In front of my house stands a bus bench painted by now-famous artist Tony Ortega as part of a long-gone benefit. In Westword's entryway hangs a large red painting by Michael Pedziwiatr, who was one of the town's most prolific -- and generous -- artists in the '90s.
On walls across town, paintings hang in silent testimony to the charitable nature of Denver's artists. But even as they do good (and offer would-be collectors some great deals), these artists may be done wrong -- by volunteers who treat serious work as a scribble that can easily be re-created, or by auctioneers who sell these pieces for far lower prices than they would command in the art world. In the process, an artist's work can be devalued -- and the artist disheartened. (And the artist doesn't even get much of a tax break, since only the cost of the materials are deductible.)
On Wednesday, January 31, three artists -- Ortega, Lauri Lynnxe Murphy and Jerry De La Cruz -- along with art consultant Julie Fryberger and Natalie Rekstad of the Very Special Artists auction tackle the ticklish issue of art auctions in a panel discussion at the William Havu Gallery. Westword's Michael Paglia -- an expert on all angles of art auctions and, of course, "el crítico," as Bill Havu calls him -- will moderate.
Since Havu left LoDo and built a permanent home for his eponymous gallery in the Golden Triangle two years ago, he's offered a discussion along with each new exhibit -- fifteen or sixteen in all. Sometimes the topics have corresponded to the shows; at other times, such as this one, the topics are chosen simply because they have buzz.
"This is the auction season. Everyone's hitting me up," Havu explains. "The plethora of auctions has been mentioned by my gallery artists. And they're the same artists who keep getting asked over and over and over again.
"Don't get me wrong -- I'm not knocking the auctions that are for good causes," he adds. "But they can cause problems. I'm hoping the people who attend this will try to find some consensus about ground rules. For example, they should set a minimum bid of at least half of whatever a gallery would be asking -- fair market value -- and if they achieve that half, it should go to the artist. Anything above it should go to the auction proceeds. Then the artist doesn't lose anything."
And if the minimum bid isn't reached? The piece should be removed from auction, Havu says, and perhaps brought back "after people have had another glass of wine."