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.
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.
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.
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.)