Claes Oldenburg - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Tuesday, May 16, 2023 | Phillips

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  • “I think a good dealer is also a collector.”
    —Rosa Esman

    Rosa and Aaron Esman assembled an outstanding collection of Modern, Post-War, and Contemporary art over the course of their seventy-year marriage. The collection’s highlights mirror that of Rosa’s career as a gallerist and edition publisher with the strong support of Aaron, a psychoanalyst and passionate collector, with interests in Modernism, Dada, Russian Constructivism, and American Pop Art taking center stage. Rosa began publishing portfolios of prints by contemporary artists in the 1960s. Editions such as the New York Ten Portfolio, 1965, and Ten from Leo Castelli, 1967, which featured works by rising contemporary artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Rauschenberg, and helped pioneer the field of artist’s editions and multiples. Her eponymous gallery exhibited in Manhattan for over twenty years, and she was a founding partner of Ubu Gallery, which is still in operation today.


    When asked about her wide artistic tastes in 2009, Rosa emphasized her love of drawing, “the
    quintessential bit of the art,” which can be seen across the Esman collection, regardless of genre.

    Art was one of several passions that Rosa and Aaron shared, even when they began dating in the early 1950s. In 1952, they bought their first artwork together, a drawing by Miró, initiating their shared pursuit of inspired collecting that would continue for the rest of their lives. Rosa recalled: “sometimes we look at something, and I say, ‘Oh, isn’t that marvelous?’ and Aaron would respond, ‘It’s for us.’”i Founded in lifelong love, the Collection of Rosa and Aaron Esman gives a unique vision of the art movements of the 20th century that shaped New York’s art scene.

    “It was op and pop. And it was just anybody who was around whom I liked whom I knew.”
    —Rosa Esman on the creation of the New York Ten Portfolio

    Claes Oldenburg’s Flying Pizza (Original Drawing for New York Ten) is a preparatory study for the New York Ten portfolio, envisioned by Rosa Esman’s Tanglewood Press in 1965. Described by Rosa as a mix of “op and pop” artists, the portfolio included editioned works by ten New York-based artists whose artistic practices both differed from and complemented one another.ii In addition to Oldenburg, the portfolio included works by Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Jim Dine, Helen Frankenthaler, Nicholas Krushenick, Robert Kulicke, Mon Levinson, and George Segal. Each artist created an editioned print of 100 using three colors, and the portfolio was a huge success, with all prints selling out within six months.

    “I asked [Claes Oldenburg] if he would ever think of doing a print if I would put together a bunch of artists who were compatible with him. And he said sure. So I said, ‘What would you do this for’” And he said, ‘A bottle of whisky.’ And I thought, well, that sounds easy.” —Rosa Esman

    Going on to create a number of other print portfolios, including New York International, 1965-1966, Seven Objects in a Box, 1966, and Ten from Leo Castelli, 1967, Rosa was constantly innovating and celebrating the artists of the day. These portfolios, of which the New York Ten was her first, made contemporary art more approachable. A handful of the works in Rosa and Aaron’s collection are the historic and unique originals used in the making of such prints, including Oldenburg’s Flying Pizza. Adding a playful twist to the familiar image of a pizza pie in his design for the portfolio, Oldenburg chose a quintessentially New York symbol for his subject matter – apt for a project celebrating the city. Here in vibrant pastel and charcoal, the artist is shown honing the composition which depicts his sky bound pizza in this original drawing before it was reproduced in lithograph for the portfolio. In the drawing, we see active brushstrokes and media drips existing outside the confines of the pizza crust, layered beneath active, black marks to illustrate the action that is Flying Pizza. Such a witnessing of the artist’s hand can only be felt in the artist’s original design, offering an intimate glimpse into Oldenburg’s graphic practice.



    Rosa Esman, interviewed by James McElhinney, "Oral History Interview with Rosa Esman," Archives of American Art, June 9–16, 2009, online.

    ii Ibid.

    • Provenance

      Rosa and Aaron Esman (acquired directly from the artist)
      Thence by descent to the present owners

Property from the Collection of Rosa and Aaron Esman


Flying Pizza (Original Drawing for New York Ten)

signed with the artist's initials "C.O." lower left and dated "64" lower right
watercolor and oil pastel on paper
17 1/2 x 23 1/2 in. (44.5 x 59.7 cm)
Executed in 1964.

Full Cataloguing

$40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for $50,800

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan

Specialist, Head of Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 May 2023