Recently my friend Jim Wintner sent me an invitation to a benefit auction for WBAI, the legendary New York City not-for-profit radio station. I suddenly realized that, for all the artists I feature on Improvised Life and know, I didn’t know how benefit auctions worked and found them somewhat intimidating. So I asked Jim, who along with his wife Yulia, runs Tikhonova & Wintner Fine Art Gallery in a nearby Harlem brownstone, to give me a lesson.

Pistil and Stamen I by Katsura Okada

Jim’s primer revealed just how much of a bargain buying from benefit art auctions can be, not to mention illuminating and fun.

Here’s what he wrote, along with a selection of work to be had at the WBAI auction:

If you have contemplated a visit to a Sotheby’s art auction, the prospect of actually bidding was probably quite daunting.  Substantial knowledge, research, and experience are required. 
In contrast, a typical benefit art auction is the beginner’s slope of art auctions. No experience necessary. Anyone can participate, and be certain of making a happy acquisition(s) – whether adding to an existing collection, or starting a new one. You will find works by household name artists and from artists who are about to become household names, all at bargain prices. 
Well-known artists often donate to fundraising benefits by giving smaller versions of the larger works they are known for, but at a size carrying a much more affordable price tag. These works are otherwise never sold to the public. The Avedon photo is a good example. Less well-known artists consider benefit auctions an opportunity to strut their best stuff at fire sale pricing.
All the works are listed with a Value that corresponds to their “retail’ price. But they all have very modest minimum (opening) bids, and often half of the works will go to the first bidder. These opening bids will range from 20-50% of “retail.” 
Most benefit art auctions extend over a couple of hours, with all bids being placed on paper bid sheets or via the auction website. If someone outbids you, you will have lots of time to decide whether to place a higher bid. Unlike a Sotheby’s auction you will not be under any pressure to make a split second decision. 
Last Penny Tom Otterness
Jim sent me a selection of “good deals” to check out, like the work by Tom Otterness (directly above). He included the 1969 Richard Avedon photo, The staff of radio station WBAI, at top, because “it is a rare opportunity to acquire a vintage work by this artist at less than the high 5 figures his large prints have sold at over 1million at auction”.  
Looking at the work on the WBAI auction site at (the auction platform Jim founded), I found myself surfing from one art work to another, where I’d learn the artist’s story, like Moosh, an African artist for whom art became a way to transform his sorrows and “weapon to fight all of life’s adversities.” 
Sun Power, Moosh
If you’re in the market for “a good investment”, you can read the artist’s bios to get a sense of their reach, and do further research on them. I discovered artists I hadn’t known about.
Jailbait Street by Walter Robinson

And then there are just works that resonate, like Kasura Okada’s lovely Pistil and Stamen, part of her series “APETALOUS” (“flowers having no petals”)


If you see something you feel you would like to acquire, go ahead and place the first bid. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

William Burroughs in the Metropolitan Museum by Allen Ginsberg

And, don’t forget that while you are the beneficiary of a unique collecting opportunity, you are simultaneously supporting a good cause.

(It the case of WBAI, it’s a vital force in the city’s cultural life.)

WBAI Radio Benefit Art Exhibition and Auction will take place at the Chesterfield Gallery on Norfolk St. Nov 16, 6:30-9PM, with online bidding  Nov. 2 to Nov. 15. THE AUCTION HAS BEEN EXTENDED TO DECEMBER 17. You can bid or “buy now” online here.
Read How it Works here; it’s EASY!!!
Nancy Burson’s Focus on Peace is $100…
Focus on Peace by Nancy Burson

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3 replies on “Find Bargains and Illumination at Benefit Art Auctions (+ a Trove of Cool Art)

  1. Gotta support WBAI.

    , was thru THEM,
    I found out about YOU!

    Jack Shalom,…Radio Columnist at WBAI.
    ,,,,told me,
    you’re his favourite blog(!).

    i took a look.

    (thanks Jack.)

  2. In the late ’60s WBAI saved me from going nuts in the uptight girl’s school I went to. I’d listen to it every night while I drew and wrote. A friend and I would occasionally go to the studio and hang out during shows with several of the broadcasters in Avedon’s photo. Bob Fass is STILL doing his show. Larry Josephson went on to become a force in public radio. WBAI was, and is still, an amazing space.

  3. A little rain on the art auction parade from an artist’s perspective. In a small city, the proliferation of non-profit art auctions seriously impinges on the local art economy. Also consider that your purchase benefits the cause but not the artist. A suggestion—non-profits consider auctioning what they do best. Off the top of my head, a radio station could auction dj services, 20 minutes of special programming, a moment at the microphone.

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