Walking the Walk


Art took a meditative stroll at Sixteenth Annual Artwalk NY, a forum for celebrities, socialites, philanthropists and the art world march in line to raise money for the Coalition for the Homeless. The event, co-chaired by Richard Gere, Carey Lowell and Alec Baldwin, featured both a silent auction of works by emerging artists, a section of which was curated by Patrick McMullan, and a live auction of works by fine-art names such as Vik Muniz, Francisco Clemente, Nan Goldin, Jenny Holzer, Gregory Crewdson and Jeff Koons. The most valuable artwork auctioned during the evening was The Hole in the Wallpaper Be Beautiful, 2009, a motorized wall sculpture of a 1950s Noxzema advertisement that spun on a mirrored central axis by James Rosenquist. The piece was donated by the artist and accounted for a sizeable chunk of the $844,000 raised at the event.


The reason for the donation may be that Rosenquist has an insider empathy for the homeless people in New York who will benefit from the fruits of the auction. “I slept in a bed in houses in Westchester and empty lofts in Hell’s 100 Acres, which is now called Soho,” he told the crowd after accepting the title of Artist Honoree for the evening. “Last year, my studio and house burnt to the ground. Does anyone here remember subways are for sleeping? Thank you.” Then he stepped off the stage.

Not many of the guests, who included Matthew Settle, Agnes Gund, John Varvatos and Waris Ahluwalla looked as though they had recently slept on a subway. But homelessness is on the rise in New York City and in his speech, Richard Gere described an experience meeting a homeless man in a shelter, whom he later identified as an actor who had once worked with him on a film.

“All of these artists are the center of these events,” Gere told me after the event, leaning close so that I could hear him over the roar of the chattering guests. “Whether it be for AIDS, or Tibet, or the Homeless Coalition, these artists have always been there.”  Gere’s wife and co-host, Carey Lowell, mirrored her husband’s clear-eyed and heartfelt praise. “What’s remarkable is that so many artists are willing to give so much work to the cause. It’s a great way to celebrate art.”

One supporter, Victor Ozeri, who has bought works at Art Walk NY for the past 15 years (including some by Andy Warhol, Julian Schnabel, Robert Rauschenberg and Jeff Koons), told me: “I come into the event with an idea of how much I want to donate, and then I go home with something for free.”

“He’s been at the Met, he’s been at Versailles, and you can take Jeff Koons home with you tonight!” Aileen Agopian, the director of Contemporary Art at Phillips de Pury & Company and auctioneer for the evening shouted as the donated work, a lithograph called Donkey (Colored), 1999, was brought to the front of the room. Koons himself was no where to be found, but his piece, which looked like a child’s drawing of a brightly-hued pineapple, sold for $11,000. When auctions come around, artists tend to enjoy their homes—here, the appreciation was self-reflexive.