Emmy-winning director Lawrence Schiller says the many lessons he learned in his youth on how to keep a woman happy and give back to society are now bearing fruit as he supports his wife’s effort to protect animal rights.
He and Kathy Schiller are selling 33 of their 80 Chinese contemporary artworks at a Christie’s International Hong Kong auction this week, and say they will donate $100,000 of the proceeds to the Animals Asia Foundation to help save moon bears in China. The idea was Kathy’s, prompted by her 2008 visit to Hong Kong when she heard that the animals were being locked in cages and milked for their bile to be used in Chinese medicine.
“Women should be given independence and the men in their lives should support, not dominate, them,” says the twice-divorced Schiller, 73, in a phone interview from Provincetown, Massachusetts. “I didn’t know that when I was younger; now I feel Kathy and I work as a team to give back to society.”
Schiller, who directed the Emmy-winning “Peter the Great,” says more money from the auction, which Christie’s predicts will fetch about HK$20 million ($2.56 million), will go toward saving abused animals and promoting literacy. The decision to sell these works, by artists such as Zeng Fanzhi and Zhang Xiaogang, isn’t prompted by a rebound in art-auction prices, he says. At Sotheby’s sale last month, prices of top Chinese contemporary works were the highest in two years.
“Our interest in art and our concern for animals are converging with this sale and donation,” Schiller says. “That makes Kathy and I very happy.”
Jill Robinson, who founded Hong Kong-based Animals Asia 12 years ago, says the couple’s donations help relocate the moon bears to a 25-acre sanctuary in the central-western city of Chengdu from “the unconscionable cruelty” of the farm owners who catch these protected animals in the wild and exploit them.
Schiller, who was friends with Norman Mailer and helps run a writers colony named after the Pulitzer Prize winner, says it’s important to raise the level of literary appreciation; He says he will spend more time and money on that cause.
The Christie’s sale is prompted by a wish “to shape the collection,” said Schiller, who began collecting Chinese contemporary art on a visit to China in 2005. “We just bought a Wang Guangyi recently.”
The Schillers prefer works completed in the 1990s, during which China’s economic rise gave young artists the confidence to express their true selves rather than imitate Western masters, he said. Some paintings were bought for very little and others “at a high price,” said Schiller, declining to give details.
Chinese contemporary prices peaked in May 2008 when Zeng’s painting of Red Guards fetched HK$75.4 million at a Hong Kong auction. That was the last major Asian art sale before the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. four months later that sparked a rout and sent works in that genre tumbling some 70 percent in the following year as buyers switched to older works.
Schiller says he is happy to keep the rest of the paintings at the couple’s 4,500-square-foot (418 square meters) home in Santa Barbara, California. Among them is a portrait that Zeng, China’s most-expensive artist at auction, did of him, says Schiller.
“That’s not for sale,” he says. “I have written that in my will.”