Museum Auction Lures a Crowd


A coin flip settles disputed bidding over a donkey drawing

Art auction committee, from left, events manager Sarah Strozza, Sara Heeschen, Sarah Thorne-Markman, and Michele Monda. Photos by Ted Kucklick.

Silent bidding initially appeared somewhat sluggish during Laguna Art Museum’s annual art auction last Saturday, which drew 380 guests and nevertheless raised roughly $100,000 for the museum’s exhibition and education programs. About 80 percent of the 107 works donated by artists sold.

While many worthy works chosen by museum director Bolton Colburn, chief curator Grace Kook-Anderson and curator of education Jacqueline Bunge, remained wallflowers, there were others that, at times inexplicably, compelled bidders to pay more than a work’s stated value.

For example, Ed Gomez’s “Private Security,” a noir depiction of a machine gun toting guard valued at $1,500 fetched $2,100. A sign of the times perhaps but at an event themed on Love (due to a stamp that assemblage artist George Herms affixed to his many works), one may still wonder why his assemblage “Case (Violin)” still got zero bids during the live auction for 21 works. Valued at $7,000, it sold the day after for $2,800 when the post-auction public could get into the museum for free and shop for bargains.

But “Beam,” a Joe Biel linear graphite drawing of a donkey balanced on a narrow beam, ignited a heated bidding contest settled in an unusual manner.

Laguna Beach artist and auction contributor Barbara Berk, exhibitions curator Grace Kook-Anderson, with another artist donor Mieke Gelley. Photos by Ted Kucklick.

Adeline Mah had intended to present it to her artist husband, Robert, as an early Valentine gift and bid $600. Shortly before, Chris Bason had bid $550 when his companion took a liking to it. As the last and highest bidder, Mah thought she had won the piece, but Bason claimed that she had bid after the segment’s deadline. The drawing had been valued at $500.

When floor monitors first decided that Bason was the rightful owner, Mah protested vigorously, and auctioneer Jim Nye was called in to settle matters. He flipped a coin; Mah chose heads and got the piece for $575.

This year, bidding procedures appeared a bit confusing to some. Not only were the closing times for museum galleries slightly staggered, organizers also created “hybrid bidding” in the large California Gallery. It was designed for buyers to place customary written bids, but in order to give some pieces an extra boost Nye held a mini live auction for the pieces with high-end paper bids.  “Since we had such an overwhelming amount of artists donating work, we decided to try something new so guests would not have to sit through a two-hour live auction,” wrote event coordinator Sarah Strozza.

A Tony De Lap drawing sold this way at $1,400.

Auctioneer Jim Nye at work. Photos by Ted Kucklick.

During the live auction guests could snag Andy Moses’ “Nocturnalized” for $3000, a Laddie John Dill triptych for $2,750 and Victor Hugo Zayas “Sin Flores” (he is scheduled for a show at LAM) for $1,400.  Then again, a Theodore Svenningsen grisaille painting, “Tracks and Bridge on a Snowy Day,” fetched $4,500. Attorney Don Segretti placed a winning bid of $3,400 for Tom Swimm’s “Shoreline Solitude.”  “It’s a beauty. I consider myself fortunate to have it,” he said.

The yearly standby, a Don Bachardy portrait commission of the buyer, still fetched $3,000.

Enjoying the event, Council member Elizabeth Pearson, center, with Matt and Mary Lawson. Photos by Ted Kucklick.

As the evening wrapped, Bob and Recky Brannon, of Scottsdale, Ariz., had bought eight pieces. They began to buy art as newlyweds but were avid independent collectors while single. “We were just dating when we discovered that we had both, independently, bid on C.J. Wells’ “Portrait of Frida Kahlo” at the same auction,” said Recky. The couple bought Gomez’s guard along with David Milton’s “Homage to Hoppy.”

Virgina and Jeff Barney of Tustin Ranch, collectors of bronze pieces, bought Preston Daniel’s “Little House Losing It,” but then also took home Mike Shine’s whimsical “Art Shack.” The couple also bought the Svenningsen painting. “We have a passion for anything connected to the railroad,” said Jeff Barney.

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Heated bidding over “Beam,” courtesy of the artist, Joe Biel, was settled by a coin toss. Photos by Ted Kucklick.
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