Thursday, April 21, 2011

Buying Art (for cheap) is Fun

I recently attended a silent auction, the modest proceeds of which went to the IFRC. The things being auctioned were artworks, mostly on paper. I got three, about which more in a future post after I photograph them. But I will at least give a sort of preview: Two by Ryuta Suzuki and one by Kati Verebics.

It’s a safe bet that I got all three well under market value. I almost got into a little bidding war with someone, but he mysteriously declined to bid on the things I wanted, perhaps intimidated by my hovering around waiting to double down. And I had passer’s remorse about not having bid on something, until I found out the winning bid belonged to a very nice guy.

I don’t often buy art. Very rarely in fact. And not because it’s expensive; while it can be very costly there’s always something you can afford, however minor. The thing is, if you’re collecting art you have to put it somewhere, and you feel sort of bad if that somewhere isn’t a wall.

I suppose you know you’re actually collecting art when you no longer feel bad about not displaying it. I could imagine getting to that point, or if you like falling into that trap, but not soon. I’ve got a sweet little apartment with more windows than walls, and a lot of geographic instability in the mix, and I’m not yet ready to invest in another flat file. Not quite yet.

It’s probably not an easy thing putting together a charity auction. This one had some local artists I’d heard of (including a few I know personally); and some I hadn’t heard of; and some strangers from far afield, whose contributions were sometimes relevant and sometimes not. The quality was very uneven, but in Budapest the quality of a museum show can be just as uneven (I’m lookin’ at you, MüPa!).

Some good things about the auction: admirable transparency about the finances; no hidden reserves; good art on the cheap for a good cause.

Some less-good things: no alcohol (what were they thinking?); a rather, shall we say, distant house staff; no real PR about the artists or works (remember, most people at a charity auction know nothing about art); and, sadly, not enough people wanting to spend money.

As one of the modestly solvent people in the room, I definitely would have spent more on the works I bought if there had been enemy bids. I wouldn’t have gone to the moon, but I definitely would have gone to double what I spent. In one case I almost felt like bidding against myself but part of the adrenalin kick of an auction, even a noncompetitive one, is the tension between wanting what you want, and wanting to get it at the lowest price going.

I know these things are easier said than done, but it seems to me that there are some obvious steps to help raise more money at a charity auction. So I shall play Lucy for a moment and offer...

Cheap Advice for Silent Charity Auctions

  1. Work your connections and get every well-off person you know to attend.
  2. “Well-off” means “able to place the lowest available minimum bid without pain.”
  3. Have plentiful, non-shitty free booze. Get it sponsored of course.
  4. Have a friendly, attractive staff serving the plentiful free booze.
  5. Flatter people unnecessarily.
  6. Make it easy to bid competitively and anonymously.
  7. Have professional promotional materials on hand about your cause, your beneficiary, and every artist.
  8. Include take-home materials, e.g. a high-production-value flyer.
  9. If you don’t know how to do that yourself, get somebody who does know to do it for free for the good cause.
  10. Apply the rule above to every aspect of the auction. You’re already a hero for organizing it in the first place.

In short, it was fun, I totally scored, and I think I’ll try this sort of thing again. But first I have to find a good framer.

A Parting Thought On the Arts and the Web

Why is it that artists and cultural institutions, much like restaurants, generally have not heard the news that Flash-only websites are broken and reflect badly on their owners?

In the case of individual artists, I’m inclined to think of it as similar to the restaurant problem. Creative people get talked into some gimmicky animation and don’t know any better, so up it goes. But when a well-funded Palace of the Arts hires some clueless two-bit company to rain misery on its potential ticket buyers, then I have no choice but to smell a rat.

An example of the first: Mr. Suzuki’s portfolio. Of the second: MuPa.hu, a study in inaccessibility.

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