Auction at Sotheby's Raises $2.179 Million for Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

At Sotheby’s Auction House in New York last night, a block of 14 paintings came up for auction to benefit Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. The event was the extraordinary result of efforts by CAM Chief Curator Jeffrey Uslip, Sotheby’s and the artists who contributed their work. There was a definite excitement in the air. Several important works would be auctioned and representatives manned the phones already connected to their international buyers.

The first piece, Mark Flood’s “Star Channel,” was expected to fetch between $45,000-$60,000. Instead it sold for $209,000 (sales figures include hammer price with buyer’s premium). The next item would rock the room. By the time the final gavel fell on David Hammons’ “Dirty Money,” the work had sold for $2.045 million dollars. When all was said and done, CAM grossed $2,179,000.00, easily the organization’s biggest fundraising day in its history.

David Hammons, "Dirty Money"  tarp and acrylic on canvas, 89 by 57 in. 226.1 by 144.8 cm. Executed in 2012. LOT SOLD. 2,045,000 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium) Courtesy of CAM

David Hammons, “Dirty Money”
tarp and acrylic on canvas, 89 by 57 in. 226.1 by 144.8 cm. Executed in 2012.
LOT SOLD. 2,045,000 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer’s Premium)
Courtesy of CAM

It has been a good three weeks for fundraising for Contemporary Art Museum. The museum’s spring fundraiser, the Space for Possibility Gala, with co-chairs Alexis Cossé and Dorte Probstein, occurred just three weeks ago on Saturday, April 26. That event featured a silent auction that also accommodated international bidders via Paddle8, and generated more than $644,000 through ticket sales, sponsorships, donations, and the silent auction.

Mark Flood, "Star Channel"  acrylic on canvas, 104 by 76 in. 264.2 by 193 cm. LOT SOLD. 209,000 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium) Courtesy of CAM

Mark Flood, “Star Channel”
acrylic on canvas, 104 by 76 in. 264.2 by 193 cm.
LOT SOLD. 209,000 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer’s Premium)
Courtesy of CAM

ALIVE caught up with CAM executive director Lisa Melandri today while she was still in NYC. As she rode in a cab to the airport on her way back to St. Louis, Melandri shared with us how the auction came to be and its extraordinary results.

ALIVE: How did the Sotheby’s auction come about?
Lisa Melandri: When Jeffrey Uslip joined CAM, we talked about a two-pronged approach to the auctions. One was a silent auction that took place during the annual gala—and that was something that was open to bidding both by St. Louisans in the room but also, through Paddle8, nationally and internationally. We’ve had auctions as part of our galas and fundraising activities before—so that was nothing new—but we were bound and determined to think about creating a kind of palette of works that was very wide in variety, materially, and in terms of price point and where the artists were from. So we had an auction that had, I think, 45 works in it, and those were for sale through Paddle8 and on site at CAM.

One of the other things that was really important to us is we’re really relying on the exquisite and extraordinary generosity of artists. We worked out with the artists that they would receive 50 percent or more of whatever the hammer price, or sale price was. That was a wonderful idea, and one that was very successful and very exciting. It was particularly exciting that a vast majority of the lots were bought by St. Louisans. So they stayed in the city, which was really fabulous.

ALIVE: And what was the second part?
LM: The second part of the two-pronged approach to auctions was to also have lots that would be part of the contemporary art day sale at Sotheby’s, which took place yesterday on May 15, and that we would have a number of lots that would be listed “Property Sold to Benefit the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.” And again, it was a wide range of artists from emerging talent to very well-established artists who donated work to us, and we are sharing the hammer price with them. From the lots that we sold—it was lots 588-601—we grossed two million, one-hundred seventy-nine thousand dollars ($2,179,000.00).

ALIVE: That’s a significant number.
LM: It’s a huge point of gratitude and pride for us. First of all, without the generosity of the artists, this would never have happened. It’s extraordinary that they agreed to do this and give us such incredible works of art. It’s also an incredible point of gratitude to Sotheby’s who really shepherded this project and allowed us to put these works into the day sale. And it’s an incredible testament to Jeffrey Uslip, because it’s really Jeffrey who did the heavy lifting, who talked to the artists, who was able to secure the works. It’s his deep relationship with these artists and their admiration and respect for him that they would say yes to this request and be so generous. Between the artists and Jeffrey and Sotheby’s, I am humbled by this extraordinary outpouring for CAM.

ALIVE: Can you put the figure in terms that illustrate its significance?
LM: It’s pretty amazing for a couple of reasons. One, you have to understand that we are an organization that has about a $2.5 million annual budget, so we can run our institution—with all our programming and overhead and everything we do for $2.5 million dollars—so to think about being able to raise $2.1 million dollars in one afternoon due to the incredible generosity of these artists, and that gives you a real sense of its impact. It’s also a testament to the quality of the work and the incredible standing of the artists that were included.

Just to give you a sense—we had an extraordinary work by David Hammons, who is not an artist whose work you see around very often, so it’s an incredible gesture on his part as an artist, and again my hat’s off to Jeffrey for his relationship with Hammons. We were given a painting by Mark Flood who is the subject of an exhibition we’re doing this September, and he gave us this monumental lace painting, which exceeded its high estimate three-fold, even four-fold, if I’m not mistaken. It says a lot about not only who the artist is but about the actual quality of the work we were given.

ALIVE: Was the CAM portion of the auction differentiated in any way?
LM: Alex Rotter, who is head of contemporary at Sotheby’s and was functioning as the auctioneer during the afternoon, was so generous and so extraordinary when our lots came up in making sure that everybody in the room and on the phones and online knew that this was work to benefit the museum. His entire auction style shifted to make sure that people could get their bids in and nudge them off, so it was really a beautifully orchestrated, incredibly planned and phenomenal moment.

ALIVE: It sounds like there was a sense throughout the room that something special was happening.
LM: Yes. For sure. It’s a very interesting thing. At auctions, much of the action doesn’t happen in the room. It happens on the phones and online, but it’s a very electric feeling, There’s a kind of frisson that begins to happen, and it’s very heady, and for me it was very emotional. I just felt so touched and supported and grateful. I can’t thank enough the artists, Jeffrey and Sotheby’s for the part they played that assured the most successful fundraiser in the institution’s history.

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