- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 5, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Dennis Hopper shot two bullet holes through an Andy Warhol portrait of Mao Zedong, but instead of getting mad, Warhol called the “Easy Rider” star a collaborator.

Warhol’s “Mao” is among 300 works of fine art and memorabilia owned by the late actor-director of the 1969 counterculture film up for auction at Christie’s next week. The 1972 colored screenprint is expected to bring $20,000 to $30,000.

Most of the items adorned the actor’s Venice Beach, Calif., home.

Hopper, who was twice nominated for Oscars and earned a star last year on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, died of prostate cancer at his home in May. He was 74.

The actor/director was already stricken with cancer when he attended the ceremony for the unveiling of his commemorative star. The framed plaque of the star that Hopper received as a memento of the event is being sold next week for an estimated $1,000 to $1,500.

Hopper began collecting in the 1960s after the venerable actor, Vincent Price, himself an avid collector of Impressionist art, told him: “You need to collect, this is where you need to put your money,” said Cathy Elkies, Christie’s director of iconic collections. “This really was his calling.”

Hopper, a photographer and painter himself, became immersed in the West Coast artist scene and pop art movement, becoming close friends with Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and many of the other artists he collected.

While eclectic, “there is some depth of certain artists” among the fine art works in the collection, including those by Wallace Berman, Bruce Conner and George Herms.

Conner’s “Picnic on the Grass” and Warhol’s “Mao” are the highest priced items in the sale. “Picnic on the Grass” also is expected to bring between $20,000 to $30,000.

The shooting incident involving “Mao” occurred sometime in the early 1970s at Hopper’s Los Angeles home, said Alex Hitz, a family friend and a trustee of the estate.

“One night in the shadows, Dennis, out of the corner of his eyes, saw the Mao and he was so spooked by it that he got up and shot at it, twice, putting two bullet holes in it,” Hitz told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. “Andy saw it, loved it and annotated those holes” labeling them “warning shot” and “bullet hole.”

Hopper’s four children are selling the collection because “it was Dennis‘ wish to sell everything,” said Hitz.

“How do you cut a Warhol and all those other wonderful pieces by four,” he added.

Elkies said Hopper’s Venice Beach house was filled “literally from floor to ceiling with art, and realistically they (the children) couldn’t take that on.”

She said the family was holding on to the more sentimental pieces, including Hopper’s own photography and paintings.

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