It's a de Kooning toilet seat, but is it art?

January 16, 1992|By New York Times

NEW YORK -- Is a used toilet seat worth $1 million?

The owners of one seat think so. That's because it's a three-holer. And not just any three-holer, but an Abstract Expressionist three-holer.

And it was painted for a croquet party by Willem de Kooning, whose canvases have sold for more than $3 million, possibly with the help of one of his East Hampton, Long Island, roommates at the time, Jackson Pollock, whose work is even more valuable.

The seat is executed in a style typical of the two masters. But is it art? That question has spurred furious debate and fistfuls of treatises in the seven years since the privy was bought on Long Island for $50 by Charles Vanderveer III, an auctioneer and South Fork, and authenticated by the artist's wife, Elaine de Kooning.

The argument is certain to begin again with renewed vigor as the untitled three-holer, the largest known original de Kooning in private hands and possibly the only work done with Pollock, is being offered along with the more than 400 other pieces by artists in the Hamptons on Feb. 27 at the Lexington Avenue Armory in Manhattan.

Unlike most items put up for auction, the latrine seat has been given no estimate from the house on what it expects it to bring. While the owners are hoping to receive well over $100,000, appraisers have put its value at anywhere from $10,000 to more than $1 million.

The seat is 99 by 22 inches and painted with exterior house paint. The three holes are rimmed in red and the area in between is white, streaked by undulating black strokes of varying thickness and texture. The stripes culminate in thick, angry globs of black paint characteristic of Pollock, which has led some experts to conclude that he helped create it.

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