Self-made multi-millionaire businessman Miles Fiterman and his wife Shirley engrossed themselves in a lifetime of collecting masterpieces of contemporary art with scholarly vigor while cultivating personal bonds with the artists they admired.
Miles Fiterman began making kits of precut lumber to build homes in Minnesota shortly after World War II. His humble Miles Homes business burst into an empire, and he sold it for $29 million in 1972 to the Insilco Corporation, which began in 1898 as International Silver Company. In New York, the couple is best remembered for donating a $30 million building to the Borough of Manhattan Community College in 1993, one of the largest gifts ever to a community college.
In the global art world, they’re recognized for curating a sensational personal collection, featuring masterworks by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Alexander Calder, Robert Motherwell, and Joan Miró.
The Miles and Shirley Fiterman Collection, the cornerstone of May 15-16 sales in New York, a May 26 sale in Hong Kong, and June sales in London, is expected to generate more than $60 million and usher in a new era for Phillips.
“The Fiterman Collection is a really wonderful achievement that allows us to showcase our capabilities,” said Phillips Chairwoman Cheyenne Westphal. “We were competing with Christie’s and Sotheby’s, and what gave us a competitive advantage is that we promise and deliver our focus and dedication on this collection.”
Learn about Westphal’s goals for 2019 and how she plans to rocket the auction house to a new level of competition among contemporary art sales.
Many of the 95 works in the collection were exhibited throughout the 1970s and 1980s at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Norton Gallery School of Art in West Palm Beach, Fla., and other institutions where the Fitermans were highly-regarded patrons. Many others haven’t been on public view since the couple acquired them.
“Miles and Shirley Fiterman have assembled an extraordinary collection that incorporates the very best examples across a breadth of artistic movements. Their vision and discerning eye helped to shape the course of the art historical canon of the 20th century, as they championed artists such as Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, and helped museums to acquire and exhibit challenging works of art,” said Robert Manley and Jean-Paul Engelen, Phillips’ worldwide co-heads of 20th Century and Contemporary Art. “The works being offered at Phillips this year are a testament to their keen connoisseurship and adventurous spirit.”
With an eye for the most quintessential Pop Art, the Fitermans amassed an enviable collection, led by Lichtenstein’s Horse and Rider (1976), expected to fetch between $7 million and $10 million.
Horse and Rider is both a tribute to the previous innovation of Futurism and a revolutionary work of contemporary art that inspires artists today. The only other Lichtenstein paintings depicting the subject matter belongs to the permanent collection of the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna.
Warhols for sale include 9 Flowers (1965), anticipated to sell for between $3 million and $4 million, and Soup Can (1962), acquired from Gordon Locksley, who introduced the Fitermans to Warhol when he first visited Minneapolis in the 1960s. Their friendship blossomed, motivating the couple to invest in Warhol portraits, including David Hockney (1974) and Roy Lichtenstein (1976).
Besides one the world’s most comprehensive collections of Warhols and Lichtensteins ever to come to market, the couple acquired many trailblazing works shortly after their creation, including Hockney’s Study for Parade (1981), and Donald Judd’s Untitled (1970).
The Fitermans were true patrons to their chosen masters, working closely with artists to promote their work and assisting with museum exhibitions They became fixtures in the art world, collaborating with the dealers, museum directors, and curators they supported.
Deeply dedicated to the artists they most adored, the couple began collecting in the 1960s and devoted a lifetime in Minnesota, Palm Beach, and New York, to that pursuit, along with their philanthropic efforts. Over the last 15 years of his life, Miles Fiterman financed major research grants through the American Gastroenterological Association, and endowed a center at the Mayo Clinic, known as the Miles and Shirley Fiterman Center for Digestive Diseases.