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Norman Lear not only knew about television, but the late TV icon was also an influential art collector along with his wife of 37 years, Lyn Davis Lear.

And now, several pieces from the Lears’ art collection will hit the Christie’s auction block, including David Hockney’s 1967 “A Lawn Being Sprinkled.” When the “All in the Family” creator bought the work in 1978 for $64,000, it marked the highest price paid for a piece by the British artist. Christie’s estimates it will bring in $25-$35 million after debuting during the 20th Century Evening Sale in New York City on May 16. “I remember when I first met Norman, he had a gallery,” Lyn Davis Lear told me. “He loved showing people art.”

David Hockney’s “A Lawn Being Sprinkled.”

Norman Lear was introduced to the local Los Angeles art scene in the 1970s by agent-turned-television-producer Richard “Dick” Dorso. “They were great friends and whenever they had time off, Dick would take Norman around to galleries,” Lyn Davis Lear said. “He was real mentor. A lot of our great pieces came from them walking around those art galleries.”

Six other works will also debut alongside “A Lawn Being Sprinkled,” followed by additional works being offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale. In total, the full collection is expected to bring in more than $50 million.

Norman Lear died in December of last year at age 101. Lyn Davis Lear explained that she decided to sell some of their collection because she wanted to make room for new pieces she’s acquiring. “It was hard because I’m on my own journey without Norman and I wanted to start to find new artists who I loved and reflected me,” she said. “Norman and I would agree on what we bought together, but I’m excited about starting a new collection to give weight to some old friends and make new friends. It’ll be an adventure, I’m sure.”

She added, “I really don’t like art in storage. I think it should be out there. I’m not one of those collectors who keeps a lot and rotates.”

The Lears befriended many of the artists they collected, including Hockney, Bob Graham, Robert Rauschenberg and Roy Lichtenstein. Many would donate pieces to help raise funds for “People for the American Way,” the progressive advocacy organization Norman co-founded with political trailblazer Barbara Jordan in 1981.

Ed Ruscha’s “Truth.”

Lyn Davis Lear believes her late husband’s favorite piece in the Christie’s auction would likely be Ed Ruscha’s “Truth,” a 1973 painting featuring the word “Truth” in fire-colored letters. “If there’s any word that represents Norman it would be ‘truth,” the search for truth,” she said. “Everything he did was about that, including politics and getting people to vote as well as telling stories that would ring true to everybody.”

Other artists from the Lear collection being represented by Christie’s include Willem de Kooning, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Ellsworth Kelly and Joseph Cornell.

Max Carter, Christie’s vice chairman of 20th and 21st Century Art, credited Norman Lear with being one of Los Angeles’ first major collectors of contemporary art. “There was a tradition in L.A. in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, when you had the great movie moguls, directors and producers buying art, but they were buying Renoirs and things from the late 19th century,” Carter said. “Whereas when Norman started buying in the late 1970s and then with Lyn, they were buying pieces that were much more of the moment or specific to L.A.”

Norman Lear and Lyn Davis Lear attend the Oscar Wilde Awards 2020 at Bad Robot on February 6, 2020 in Santa Monica, California.
Getty Images for US-Ireland Alli

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