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An Invitation to a Treasure Hunt

Bonhams experts appraise works at the Laguna Art Museum, arrayed with work for the annual fundraising art auction set for Saturday. Photo by Edgar Obrand

Bonhams experts appraise works at the Laguna Art Museum, arrayed with work for the annual fundraising art auction set for Saturday. Photo by Edgar Obrand

Wolfgang Bloch, Sandra Jones Campbell, Jorg Dubin, Tony DeLap, David Milton, Tom Swimm, Jacques Garnier and the Bartels family are but a few of the contemporary local artists donating works to the annual Laguna Art Museum Art Auction taking place on Feb. 9.

The live auction tops a week of previewing by prospective buyers and savvy collectors perusing items donated by roughly 100 artists and hoping to stake a claim for unadorned gems in the coming silent auction.

Setting the stage for weekend treasure hunters, the museum again invited visitors to bring in their own artful caches to an appraisal clinic by Bonhams Fine Art Auctioneers on Tuesday, Feb. 5, which swelled to 314 guests this year compared to 100 last year.

Bonhams specialists in fine art, photography, jewelry and Asian art appraised works and helped owners parse their origins. “We hope to take the mystery out of the appraisal and auction process,” said Katie Nartonis, a 20th century decorative arts specialist.

In a manner like PBS’s “Antiques Road Show,” visitors hope for unexpected treasure. An 80-year-old Mission Viejo retiree, who schlepped “for the fun of it” what turned out to be a rare Ercole Barovier mosaic glass vase, struck pay dirt at the museum’s Bonhams event in 2010.

Imagine her surprise when “Aunt Edna’s” vase, dated to 1924, was appraised at $up to $25,000 and later sold at auction for $140,000 to a European collector. “We were on a tight retirement income and now, I can’t believe that I can afford painting for fun and attending workshops,” said its former owner, who declined to be identified.

This year’s clinic unearthed an Escher lithograph valued at $10-15,000 and a Native American tobacco bag worth $2,000, among other treasures.

Appraisals cost $10 per piece with proceeds earmarked for museum educational events.

This year, the museum, too, has worked to demystify the silent and live auction process, presided over by Christie’s International auctioneer Andrea Fiuczynski. Potential bidders can obtain ample information about the works, their creators, as well as some of the curators’ choices during the exhibition and an online catalogue.

A selection team of Executive Director Malcolm Warner, curators Grace Kook-Anderson and Janet Blake and special events director Sarah Strozza invited artists to participate.

“To ask an artist to contribute every year is not easy but the response has been such that I feel overwhelmed by the artists’ generosity and the galleries that represent them,” said Kook-Anderson.

Participating hands-on in his first auction, Warner said that he has mined friendships from his days as curator of European art at the San Diego Museum of Art and brought in artists like Eugene Berman and others from the Tobey Moss Gallery in Los Angeles.

One may wonder what makes a work auction worthy, whether museums accept pretty much anything and let sales determinate quality or whether works are curated similarly to an exhibition.

A Mission Viejo retiree struck pay dirt at the museum’s Bonhams event when her aunt’s bauble turned out to be a rare Ercole Barovier mosaic glass vase that fetched $140,000 at auction.

A Mission Viejo retiree struck pay dirt at the museum’s Bonhams event when her aunt’s bauble turned out to be a rare Ercole Barovier mosaic glass vase that fetched $140,000 at auction.

“Quality control lies in the selection of artists we approach. Once we determine that an artist is desirable for the auction, we take whatever they offer,” said Warner. Thus, artist participation is by invitation only. The curators included artists whose work had been in previous museum exhibitions or with historical standing such as Roger Kuntz or DeLap or others that are slated for future exhibitions such as painter/printmaker Helen Lundeberg or ceramicist Adam Silverman.

The museum owns several sculptures, works on paper and mixed media paintings, textiles and two commissioned permanent installations (“Light Sentence” and “Untitled) by light and space artist Laddie John Dill. This year Dill donated “Triple Light Wedge,” a glass and cement sculpture done in 1971 and recently refurbished to current technological standards. At $35,000, it is the highest valued live auction item. “The museum has a special place in my heart. I try to give back as much energy as they have given me over the years,” he said. The Museum of Modern Art recently bought a piece from that series for roughly $40,000, he said.

Questions have arisen whether artists donate prime works and what they ultimately get out of participating. “You can’t expect artists to always give their very best but most give top quality. Artists tend to feel warmly toward museums,” said Warner.

Even though he professes no connection to Laguna’s museum, Los Angeles artist Charles Arnoldi donated a small guache painting. “Supporting museums is high on my list, and the Laguna Art Museum is a great little institution,” he said.  Similarly, San Francisco painter William Stanisich donated a watercolor painting from his “Milos” series.

What do emerging artists get out of donating? Exposure, a chance to mingle with collectors and peers at a good party, which is scheduled to crank up the music and atmosphere after, hopefully, all the works are sold.

A curator since 2008, Kook-Anderson said: “This is my fifth auction and every year I get more excited about it,” she said.

The auction party, with food and libations, 6-9 p.m. Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Dr. www.lagunaartmuseum.org  949-715-9713, $125 per person. Price of works range roughly from $130-to $35,000. Pre-auction viewing and silent bidding is free.

On Sunday, Feb. 10, all works that have not been sold at auction will be available for sale to the public at stated value.

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