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AT AUCTION

Cher says goodbye, Gothic; hello, Zen

Now the pop queen wants an Asian look in her Malibu mansion -- but for that she's got to unload quite a few of her 19th century collectibles.

September 28, 2006|Robin Abcarian | Times Staff Writer

CHER, a collector of fine English Gothic Revival antiques, is on the phone, happily explaining why she'll feel a little tug next week when the contents of her beachfront Malibu villa are auctioned off at the Beverly Hilton hotel.

"I love the look of Gothic furniture," she says. "It's not like I hate it and want to get rid of it. I am going to miss it, I think. But I thought, oh my God, I will do a whole new thing and just start over."

Cher, who also sings and acts, is shedding identities again, something she does about once a decade. Before her neo-Gothic moment in Malibu, there was the extravagant Egyptian mansion in Benedict Canyon, with the push-button retractable glass roof. Now, after more than a decade of living with the drama and power of furnishings created or inspired by Augustus Welby Pugin, the father of the Gothic Revival that swept across England in the 19th century, the East beckons.

"I have this fabulous plan," she says. "It's Tibetan, Moroccan, Indian Zen. It sounds horrible, but it's unbelievably beautiful, and I decided, that's what I'm gonna do at the beach."

In the meantime, there is all that stuff to shed. And so, the venerable Sotheby's has joined forces with celebrity specialist Darren Julien of Julien's Auctions to put on a Cher sale that is similar to recent household and memorabilia auctions of other celebrities -- Johnny and June Carter Cash, Katharine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis -- with one major difference. Cher is still very much alive and kicking, while the others are ... not.

"YOU have no idea how involved she was," Julien says. "I have never seen a sale like this." Cher helped design the catalog and insisted that all the jewelry -- including minor baubles and costume pieces -- be photographed as if they were expensive gems. Unlike so many of her drug-addled rock-and-roll contemporaries, this 60-year-old pop queen's memory is razor sharp. "She remembers everything," he adds, "where she bought it, why she liked it. She has such wits about her." Then, chuckling, "Either she took safe drugs or she didn't take them at all."

For the person who feels guilty about forays into the celebrity-drenched worlds of US Weekly or In Style, there is something deliciously satisfying about perusing the fat, glossy publication, "Property From the Collection of Cher." This is a vicarious, 340-page stroll through the life and times of a woman who does not have many equals in popular culture. "Darren Julien wanted a microcosm of everything that I am," says Cher, "and you've got that in the book."

In and out of the public eye for much of the last 40 years, Cher has an Oscar, a Grammy, an Emmy and three Golden Globes, not to mention a penchant for outrageous public fashion displays and facial reinvention that never fails to astonish.

Here, among the historically meaningful Gothic Revival paintings, bed frames and side tables -- many collected from auction houses in England -- are photographs of her (often with her then-husband Sonny Bono) wearing florid Bob Mackie gowns. They sit alongside mannequins showing the gowns as they are now. Everything pictured is up for grabs.

As the auctioneers have said, there is something for everyone. With nearly 800 lots, the sale is an entirely Hollywood combo of high and low.

Lot 396, for instance, is an important circa 1840 arched Pugin gilt and polychrome decorated frame holding a painting of St. Filomena, valued at $5,000 to $7,000. Next to it is a note that Cher wrote to herself on the English auction catalog when she made the successful bid: "I will own this."

"When you write things down, it means you have an intention to have it," she explains. "It's a note to the universe that says, 'This is what my feelings are.' "

By contrast, Lot 45 is Cher's circa 1960 biology workbook from Montclair College Preparatory School "with occasional ink-and-pencil notation inside in Cher's hand" ($300 to $500). There's also plenty of inexpensive jewelry, a testament to the entertainer's own high-low style. "I am the same as I have ever been," she says. "I go from one extreme to the other. I am either in a gown or sweatpants. And I still like costume jewelry. You can have fabulous zircon earrings, or whatever that fake diamond is called. Style has nothing to do with money."

Still, even a relatively modest object -- be it a piece of jewelry or a 1975 reprint of a 1915 book on Gothic architecture in France, England and Italy -- may command a good price simply because it has been owned by Herself. (After all, in 2004, a plastic bag of Katharine Hepburn's hair curlers made out of rolled newspaper commanded $3,300.)

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