Emily Nathan (Artnet Magazine) writes about a benefit auction— Artists for Haiti—at Christie’s in New York held on September 22, 2011. The works were previously on view at the David Zwirner Gallery. In the spirit of the project, Christie’s waived all fees and commissions, with 100 percent of the proceeds earmarked for NGOs already working in Haiti. Saying that “A little can go a long way in Haiti,” gallery owner David Zwirner offered a walkthrough of “Artists for Haiti” before the special sale.
Conceived in collaboration with actor (and art collector) Ben Stiller and his eponymous philanthropic foundation to bolster relief efforts in the earthquake-ravaged Caribbean country — the poorest in the Western Hemisphere — the sale brings together 26 paintings, drawings and sculptures, most of which were made specifically for the auction and donated by 25 international artists ranging from Neo Rauch and Karin Mamma Andersson to Glenn Ligon and Urs Fischer.
“Usually, the auction house and gallery are not the best of friends,” Zwirner explained candidly as the tour began, “but this time, we forged a fantastic partnership.” The project started informally, he went on, in conversations with Stiller last year. Although Zwirner was initially reluctant to get involved, a trip to the devastated country in January 2011 inspired him, and after a short meeting with Christie’s owner François Pinault — “it took not ten, but three minutes to win him over” — Zwirner was on the phone, ringing up his artist friends to ask for help and garnering resounding “yeses” across the board.
First to sign on was California draughtsman Raymond Pettibon, who not only produced two large acrylic paintings on paper expressly for the sale, but also hand-scrawled the show’s title, “Artists for Haiti,” as the text for both the catalogue and the gallery walls. No title (But the sand…) (est. $300,000-$500,000) depicts an enormous wave, cresting in violent, foamy peaks and tossing surfers from their boards. A signature Pettibon homage to West Coast counterculture, the work posits the ocean’s arbitrary aggression as a metaphor for the capriciousness of Nature’s wrath.
“More than 40 percent of Haiti’s population is currently under 18 years old, and most of these kids are without education because their schools were destroyed by the earthquake,” Zwirner asserted as he led us around the first gallery. “It costs about $1,000 to get one of them back to school; when I thought about the prices that works by these artists go for, I realized that we should be able to help. [. . .] Haiti is part of our hemisphere. [. . .] It is near where we vacation and where we live. There is absolutely no reason why it can’t become a success story; it’s a cause that will be with us throughout our life spans. The silver lining of the earthquake is that it has galvanized the international community; we realize that we must come together. Something can be done.”
[Photo above: David Zwirner speaks to the press in front of Raymond Pettibon’s No title (But the sand...), 2011]