Naomi Campbell, Bill Gates, and Larry Gagosian Converge to Supercharge Sotheby’s $10.5 Million (RED) Charity Sale in Miami
It has been five years since the last Sotheby’s “(RED)” auction, the initiative founded by musician and activist Bono and artist Damien Hirst to raise money for the fight against AIDS. Judging from last night’s star-studded event at the Moore Building in Miami’s Design District, there was plenty of pent-up demand for another charity sale, albeit a high profile one with with plenty of glitz, perfectly timed to coincide with the height of Miami Art Week madness.
The event drew an eclectic audience, including hordes of well-heeled art world insiders, bold faced names, and current auction-market darlings. This mix created a buzz that far exceeded the usual excitement of the evening auctions in New York and London. With roughly 40 lots, the sale took in $10.5 million, setting new auction records for artists including Jennifer Guidi, Hank Willis Thomas, and Leo Villareal. (The online portion of the sale continues through December 7).
A Star Powered Sale
Many of the artists who donated or specifically created works for the event were seated in the room inside the elegant Zaha Hadid-designed atrium, including sale curators Theaster Gates (also a buyer) and architect Sir David Adjaye, alongside Hank Willis Thomas, Ebony G. Patterson, Marc Quinn, Leo Villareal, Sue Noble, and others.
Bono himself was seated in the front row, alongside Adjaye, former supermodel Naomi Campbell (who proved an active bidder throughout the night), and dealer Larry Gagosian, who co-organized the sale. The U2 frontman seemed to capture the sense of ferment when he gave an impassioned introduction to the auction and its intended mission, saying, “It’s a funny old thing alchemy, isn’t it?…Turning pain into beauty is often at the heart of the transaction that we call fine art. Turning pain into beauty, and then beauty back into painkillers, is a good approximation of what tonight is about.”
Before introducing Bono, both Adjaye and Gates also delivered remarks, with Gates touching on a market sore spot, admonishing would-be flippers: “For all of you that came to auction to pilfer, think of how much those resources could help [the cause].”
All in all, it was a lively affair, with robust bidding throughout the evening. Sotheby’s auctioneer Oliver Barker kept things moving at a brisk pace, sometimes reducing bid increments for hesitant clients, a strategy that proved successful throughout the roughly one and a half hour sale. Cutting the requested increment from $5,000 to $2,500 was often enough to coax a buyer to stay in the running. This unusual leniency helped bolster the bottom line, given that this was, after all, a charity auction, without the typical reserves or minimums in place as set by a consignor.
At the start of the sale, Bono had also announced that billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates were matching the amount raised. “You simply can’t afford not to spend their money,” Bono quipped to the crowd.
So, what were the standouts? The top lot of the night—and a new artist record—came for Gates’s A Flag for the Least of Them (2018). Barker noted during the bidding that Gates was “a new Larry Gagosian artist, let me remind you,” just in case the crowd needed any more encouragement.
The work sold for $807,000 compared on an estimate of $450,000 to $500,000. The previous record for Gates of $459,000 was set at auction earlier this year, for a similar work.
The Gates record was followed by Jenny Saville’s Susanna (2017-18), which sold for $735,000. One of Sean Scully’s signature color block works, appropriately titled Red (2018), sold for $591,000. Also a record was the $375,000 paid for a work by Jennifer Guidi (another Gagosian artist), for her just-created Energy of Love (Painted Universe Mandala Sf #4F, Red, Natural Ground) (2018).
The bidders in the room put up plenty of competition throughout the night. Turning buyer, Theaster Gates paid a hammer price of $58,000 for Ebony G.Patterson’s …bearing witness… (2017), while Naomi Campbell bought Adjaye’s Washington Skeleton (RED) Side Chair [Set of Four] (2013) for a hammer price of $45,000.
This marks the third such (RED) charity auction, following sales in 2008 and 2013. The initiative has generated more than $600 million for the Global Fund to support lifesaving HIV/AIDS programs in Africa. Proceeds from the evening sale will go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS to provide life-saving HIV/AIDS programs in sub-Saharan Africa, while also helping to fund community-strengthening programs in Chicago with the Rebuild Foundation—an organization founded by Theaster Gates.