Lunch and a show for $10? Weekly Art Auctions feed creativity at Anderson Ranch
August 9, 2018
A line has gathered at the outdoor lunch buffet, and it's only 11:45 a.m. Guests are loading paper plates with as much barbecue sauce-glazed chicken, hand-shaped black bean burgers, cabbage slaw, green salad and sliced watermelon that they're able to carry. Iced tea and lemonade flow freely from self-serve carafes. Seasoned visitors, clearly, know to hit the ice cream bar before tubs of favorite flavors disappear. Costing 10 bucks per person for an all-you-can-eat hot lunch and cold dessert, this might be the best midday deal around.
But that's not all: Included in the ticket price here at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village is admission to a 45-minute auctionette that hawks artworks by students, staff, faculty, interns and visiting artists. The fast-paced, cultural convocation happens nearly every Friday, all summer long.
"It's the freshest art in the Roaring Fork Valley," quips Katherine Roberts, Anderson Ranch director of marketing and communications and today's guest auctioneer. "Typically we have anywhere between 20 to 30 works, reasonably priced for the casual collector to get a one-of a kind piece. All are donated, so proceeds come back to the Ranch."
I settle into a front-row seat beneath the peaked ceiling of Schermer Meeting Hall, located at the heart of the Anderson Ranch campus on Owl Creek Road, less than a 20-minute drive from downtown Aspen. Folks peruse the paintings, prints, ceramics, dyed fabrics and sculptures displayed at the front of the room, while Technotronic's 1989 hit "Pump Up the Jam" thumps from speakers overheard. An announcer tells us that the auction will begin in five minutes. The room is buzzing.
Before assuming her post, Roberts offers a warning: "When a bid exceeds $500, we all get up and dance," she says. "I can't tell you the exact amount the Tom Sachs artwork sold for (last week), but I can say it was a GREAT value!"
The live auction begins promptly at 12:15 p.m. and, with Roberts calling out bids, flies by at a fast clip.
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"Flocking System," a digital artwork by Joshua Davis, (who helped design the visualization of IBM's Watson), is the first piece to hit $500. A vessel named "Bob" by ceramics studio coordinator Giselle Hicks earns $400. Stuart Asprey's ceramic "Army Man" gets $600. Japanese legacy potter Takashi Nakazato's bowl sells "for the ridiculously low price of $400," Roberts tells the crowd. "This is a big deal!"
The winning bidder smiles knowingly.
A modern, red centerpiece made by Brooks Oliver for the Anderson Ranch Recognition Dinner the week prior is scooped up for $450, and student works are released into the world for $50 to $200. For some, this might be their first sale ever. All told, Anderson Ranch nets a handsome $4,950 during the 45-minute auctionette.
"We have world-class artists who are faculty and students," explains Anderson Ranch associate director Doug Casebeer, when I catch up with him post-show. "I would never use the word discount or bargain, but it's the best price you can get for museum-quality work, in a very friendly, open environment."
Casebeer has been an artistic director at Anderson Ranch since 1985; today he oversees all 3-D workshops, including ceramics, sculpture, woodworking and woodturning, and is chair of Anderson Ranch's Artists-in-Residence Program. In spring 1994, Casebeer brought the idea of a student-run auction of art and belongings to campus, serving as auctioneer for a spell.
"It was highly successful," he recalls of the first event, held on a Thursday night after dinner on campus. "I think we raised a couple thousand dollars. It morphed the following summer into a Friday Auctionette. Our director at the time, Jim Baker, really embraced the idea. We saw potential for students — who, at the end of their workshop, may not have the means to contribute on a large scale — to get involved with buying art made in the workshops."
Anderson Ranch Friday Auctionettes, Casebeer adds, create opportunity for patrons to acquire fresh works by world-class artists, such as Enrique Martínez Celaya and John Gill (who exhibits at Harvey/Meadows Gallery in Aspen), for "a fraction of the cost of the sales in town."
At the same time, they fuel creation among Ranch lifeblood. Casebeer's own ceramic "Vase with Rose" was auctioned successfully today, climbing from a starting bid of $150 to $450.
"The original premise was that this would support scholarships and workshop operations, and it does exactly that," he continues. He estimates that the Friday Auctionettes have funneled more than $700,000 back to Anderson Ranch over 25 years.
Often, the art's acquisition has an interesting backstory, too. Sitting beside me during the auction, Susan Beckerman bids on — and wins — a glossy ceramic model of the new children's building, made by the class teacher, whose pint-sized acolytes are here to watch the process with wide eyes.
"I've been coming here about 20 years," says Beckerman, a former board member and now honorary trustee. "I bought it to give to Evelyn Siegel, a longtime supporter of the Ranch and the founder of the children's programs. Last year, in her honor, they turned it — used to be a shed — into a year-round building for children's programming."
Before I leave, she urges me to return — to the Friday Auctionettes, as well as to the campus café.
"It's open to the public and has wonderful food," she marvels, though that's not the only draw. "You can sit down at a table full of artists and find out what they're working on."
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