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Bid High, Bid Often

Untitled by Hans Gindlesberger (2006)

Hallwalls 35th anniversary art auction: Get 'em before they're hot

The last time Hallwalls held an art auction, in 1992, executive director Ed Cardoni wrote this in his introduction to the catalogue: “This auction of art works by artists associated with Hallwalls from its founding in 1974 to the present once again demonstrates that in lean, hard times like these, it is the artists themselves—and those who care about art—on whom the existence of organizations like Hallwalls must ultimately depend.”

Flower Blob 62 by Roberley Bell (2004
Limp Home Pilgrim by Chuck Agro (2004)
Lilly's Funky Parade by Lillian Mendez (2007)

Time flies, it seems, but some things don’t change: These are lean times, too, for cultural institutions as well as individuals. Public funding for the arts has been cut, and private support has been squeezed by the financial crisis. And once again—as they did in 1992 and for a previous auction in 1981—the artists and arts patrons who have made Hallwalls such an extraordinary story for the past 35 years have stepped forward, donating work to a two-part auction that begins next Thursday, August 6, at Babeville.

Next week’s auction comprises 81 lots (the 1992 auction offered just 15) by such artists as Siebren Versteeg, Kelly Richardson, Bruce Adams, Catherine Koenig, Jackie Felix, Chuck Agro, Julian Montague, Mark Lavatelli, Charlie Clough, Duayne Hatchett, John Pfahl, Bruce Jackson, Diane Bertolo, Mary Begley, Lee Goreas, Jenny Holzer, and too many more to name. (The complete catalogue is available at Starting bids for these pieces range from a modest $125 to $1,800.

Tickets are $35 general admission, $25 for Hallwalls members. The bar is open; there’s music and food; 55 items will be auctioned silently, 26 live by Christie’s specialist Sara Friedlander. The live auction begins at 8pm.

The second part of the auction takes place on September 23 at Christie’s in New York, and comprises work by 10 Hallwalls alumni who have made significant names for themselves in the art world: Laylah Ali, John Baldesarri, Matthew Barney, Nancy Dwyer, Sol Lewitt, Robert Longo, Jim Shaw, Cindy Sherman, and Kiki Smith. The works donated to Hallwalls by these artists will be part of a larger Christie’s auction of postwar and contemporary art, with its own special section in the auction catalogue. The starting bids for these works range from $5,000 to $10,000, though many of the items are likely to fetch many times the estimated value assigned to them by the auction house.

Art auctions are increasingly popular as a fundraising tool, but Hallwalls has generally shied away from them. For one thing, it’s a tremendous amount of work: Cardoni says that his staff and volunteers began with a list of 3,000 artists whose work has been exhibited at Hallwalls since 1974. They painfully reduced that number to 150, representing the organization’s founders and various other artists with distinguished careers, both in Buffalo and afield.

But it’s not just the hard work. The mission at Hallwalls always has been to support artists, not to wrangle things out of them. “So many groups are always after artists to donate work,” Cardoni says. “But we go back a long way with some of these artists. And one of the big selling points as we asked for donations was the fact that we don’t do this often. We’re not going to do this again until our 50th anniversary. ”

Also, an event like this serves to expose new collectors to contemporary art, some of it by local artists. A big-name artist like Matthew Barney, who credits Hallwalls with giving him his first show as a professional artist in November 1990, may needsno introduction. And there are a great many renowned names in both the Buffalo and New York auctions. But many of the artists at next week’s auction are not so well known as they deserve to be, and bidders—whether they are seasoned collectors or just beginning to collect art—are likely to find real bargains on top-flight work.

The auction supplants the Artists and Models party as Hallwalls’ major fundraiser, but only for this year. Whatever is raised beyond the usual income from Artists and Models will shore up the endowment, which, like endowments everywhere, has suffered the vagaries of the stock market.

The auction was coordinated by Joanna Gillespie, who has been volunteering her time and talents for more than year. Sara Kellner, a past curator now living in Houston, helped reach out to artists, along with all of the Hallwalls staff, especially John Massier, Polly Little, and Cardoni. Amy Cappellazzo, a Buffalo native and Hallwalls enthusiast who now oversees sales of postwar and contemporary art for Christie’s, provided guidance and made possible September’s benefit auction in New York.

The Buffalo and New York auctions are equally important, according to Cardoni. The New York auction offers Hallwalls access to a more affluent pool of collectors, and more importantly it affirms the legacy that Hallwalls has established as an incubator of influential artists. The Buffalo auction, meanwhile, comes close to a true retrospective of the institution’s 35 years. With any luck, it will stimulate a new market of arts supporters and patrons here.

“We really need to reach a younger generation who are maybe just starting to think of collecting contemporary art,” Cardoni says. “To succeed, we need a lot of people to attend, we need a lot of people to buy art. But they’re going to get some great deals.”

geoff kelly

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