THE JOSEPH GREENBERG COLLECTION
You’re about to meet the late Joe Greenberg. That may seem like a contradiction or a bit insensitive: how can you meet someone who is no longer with us, let alone someone who passed away 14 years ago? Not an unreasonable response, I agree; but perhaps I can explain what I mean.
It was the recent passing of Roni (Veronica), Joe’s wife, that led to our being invited into the Greenberg home, high on a cliff in beautiful Mt. Martha, and our first introduction to these fascinating people. Shortly afterwards, having received the request that we assist the estate with the sale of the contents of the home, we returned– several times – and started to build our relationships with Joe and Roni. It appears that very little had changed in the home since Joe’s passing, and that meant that we could wander from room to room, observing what pictures had been hung on the walls, which pieces had pride of place, how the books were displayed and collected, where the statues lived, what was in storage under the house, and even what was a work-in-progress.
Joe had been a graphic artist, writer, cartoonist, painter, collector, lecturer, raconteur and student of all forms of artistic expression. Roni had been his constant companion, the love of his life and his muse. They counted many well-known artists amongst their friends and enjoyed a particularly close relationship with Ray Crooke and his family from the time that the two young artists had first met as students at Swinburne Tech in the early 1940s.
The collection they assembled is full of the pictures, sculptures, artefacts and curiosities that fascinated Joe, in particular. One gets a strong sense of wonder, curiosity, striving to understand, which seems to have informed the process of filling every available corner of the house. Although born into a Jewish family, Joe’s fascination with all aspects of religious artistic expression, extended to the cultic figurines of various African and other tribal traditions, the many faces of Christ, the Madonna and the Saints, Hindu paintings and manuscripts and much more. Not confining himself to the visual arts, Joe also immersed himself in the music, the architecture and the philosophy of these traditions. He explored these themes in many of his own paintings, all of which can be seen as part of this life-long engagement with the divine or the way mankind has expressed its’ relationship with the godly.
It seems that Joe was never without a pen, paper and the need to record: a walk on the beach resulted in some fabulous displays of seaweed “art” (see Lots 266 and 268) or the collection of flotsam-and-jetsam and other discarded objects, which became sculptures, found dotted around the gardens (see Lots 493 and 494). A trip to North Queensland would result in a day-by-day visual diary extensively supported by Joe’s recounting of events (see Lot 535), anecdotes or memories of things that had happened during the journey. The years Joe and Roni spent living and working overseas are wonderfully chronicled, illustrated and preserved in Joe’s very readable and entertaining word and pen pictures that form his autobiography (see Lot 534).
We are very lucky to have had the benefit of the guidance and knowledge of two wonderful people: Gordon Morrison, until recently, Director of the Ballarat Art Gallery, and Elizabeth Cross, well known for her work as an art historian, curator and artist. Gordon has contributed a short essay on the icons and statues which are presented here as the Greenberg collection of Christian art and icons (Lots 1 – 80). His enthusiasm for the subject knows no bounds and we are deeply indebted to him for his assistance with the descriptions. Elizabeth, was kind enough to help us work through the legacy Joe left us of his own creations – the paintings, drawings, sketches and collages – and to help us understand his motivations and aspirations see (Lots 432 – 536). We think you will find Elizabeth’s essay helpful for a unique reason: virtually none of Joe Greenberg’s art has been offered for sale at public auction. There is no “market price” for an artist that has not been marketed. It is most unusual, perhaps unique, for a substantial body of work to come onto the market for the first time, more than a decade after the death of the artist. Hopefully, Elizabeth’s essay will help you find your way to the images and styles that appeal to you.
Special thanks also to Guy Earl-Smith whose assistance was invaluable in bringing the collection to market.
To return to my opening point; I think you will now understand why we feel you are about to get to know Joe Greenberg. If you can’t see the cheeky glint in his eye, the broad smile on his happy face, if you don’t feel the warmth of his welcome or feel that you have made the acquaintance of an extraordinary human being, then we haven’t done our job properly.
Leski Auctions is proud to have been trusted to bring this extraordinary assemblage to the market. We look forward to sharing it with you.
001-080 Christian Icons, Statuary and Antiques
081-137 Advertising Ware and Decorative Arts
138-149 Chinese & Asian Artefacts
195-208 Rugs & Textiles
209-216 Lamps & Lighting
217-231 Jewellery, Watches, Luxury Accessories and Medals
274-315 Books, Ephemera and Photographs
316-324 Australian Pottery
325-431 Australian & International Art
432-536 The Art of Joseph Greenberg
537-702 Tribal Art & Artefacts