” Arnold replied, “All three.” Excusing himself between courses, he then walked back to the gallery and made his first impetuously brilliant and important acquisitions. Indeed, he was one in a million.

Marie was a great match for Arnold in every way, including as a partner in collecting—it was her decision to acquire those first Nevelson and Pissarro works. As a member of the OCMA acquisitions committee, she attended every trip. And in building and overseeing the Forde Collection, she found her calling, deftly overseeing all site installation, including newly made, site-specific works, as well as managing artwork registration and conservation. She is passionate, knowledgeable, and has a deep commitment to women artists.

The Fordes’ early interest in Minimal art was foundational to the collection. It also kindled their interest in a group of artists who were deeply affected by and directly responding to that movement. Over the years, they acquired a cracked cube by Ulrich Rückriem, an ethereal geometric installation by Fred Sandback that they commissioned for their Laguna Beach home on Cliff Drive (the only Sandback commission on the West Coast), paintings by Imi Knoebel, a creosote log by Robert Grosvenor, and, on the more conceptual side, site-specific works by Niele Toroni and Lawrence Weiner. Weiner’s text piece was a response to the shoreline, in particular the expanse of boulders set into the beach that served as a retaining wall; at the uppermost part of the property, he installed Mortar stones and such set as a means of blocking the inevitable slide of the land back into the sea. How perfect. Acconci’s work also perfectly complements the shoreline below the Fordes’ residence: a koi pond made from the seemingly crashed landing of two row boats, as if they had washed up and fused together to become a refuge.

If Minimal art was a foundation of the Forde Collection, then Arte Povera brought the poetry, with its anti-establishment politics and its fragile, anarchistic vision of the world. During that first New York trip, we also visited Sonnabend Gallery and were treated to a selection from Ileana Sonnabend’s legendary collection. Marie, especially, was immediately taken with the Arte Povera works they viewed and, over the next decade, they acquired many works from that then-underappreciated movement, including key pieces by Alighiero Boetti and Paolo Calozari. While Arnold and Marie spent a great deal of time living in New York and traveling in Europe, they were first and foremost California collectors, acquiring works by artists such as John Baldessari, Chris Burden, Mike Kelly, Liz Larner, John Miller, and Thaddeus Strode when many of them were still early in their careers. Arriving at the Cliff Drive house, one was greeted by a wall-sized glass window onto an entryway occupied by Burden’s Big Wheel (1979), a defining acquisition for the Fordes as well as for Burden, who had always hoped that his “institutional” piece would end up in an institution (it is now in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, by way of the Lannan Foundation).

When it was sold, it left a void that was soon filled by Burden’s Yin Yang duo of artworks Bulldozer (2007), an International T6 crawler the artist used to cut roads on his Topanga Canyon property as a way of clearing his mind, and Lotus (2006), the race car that he favored for pleasure driving. In 2007, after these works were shown at Gagosian in Los Angeles, they were craned into the Laguna Beach space—a preposterous, almost surreal scene on Cliff Drive that furthered the tradition of the readymade into body/performance art.

Throughout our travels together, Arnold and Marie were always generous and gracious to the artists, curators, gallerists, and fellow collectors they encountered. They became close to Fred Hoffman and Stuart Regen in Los Angeles, Marian Goodman, Lawrence Luhring and Roland Augustine, Ileana Sonnabend, and Elan Wingate in New York, and Max Hetzler in Cologne. Wherever we ventured, there was always a wonderful mix of engaged and creative people who found Arnold as interesting as I did—he was a complex and riveting man with an endlessly restless mind and imagination. Among the last projects that he worked on was the Great Park in Irvine California, a plan for the public and sustainable reuse of the decommissioned El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. Working with designer and project lead Ken Smith to envision the site, Arnold dreamed of commissioning large-scale, site-specific artworks, art pavilions, and a museum. As with his art collecting, the more engaged he became, the more courageous and visionary he was.

Paul Schimmel

Chief Curator, The Orange County Museum of Art, 1981–1989

Chief Curator, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1989–2012


Miller abandoned figurative painting entirely in the early 1970s, stripping art down to what he considered its essence. For him, this meant the form of angled bars repeated across the picture place. He painted these bars on unprimed canvas for the last forty years of his career.