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Artists and the Auction 






Well, it’s Fund Raising Auction season again…  Although, it seems that it’s always Fund Raising Auction season. You know what I’m talkin’ about. The call to artists for donations goes out and the myths fly fast and furious. Some of my favorites:


  • Exposure: Donating to an auction is a great way to get your work seen.

  • Auctions are a great way for collectors to begin acquiring your work.

  • It’s tax deductible. You’re doing a good thing and getting a nice deduction come April.

  • It’s good for you. This is a great move for your career since, once the people see the work and it’s sold, they’ll be lining up to buy more.

  • These people really know about Art and Craft! After all, it's a pre-selected audience.

  • You’ll be in good company. Appearing with other great makers will validate your work too.

  • What a great place to get rid of my seconds.  Everybody wins!

Auctions, like so many other things, seem to rely on a never ending supply of fresh young artists, those makers who just want to make and are thrilled that their work is out in public, in front of people with money and taste; people who are already on board the art wagon and, once they get a glimpse of the work, will begin to collect this new and exciting artist.

Let’s take a closer look.

•Exposure:  Maybe for a short time.  Some auction attendees are in fact jotting down a few names to remember.  A few names.  Also, where will this exposure be: in the live auction or in the silent auction?  It matters. The live auction has more prestige and has the better chance of helping the artist. And it is key that the work in the silent auction is displayed well--not always or often the case.

•Auctions are a great way for collectors to begin acquiring your work.

•It’s good for you:  I used to teach at an art center that annually stages a really nice, and huge, gala of an auction to which, for many years, I contributed a piece. But after years of watching beautiful work, including mine, sell at relatively low prices I began to wonder if this idea was smart.  I finally saw the light when the person who had the winning (but anemic) bid came running up to me, all smiles and adrenalin:  “Oh Andy!  I won your piece! I am so excited! I finally own a piece by Andy Cooperman! I’ve been waiting so long to have one and now I finally have my Andy Cooperman piece!” She gave me a hug and got in line to pay. She had her Andy Cooperman. No new collector. No future sale. No money for the piece that she had been waiting to buy.

What she got: 

             -A nice piece at a great, great price.

What the Art Center got:

             -A small amount of money-- probably offset by beers that the artist (me)  consumed.

What I got: 

            -Maybe some exposure. (*see below)

            -The joy of seeing someone happy to own my work.

            -The joy of seeing my work go for pennies on the dollar.

             -*The bad feeling that everybody saw how low my work went for.

            -*The even worse feeling that this was devaluing my brand.

•These people really know about Art and Craft! They may.. or they may know alot about flat art and nothing about Craft. Your brooch may languish.

•You’ll be in good company: Not always. You may not even be with other artists. When the big bids are going for golfing sportswear or tickets to the tractor pull, you can begin to wonder if this is your crowd.

•It’s tax deductable. Partially true-- when a collector is donating a piece. But to my knowledge, the artist only can deduct materials.

•What a great place to get rid of my seconds. Nah….  Sounds like a plan, but when the rubber hits the road and if you are buying into the myth of exposure, do you really want to give a piece of crap? Nope. You’ll give a piece that you are proud of….

The time when a  fund raising auction that galls me most is the one where the entity that the auction is supporting is an Arts Organization, which, it seems to me, exists to support the arts, the arts community and the artists.  So… funds are being raised for the arts by selling work donated by the artists.  That, in itself, is okay I guess, but when the artists are not shown appreciation or respect by that organization my hackles get all raised. 

The appearance of a piece of artwork at a high profile auction can have a variety of impacts on the career of an artist. When the audience includes collectors and potential clients, perceptions can play a subtle but important role. This is especially apparent when more than one of an artist’s pieces are offered at the same auction.  Questions can and do arise as to why a group of pieces are being offered.  The perception here may be that the artist’s work is being dumped. I have seen my work appear on the secondary market, at reputable dealers and even on EBay.  The prices were solid and I think that this is a good sign: we are collectable. Twice I have seen my pieces offered at auctions, which I had not donated to. My name was listed as a participating artist and the donor was listed as “Anonymous”.  The pieces had most recently resided in the collection of a gallery owner with whom, to put it nicely, I had parted ways. It seems that the owner was divesting of my work. I have no idea what the pieces went for.

There seems to be some basic notions about artists that fuel auctions.

  • Artists are givers. (my favorite!)

  • An artist can always make another piece.

  • Artists are desperate for exposure.

  • Sales at auction lead to future sales.

  • The value of artwork is mercurial.

  • Auctions are good for an artist’s career.

  • Everybody wins at an auction.

If, after this cautionary tale, you still wish to donate to a fundraising auction, here’s a few things to keep in mind:

-Ask which part of the auction your work will be in--live or silent.

-Establish a reserve (or base) price.

-How will the work be displayed?

-Will you receive any portion of the proceeds?

-Will your name appear on the program?

-Will you be given the name and contact information of the buyer (for mailing lists, etc.)?

-What will the auction venue be like?

-Who will attend the auction?

            Will they understand art?

            Are they collectors?

-Is this good for you?

-Do you believe in and support the entity that the auction supports?

I gotta come clean. I do continue to support one or two auctions annually.  And to be squeaky clean, one of them has led to an additional sale or two… which basically makes me even. Here’s how I do it now:

If the auction is supporting a school or art center that I am teaching at--Haystack, Revere, etc.-- I will propose that the auctioneer announce that 20% of any sales that Andy Cooperman makes while he is teaching will go back to the school. That is, in fact, a win/win:

  • -I make more sales.

  • -The school gets more money than they would from an auction.

  • -I am spared the humiliation of watching my work auction for peanuts

  • -My brand is not harmed by low bids.

  • -And I can fully deduct the 20% since I am writing the school a check and it is a donation.

Support of the arts, artists and craftspeople goes beyond the financial.  It is based on a firm foundation of respect for artists and what they do. Auctions don’t always provide that respect.  With that, I bid you farewell….

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