Friday, October 20, 2006

My experience at the ARTcetera Auction

I have a friend who is a pastry chef. I, of course, think it is fantastic that she is a pastry chef because I get lots of free pastries, but apparently her parents do not think being a pastry chef is a good life choice. One time she told me a story about how when she was at culinary school, her parents expressed that they were worried about her making a living as a chef. Her father took her to McDonalds and ordered a Big Mac. He then told my friend that if she wanted to work with food, she should consider cooking something like the Big Mac because clearly it was what people wanted since it was one of the greatest selling food items in the history of the world. He said that with hard work and luck she could open a chain of restaurants that were as popular and made as much money as McDonalds. My friend responded that she was not interested in making a lot of money by cooking food that everyone liked, like McDonalds does, but that she just wanted to cook for the few select people who have a similar taste to her own. Her father said that was exactly why he was worried about her.

I have tried explaining to lots of people why I’m not interested in making work that everyone likes, but most people don’t seem to understand what I’m saying. My personal reasons for making and showing artwork are hard to explain in a capitalistic society because most of my art making process is inherently anti-capitalistic. In a capitalistic society, if you have an idea, then you should immediately copyright the idea and try to make money from it. This is the exact opposite of what I want to do. If I have an idea, I have burning need to share it with anyone. I make my ideas big, red and shiny so people will look at them and then I put them on display anywhere they can be seen. If people want to buy them, great. If they don’t, it does not effect what I will make next in the slightest.

However, this past weekend I was faced with an unusual interaction with the monetary value of art work at the ARTcetera Auction. First, let me say that the ARTcetera Auction is fantastic and everyone should support it. The proceeds of the auction go to support the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts who are trying to stem the tide of the global AIDS epidemic and any group that is trying to stop AIDS should be supported. Period. I have been honored to be allowed to participate in the auction for the past six years in the way that I can help best, by contributing artwork to be auctioned off.

Subsequently, I suddenly cared about the monetary value of my artwork because I wanted my piece to help the AIDS Action Committee. I talked to a number of my artist friends who were also at the auction and we came to one resounding conclusion: We have no idea why people buy art.

I certainly have no idea why people pay certain prices for certain pieces and not for others. ARTcetera proved to be a fascinating venue for me to just watch people buy art in mass, which I rarely get to see. Some pieces, like Thomas Gustainis' beautiful and thoughtful piece "Perambulations" sold for an appropriate value. However, it quickly became apparent to me that the more digestible work was clearly more in demand, while work with any risk or edge was selling at far below value. David Hilliard’s dynamic and visually demanding piece “Winter Months” sold for a song as did many other great pieces that actually challenge the viewer rather than placate them. Even virtually guaranteed collector pieces, like Doc Edgerton's "Pigeon Release Multi-Flash" dye-transfer print sold for half of what I expected. Everyone kept telling me that it was because of Boston’s conservative attitude, but I’m not even sure I know what that means. On a broader spectrum, isn’t the Boston community known for fostering cutting edge thinking? Especially in fields like scientific research, economics, political theory, etc. If you Google “top liberal cities”, Boston is at the top of every list. So why does Boston suddenly become conservative when it comes to buying art? If anyone has an opinion, I’d love to know …

The auction was also fantastic because it was the one time I got to see so many great artists all together in one place. It was like one fantastic group show where unknown artists, like me, get to hang in the same venue with well known artists like Abelardo Morell or Kahn and Selesnick. The auction itself invited fascinating comparisons of different styles of work that had unintentionally been put together by virtue of the artists' last names. Where else can you experience a show like that?

In the end, the ARTcetera auction is one rare case where I do care what my piece sold for, because I really want to help the AIDS Action Committee. While my piece did sell for far less than I expected, I'm still proud that I did my best as an artist to show support for a great cause. I hope that in two years when they have the next ARTcetera I will be asked to donate a piece again. I also hope that other artists will continue to support not only ARTcetera and the AIDS Action Committee, but other causes around Boston as well. There are lots of great causes in Boston that can use the support of the artistic community. If you run a program like ARTcetera, please let me know about it because I know that I and my friends would love to help out.

Me with Heidi and my piece "Bubble Gum Love"

To see more images from the opening click here

To see a video (2 MB) of Thomas Gustainis' piece being sold click here


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