In public memory, the late magician Ricky Jay is remembered as a sleight of hand virtuoso who could perform marvels with a deck of cards. His work is eternalized in numerous TV and film appearances, which often included shooting cards like darts at various objects, most famously a halved watermelon. But the legendary performer, who passed away in 2018, was also a renowned magic scholar who authored 11 books and amassed a collection of about 10,000 rare books, posters, and artwork about all things esoteric. On October 27, a portion of his vast collection will go on an auction at Sotheby’s, offering his fans a chance to hold possession of these enchanting items.
The sale includes 634 lots of antique books, broadsides, handbills, and prints documenting centuries of magic, circuses, and more. Among the more eccentric items are several 17th-century broadsides advertising “learned animals,” like an “accomplished horse” who could speak English, French, and Italian and a card-playing pig. Harry Houdini, the master of escape acts, features prominently in the collection with 1913-1915 posters promoting his “Water Torture Cell” stunt. Another poster from 1913, beautifully illustrated by famed German lithographer Adolph Friedländer, features a stock levitation image for magicians to use on the road.
More standouts include a late 19th-century charming tabletop game featuring a moving trapeze artist and an “automaton,” a mechanical doll with which Jay appeared on stage. And we would be remiss leave out an 1818 etching of Madame Giradelli, also known as the “celebrated fireproof woman,” who was famous for “passing a lighted candle under her arms, dropping sealing wax on her tongue, and cooking eggs ‘fit for eating’ while holding boiling oil in her hands,” Sotheby’s quotes from Jay’s writings.
Get a taste of this rare and fascinating collection of curiosities in the following selection of images.
Goya’s Coded Love Letter to the Duchess of Alba
Goya neatly clothes himself in his own world of fantasy: He will have her in the end. In life, where the climate is much chillier, it was, alas, to be otherwise.
Witches Take Over Westchester
Bowen’s multimedia art is an alchemical mix of the sensuous and arcane, and it is more than a little witchy.
The Public Theater Explores the Hurricane Katrina Diaspora in shadow/land
Written by Erika Dickerson-Despenza and directed by Candis C. Jones, this lyrical meditation on legacy, erotic fugitivity, and self-determination is on view in NYC.
14 Art Books and Catalogues We’re Reading This Month
Anthologies and catalogues on feminist art in Latin America, Native mound building, Armenian photography, and more are on our reading list.
Saudi Arabia Announces $1M “Freedom of Expression” Art Award
Kanye West, Roman Polanski, and Carl Andre are among the shortlisted artists.
The Rubin Museum Presents Death Is Not the End
Tibetan Buddhist and Christian works of art made across 12 centuries explore death, the afterlife, and the desire to continue to exist. On view in NYC.
British Museum Offers Greece “Exclusive NFT” of the Parthenon Marbles
“With the power of blockchain technology, there will be no question who the real owner is,” said a British Museum spokesperson.
MoMA to Co-Curate Exhibition With NYPD
Arrest Me, Daddy hopes to cast a more positive light on the work of law enforcement officers.
When I Am Empty Please Dispose of Me Properly
Ayanna Dozier, Ilana Harris-Babou, Meena Hasan, Lucia Hierro, Catherine Opie, Chuck Ramirez, and Pacifico Silano explore the myths of the American Dream at Brooklyn’s BRIC House.
Repatriation-Inspired Fragrance Line Hopes to Heal Collector Wounds
The exotic scents of the Rapatriement line offer solace and joy to dismayed collectors who were forced to return looted artifacts.
Mediocre Painting Thought AI-Generated Revealed as Work of Real Artist
Visitors who spoke to Hyperallergic said they were “horrified” to learn that a human could come up with such a banal and poorly executed artwork.
Pratt’s 2023 Fine Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition Is On View in Brooklyn
The two-part exhibition features the work of 41 graduating artists across disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and integrated practices.
Prince Harry to Star in New Van Gogh Biopic
The estranged prince said he took the role to raise awareness of mental health issues.
Newly Discovered Trove of Vermeer Works Reveals He Painted Mainly Dogs
A cache of 243 paintings found in an English castle, all depicting canine subjects, suggests Vermeer’s true aspiration was to become a dog portraitist.