Crichton’s is not what one would consider a bold collection; these are not daring choices of difficult works or young, untested artists. Nor is this an enormous collection. Crichton was not one of those prolific collectors who seem to have strolled the aisles of Art Basel with a shopping cart. Rather, he made a studied, deliberate selection, guided by intelligent dealers, namely Glimcher, Margo Leavin and Deborah McLeod. “He was not an impulse buyer,” says Ovitz, who played matchmaker for Crichton and Sherri but had to force his old friend to make the call. Ovitz recalls Crichton being an obsessive researcher. On an Italian vacation on Ovitz’s yacht, Crichton was doing background work for a book. “He must have had a hundred pages of notes,” Ovitz says. “I said to him, ‘How many pages will that help you with when you’re writing?’ He said, ‘Maybe two.’”
Crichton lost some works in his four divorces, and though a few highly sought-after paintings, including Johns’s Double Flag and 0 Through 9, apparently have already been sold, he rarely parted with works willingly. Glimcher says he was that rarest of clients, uninterested in whether his purchases would appreciate in value. But as oft happens when the assets of an estate are substantial, distributing Crichton’s fortune got messy. The wrench in this case took the form of John Michael Todd Crichton, his son born posthumously, in February 2009. Though Crichton was ill with cancer and Sherri pregnant, he neglected to change his will. In the contentious aftermath of his death, Crichton’s 21-year-old daughter from his fourth marriage, Taylor, even challenged John Michael’s paternity in court. A simple DNA test proved her wrong. A judge ruled last October that John Michael was an “omitted heir” and entitled to a third of his father’s estate. While some Crichton friends find it hard to believe he intended for his collection to be dispersed at auction and instead blame family acrimony—which extended to Crichton’s mother and siblings—for forcing a sale, the trustees determined a public auction would be the most clear-cut way to determine market value and to fulfill Crichton’s many bequests. Some beneficiaries are expected to be among the bidders. “It was the way, unfortunately, the trust was structured,” Sherri says. “I say unfortunately, but that’s only unfortunately for me. It is what Michael wanted.”
The family rancor, Sherri says, has calmed down. “It’s a work in progress,” she says, declining to go into detail. She is raising John Michael on her own and reports that the one-year-old has just started walking and uncannily resembles his father—tall, with long fingers and flat nails, a habit of lifting his eyebrow the way his dad did and a temperament to match. “He takes it all in and is very quizzical,” she says.