Auction puts art in local hands

Benefit: The Contemporary Museum's fund raiser gives collectors a chance to purchase quality works at bargain prices.

May 16, 2001|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

It may not be Christie's or Sotheby's. But the works are by internationally recognized artists; they're for sale, and, compared to the astronomical figures racked up in New York, the prices are quite reasonable - for art, at least.

Welcome to "The Big Picture: Take 2," the second annual fund-raising exhibit and auction sponsored by Baltimore's Contemporary Museum. The museum, at 100 W. Centre St., has been accepting bids since April on 111 artworks, and the event will culminate in a reception and live auction that begins at 5 p.m. Saturday.

The Contemporary Museum, Baltimore's premiere showcase of the art of our time, hopes to build on last year's success, when its first benefit auction generated sales of $175,000. This year, the value of the artworks totals about $425,000, and museum officials hope the show will sell out. The works come from collectors, dealers and artists who have donated either entire works or a percentage of the sale price to the museum.

"This is a way for the museum to bring quality works of contemporary art to Baltimore collectors, and to help the artists themselves, as well as raise money for the museum," said Gary Sangster, the museum's director. "The collectors get a bargain, the artists get something back from the sale of their work, and we are able to strengthen the museum's education and exhibition programs."

Most works in the show are by contemporary artists, and the selection is diverse enough to offer something for every taste.

There are paintings by David Wojnarowicz, Grace Hartigan, Jonathan Newman and Peter Nardin, prints by Frank Stella, Henry Moore, Kara Walker and Romare Bearden, and photographs by William Wegman, Sean Scully and Ana Mendieta.

Andy Warhol is represented by an original screen print, as well by prints from his studio; Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, Bruce Nauman and Tina Barney are available in artist's books or suites of prints. There's even a nod to early modernism in two works on paper by Alexander Calder and Thomas Hart Benton.

Starting bids range from $100 for Louise Bourgeois' sensitive artist's book, "Album," to $24,900 for Wojnarowicz's "Radiolec," a large acrylic collage about what might be called the last stage in the transformation of capitalism.

The painting depicts an enormous roach representing the global economy being devoured by legions of dollar-bill-crunching ants, the artist's private symbol for ubiquitous American imperialism. (Hey, Wojnarowicz lived for more than a decade on New York's Lower East Side, which is overrun by the critters. At least the guy had a sense of humor. )

Bids for several works start at $1,000 or less. Sally Apfelbaum's "Fleur #3," one of the artist's signature flower studies, starts at $800, and Christian Boltanski's "My Favorite Objects," 246 black-and-white photographs of children's toys, starts at $1,000. John Waters' photograph "Dirty Divine" and Jeff Koons' ceramic "Puppy" start at $1,000 and $1,200 respectively.

Print aficionados who'd like to own a work by a world-famous artist without breaking the bank can bid on two pop pieces by Joseph Beuys - "At News" and "Surrender" - starting at $1,600 each. And Ed Ruscha's artist's book "The Sunset Strip," which documents L.A.'s most famous street during the psychedelic '60s, may be the show's biggest steal, at an opening bid of just $800.

There are plenty of pieces in higher price brackets, of course. (My favorite, Koichiro Kurita's enchanting platinum print "In a Meadow," starts at $5,100, alas). But the point is, you don't have to spend a fortune for contemporary art.

For example, Keith Haring's cardboard container decorated with his graffiti-like markings may be the world's most expensive shoe box at a opening bid of $3,600. But, considering that the same design executed on a flat sheet of paper would sell for megabucks in New York, Haring's unpretentious little drawing might not be such a bad bargain after all.

Tickets to the auction cost $75 for members of the Contemporary Museum and $100 for non-members and can be bought by calling 410-783-5720.

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