For the week of Oct. 26-Nov. 3, 2001, over 150 New York City galleries have joined together for the "I LOVE NY Art Benefit," an art-world fundraiser for victims of the World Trade Center attack. More than 1,500 paintings, sculptures, photographs and other works have been donated for sale, many of them viewable in the individual galleries or on the benefit website, www.ilovenyartbenefit.org. The site will remain up for six months.
Proceeds are earmarked for the Robin Hood Relief Fund, a poverty-fighting organization that is working to help lower-income victims of the tragedy.
One highlight of the benefit is a poster designed by Robert Rauschenberg, a black and white composite image of the Statue of Liberty holding the Twin Towers ($35). It is for sale in many of the participating galleries.
SoHo dealer David Zwirner was one of the first to start organizing a benefit show after the Sept. 11 attacks. He asked the artists he works with if they wanted to donate artwork, and within one day had commitments from all 20 of them. "People wanted to help and were extremely generous," he said.
He then began contacting other dealers to try to expand the scope of the benefit. On Sept. 25 he held the first planning meeting for I LOVE NY, attended by some 80 art-world movers and shakers. "I've never seen the art community come together like this" Zwirner said. "We are normally very competitive."
The first Saturday of the benefit dawned brisk and sunny. After a week of balmy Indian summer weather, New Yorkers were confused. One man, pushing a stroller down Madison Avenue, wore khaki shorts and a sweatshirt. A woman passed him in a swingy Camel's hair coat and matching suede Manolos.
At Zwirner & Wirth Gallery on 69th Street, the entire second floor is devoted to the benefit. Gallery director Tracy Williams sat at a large glass table in her spacious office. Williams works uptown, but lives just six blocks from the World Trade Center. On the morning of Sept. 11, she was at her gym, ten blocks from ground zero. She was displaced from her apartment for the next seven days.
Williams pointed out works in the show that had already been sold: a tiny watercolor by Luc Tuymans for $6,000 and three ink and watercolor drawings by Canadian artist Marcel Dzama, scooped up for $500 each. A red rubber figure of Pinocchio (2000) by Paul McCarthy was on hold for $12,000.
As of this weekend, several big-ticket items were still available, including a 2000 video still by Pipilotti Rist, Mythenquai 2, for $12,000 and a $38,000 lacquer fiberglass sculpture by John McCracken, titled Spirit, that has the iridescent blue color of a California muscle car.
The next stop was Kennedy Galleries at 730 Fifth Avenue. Kennedy's director, Martha Fleischman, was out for lunch, but her associate, Mimi Torell, explained that Kennedy has posted artwork for sale on the I LOVE NY website but hasn't installed it in the gallery. She called up images of the works on the gallery computer, including a largish Lee Krasner serigraph from 1974, Embrace ($1,800), all jagged blues and greens, and a 1969 Calder lithograph titled Circles ($1,500), from an edition of 125.
These works are from gallery inventory and are donated by the gallery rather than by the artists. By contrast, Carolyn Plochmann, a 76-year-old artist hailing from the Mid-West, donated two paintings, one of which is titled September 11, 2001, a post-apocalyptic cityscape in acrylic and gold leaf priced at $8,500.
On 57th Street, the Marian Goodman Gallery was crowded with visitors. It was the final day of a Gerhard Richter exhibition that had opened on Sept. 14, and the benefit artwork was still in storage. Andrew Richards, the gallery director, who talks and moves at warp speed, explained that the I LOVE NY show would be hung that night.
Richards said that when the gallery called its artists for contributions, the response was tremendous. "They said to just pick something out" from the inventory. Many of the works selected by the gallery staff reflect a mood of tranquility and meditation.
Thirteen pieces are available, including one of Dan Graham's classic color photographs from the historic "Homes for America" series, Back Yard of New Suburban Homes with Fences (1978), which is $10,000. A 1998 Gerhard Richter color photo titled Guildenstern, measuring almost four feet tall and mounted between plexiglas and anodized aluminum plate, from an edition of 35, is $15,000.
Across the street at James Cohan Gallery, the main exhibition space was filled by a formidable, 28-foot-long pile of beach sand bisected by 25 two-sided mirrors. Mirrors and Shelly Sand (1970), a rare "displacement" by the father of earthworks Robert Smithson, is priced at $1,200,000 and is not part of the I LOVE NY Art Benefit. Arthur Solway sat at a desk beside the sand pile, typing on a slim laptop computer. He glanced up at me through large round spectacles, and said "I like your glasses! They bring out your eyes." I asked him about the million-dollar pile of sand. "Try to find another one just like it," he said.
He led me to a smaller back room, hung with works for the benefit sale. Three small pieces had already been sold, including a gouache by Fred Tomaselli ($2,500) and a painting by Inka Essenhigh ($2,500). Several other pieces were still available, among them a sculpture by British artist Ian Dawson that looked like a bunch of fluorescent plastic hangers that had been microwaved ($3,500). I tried to catch the eye of gallery co-director Elyse Goldberg, who had played an important role in organizing the benefit, but she was occupied with a well-heeled collector couple. I decided it was time to head for Chelsea.
The sidewalk on 24th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues was swarming with weekend art browsers. In addition, a caravan of meat-packing trucks installed with food-themed art lined the streets, part of "Dining Haul," a guerilla exhibition curated by artist Alisoun Meehan. Artists Mimi Oka and Doug Fitch drew a large crowd for something they called Restorative Elixir -- hot chicken soup.
Inside Matthew Marks gallery, two drawings were on offer by the Estate of Willem de Kooning. Displayed side-by-side in a small niche on the first floor, one, Untitled (Woman) ($10,000) of 1970, is to benefit Engine 33 Great Jones Street Station and Engine 16 234 East 29th Street Station. Proceeds from the second, a charcoal, ca. 1975, also Untitled (Woman) ($10,000), will go to the I Love NY Art Benefit.
Simon de Pury, chairman of Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg, charged up the steps to the photography show on the second floor. He paused to say he thought the benefit was "a fantastic initiative that really does bring results." He said he had been visiting many galleries and was very impressed with the quality of the work.
Phillips' thick contemporary art catalogue had been delivered that day. De Pury mentioned that Phillips has taken a full floor of a loft on 15th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues for the exhibition of the works in the forthcoming auction. Despite its swanky new 57th Street headquarters, Phillips seems to be acknowledging that Chelsea is the center for the contemporary art market. De Pury, dressed in a double-breasted blue blazer, looked more Jermyn Street than 24th Street.
Down the block at the Gagosian Gallery, hundreds of visitors wound in and out of Richard Serra's giant torques. Gagosian was billed as participating in the I Love NY Art Benefit but, ever the renegade, he came up with his own fundraising plan. Two Richard Serra posters (small $2, large and signed $20) were being sold to benefit the Twin Towers Fund.
Mid-block at Charles Cowles gallery, staffer Dennis Christie said they had already sold $500 worth of the Rauschenberg posters. In a back gallery, unfortunately not open to the public, Cowles had hung an impressive array of 11 artworks. Christie said they were pleased to have gotten good pieces to represent strong examples of their artists' works.
The Cowles gallery notified 1,000 clients about the exhibition via email and had already sold Tom Holland's collage made from epoxy on aluminum, Bug Series #60 (2000) for $2,500. Other works still available include an exuberantly colored gouache Untitled (00.03) (2000), by California artist Charles Arnoldi for $5,500 and Texan Al Souza's RB 44 (2001), made from red, white and blue puzzle pieces, for $2,000.
Below 23rd Street, the sidewalks were suddenly quiet. At the intersection of 10th Avenue and 23rd Street, three billboards compete for attention. A giant ad for the Nissan Altima is headlined "Possible side effects: Euphoria." A billboard for Sotheby's -- surely a first -- looms above the Nissan ad. It reads, "Contemporary Art, Jeff Koons, Auction Nov. 14," and shows a colorful sculpture of a little boy pushing a pig's derriere flanked by two gender-ambivalent little people. This bizarre image is abutted by a Manhattan Mini Storage blue and white sign that states, "She hates everything you ever bought."
At CRG Gallery on 22nd Street, Carla Chammas set aside a back exhibition room for the 14 works included in the benefit. She explained that Robert Beck's charcoal drawing, Untitled (Interpreting Children's Drawings by Joseph H. Dileo) ($1,500), and Robert Feintuch's Small Sunset, a painting in casein and polymer emulsion ($4,000), had both been executed after Sept. 11 and motivated the artists return to their studios. Both works are among the five that had already sold.
"We all felt something had to be done" Chammas said, "and the response has been amazing." She said two of her sales were from new buyers and they have been getting calls from collectors visiting the website.
Chammas exuded a passion for the project. She spoke about efforts "to touch the people who did not have insurance, the window washers and those not on the map." She said that after the attack she had gone to Chelsea Piers to volunteer, but was turned away. She was grateful that I Love NY has allowed her to contribute both morally and financially.
Down the block at Friedrich Petzel Gallery, eight artworks hang in the entryway. Petzel chatted with collectors Susan and Michael Hort while a steady flow of visitors wandered by. Five of the six editions have sold of Phantom Towers ($1,200) by sculptor Paul Myoda and multi-media artist Julian Laverdiere. The c-print was made famous when it appeared on cover of the New York Times Sunday Magazine.
Two windy blocks South on 20th Street, just past the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witness and an auto-body shop named Manhattan Collision, is the Anton Kern Gallery. The entire gallery, installed with 23 works, was dedicated to the benefit. The highest priced work, Michael Joo's Untitled (2001), an installation involving a dog made from oil, clay foam, wood, terracotta and aluminum, had been sold for $9,000.
Down in SoHo, all was quiet at Deitch Projects on Grand Street. A powerful portrait of a fireman hung in the window. His expression reflects sadness, fatigue, fear and stoicism. The pleasant woman manning the Deitch reception desk was woefully uninformed. The only thing she knew was that the artist is Yosef Zadeh Kami, who lives in New York.
By strange coincidence, the image the Kami used for this portrait appears in the Oct. 28 Sunday Times Week in Review section illustrating an article by Patricia Leigh Brown "Hunks: The Return of the Manly Man." Honestly, the last thing that comes to mind looking at the Deitch window is hunkiness.
Just around the corner on Greene Street, at David Zwirner Gallery, the gallery owner chatted with curator Todd Levin. The show is sold out, netting I LOVE NY more than $300,000. Both Tuymans and Neo Rauch contributed paintings created especially for the show. Absence by Tuymans, a large oil of a ghostly chair against a white field, sold immediately for $160,000.
Rauch's September, which is priced at $30,000, shows a landscape with a small artist's studio beneath storm clouds. Zwirner interpreted the image as representing "the dilemma of the artist" who is trying to get back to work after the events of Sept. 11. "This nails it for me."
As 6 p.m. neared, a gallery staffer pulled down the heavy metal gate that protects the front window. A videotape, Icarus and the World Trade Center (1998), by artist Katy Schimert, played on a television. Schimert, who lives in the Wall Street area, captured a view of the Twin Towers on grainy video. The Towers dominate the composition, blocking out the sun, dwarfing a tiny black plane that flies by. An unlimited edition, the video is $50.