Grotjahn Goes Big at SFMOMA Benefit Auction


Over 450 of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s (SFMOMA) supporters gathered Wednesday night to toast champagne, nibble caviar and bid on the 90 artworks available at the 2011 Art Auction fundraiser. The event, sponsored by the Modern Art Council, SFMoMA’s women’s auxiliary, grossed just over $2 million.

Festivities began in the museum’s Schwab Room, where guests, including philanthropists Charles and Helen Schwab, previewed the 25 live auction items and bid on the 65 silent auction pieces. The art doubled as both funding source and to highlight museum interests; most works were by artists represented in the permanent collection or otherwise supported by the institution: Matthew Barney, Trevor Paglen, Tauba Auerbach, Olafur Eliasson, Barry McGee, and Glenn Ligon. Several artists created work especially for the event, including Mel Bochner, Ewan Gibbs, Mark Grotjahn, and Katharina Fritsch.

“SFMOMA has been very supportive [of my career], and this is my way of demonstrating my support in return,” Bochner told A.i.A. in a recent e-mail exchange about his donated painting on velvet, Ha, Ha, Ha (2010). Paddle-wavers returned the love: The hammer dropped at $45,000, well past the $25,000 high estimate.

For his part, Gibbs, who, in 2010, had his first solo museum exhibition at SFMOMA, set aside three weeks to create the drawing San Francisco (2010), which features SF Giants’ AT&T Park and commemorates the team’s 2010 World Series Championship. It outpaced the $15,000 high estimate, finally selling at $20,000.

“The artists have been extra supportive,” said an upbeat Gary Garrels, SFMOMA’s Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture, mid-event.
From the viewing room, patrons moved to the live auction in the adjoining grand entry atrium to gather beneath its iconic oculus and the two monumental Kerry James Marshall murals featured on either side of the museum’s entry. (Marshall’s donated auction piece, fittingly titled Visible Means of Support (2008), brought in $130,000.) Led by Bonhams & Butterfields auctioneer Patrick Meade, the bidding was strong, especially from the front-and-center tables, where many of the city’s most prominent art philanthropists sat, including Google’s Marissa Mayer, fashion journalist Christine Suppes, collectors Norah and Norman Stone, and members of the Fisher, Schwab and Haas families.

Notable sales: $180,000 for the Ellsworth Kelly drawing Tulips (1983; high estimate: $150,000); $28,000 for Chuck Close’s photograph of Roy Lichtenstein, Roy II (1996; high estimate: $10,000); and $90,000 for Mark Bradford’s Harshness and Kindness (2010; high estimate: $65,000). But it was the large colored pencil-on-paper work by Grotjahn, Untitled (Full Color Butterfly, 41.52), (2010–11) that generated the most heated action. Bidding came down to a tussle between trustees Robert Fisher and Stuart Peterson, who was the victor with a $400,000 bid (high estimate: $250,000). “Stuart fell in love with that piece when it previewed at his office for the auction pre-party,” stated wife Gina. “He’s excited to have it back.”