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Hip-Hop Auction

Photo: Sotheby’s
Salt-N-Pepa’s personal “Push-It” jackets. A portion of Salt’s proceeds will benefit Truth Center Ministries, the Inn (Interfaith Nutrition Network), and Life Camp; a portion of Pepa’s proceeds will benefit Lifebeat and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

I don’t know much about hip-hop, or rap, but I thought it was fascinating that it’s been a part of our culture long enough for a Sotheby’s auction of “historic” memorabilia this month.

As Laird Borrelli-Persson wrote at Vogue, “Until now hip-hop, a global lingua franca, has been in use seemingly everywhere but in auction rooms. That’s set to change next week when, on September 15, Sotheby’s presents its first sale dedicated to the subject.

“The broad spectrum of items on offer — everything from teenage love letters written by Tupac Shakur to graffiti writer Buddy Esquire’s sketchbook — demonstrate that hip-hop has always been a multimedia genre. …

“Though hip-hop is an existing collectible category, it didn’t have an auction ‘home.’ Traditionally, explains [Sotheby’s Cassandra] Hatton, this world has been very focused on specific collecting categories, like cars, jewelry, books, and contemporary art. Hip-hop, she says, ‘is the sum of all of its parts, and if you take a part of it out, it’s not itself anymore.’ …

“ ‘What I think is really important here,’ says [Monica Lynch, former president of Tommy Boy Records], ‘is that the overwhelming majority of the people who are consigning to this auction are the artists and creators themselves, and that they are going to be recognized. … If this expands or brings them a new audience, … that’s a great thing.’ …

“Hip-hop’s influence on fashion is enduring. Lynch recalls being seated at a dinner across from [fashion designer] Karl Lagerfeld in the early 1990s and ‘the only thing he wanted to talk about was TLC.’

“The sale includes items designed and worn by MC Sha-Rock and, spectacularly, Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘Push It’ jackets, [also] a number of jackets that were made only for crews or for staff, as in the case of a Carharrt topper with a Shawn Stussy–designed logo made for Tommy Boy employees. …

“Lynch calls attention to the ‘DIY customization’ of many of the pieces, and also to luxury’s ‘strange history with hip-hop.’ (Note Dapper Dan’s Louis Vuitton jacket, circa 1988.)

“ ‘The hip-hop community always adapted,’ she continues. ‘They adopted and adapted. I think Carhartt was pretty shocked when it realized that a huge amount of its customer base was up in Harlem and in the Bronx. Slick Rick was always wearing Clarks Wallabees shoes. I don’t think they were marketing to a Slick Rick, but you know, the hip-hop community took brands that were known with different audiences and flipped them, turned them inside out, and they made them their own.’ …

“The sale will be an introductory experience for some, a nostalgic one for others. Hatton hopes it will be cheering for all. ‘I think something important about hip-hop is that it’s uplifting,’ she says. ‘There are some markets where money is made by making you feel like you’re not good enough, you’re not beautiful enough, or smart enough, or rich enough, or whatever, so the motivation for purchasing certain things is because it will make you look better or smarter or more sophisticated. And hip-hop is very different. It’s very much celebrating who you are and creating something great out of nowhere. That is what to me art is.’ ” More at Vogue.

Forbes reported on how the auction actually turned out, here. According to Jacqueline Schneider, “Five consignors (for lots 12, 36, 80, 81 and 118), with sales totaling $170,226, indicated their intention to donate money to various charities. Sotheby’s itself committed an undisclosed portion of its proceeds to benefit hip-hop programs at the Queens Public Library and Building Beats, a non-profit teaching young people in underserved communities tech literacy and entrepreneurial skills through DJ and music programs.”

At my September 1 post, Hannah commented, “In my anti-racism group one of our members, who studies racism as an academic discipline, has suggested listening –- really listening –- to rap.” I have been trying that.

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cruise-auction-4

Photo: Cruise Critic
A Park West art auction in the Star Lounge on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas.

My family went on a cruise only once (1990, New York to Bermuda), so in terms of special features, we know about Broadway-type entertainments, and that’s it. “Let’s give a warm welcome to the Royal Viking singers and dancers, Everyone!”

But cruise lines keep trying to outdo each other in offerings. One couple I know chooses their trip based on what chamber music group will be playing. And if you are into fine art or auctions, there’s a cruise for you, too.

Of course, you’re not going to pick up something valuable for cheap.

Sarah Cascone writes at Artnet, “I was lounging poolside, cocktail in hand, when I heard the announcement. The grand finale art auction was about to start.

“It was a weekend cruise from Miami to the Bahamas aboard Royal Caribbean’s recently refurbished Navigator of the Seas. … As I entered the event, hosted by cruise-ship auctioneer Park West Gallery, I bypassed the registration table, heading straight for the auction floor, where a waiter was handing out glasses of sparkling white wine.

“From the start, it was clear that this was no regular art auction. After a brief spiel encouraging folks to buy art as a legacy to leave to their children, the auctioneer, Robert Borotescu, got down to business.

‘I don’t know if you’ve seen Oprah,’ he said. ‘We have some surprises under the chairs.’

“Cue a frenzy as the few guests in the room rushed to upturn every seat cushion. There were no car keys to be found, but there were $100 certificates for discounts on winning bids.

“Borotescu, a dark-haired Romanian man in his mid-to-late 30s, endeared himself toward the crowd by offering additional raffle tickets for $100 credits throughout the auction. … With his pleasantly urbane accent, Borotescu set his audience at ease, acknowledging that they probably never had the time to visit art museums and galleries. But they were here now, and it was his job to make sure that they went home with something they absolutely loved. …

“Borotescu told us that [Park West] operates on 100 cruise ships, and claimed that the art aboard the Navigator of the Seas alone was worth $3 million. Representing some 200 artists, the company holds 1,200 auctions every month. …

“Unlike most art world organizations, Park West seems to hire employees with largely non-art backgrounds. Borotescu’s LinkedIn lists six years in fine jewelry and watch sales at Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy before joining the company. A quick perusal of resumes of other auctioneers and art directors at the company yields unconventional experience in HVAC, used car sales, fitness instruction, and Royal Caribbean’s beverage team, to list just a few. …

“Park West specializes in what it calls ‘graphic works’: Mass-produced reproductions of original paintings, signed by the artist and released in limited editions. Some are giclée prints — a fancy term for high-quality inkjet prints. Other pieces might look like paintings, but these more expensive offerings are often merely hand-embellished, with brushstrokes layered over a printed image to give it a more ‘authentic’ feel. …

“ [The auctioneer] said: ‘If we look at the Oxford Dictionary of Art, every single artwork that can be traced back to the artist, or was created under the artist’s supervision, is considered to be an original work of art.’ …

“Most of the time, you won’t even take home the exact work you’re bidding on. Park West will ship you a functionally identical copy from its warehouse, rather than going through the trouble of turning over the on-board stock, according to Bloomberg Business. …

“The bidding kicked off with a piece by Peter Max, a well-known Pop artist who met Scaglione, Park West’s founder, back in the late 1960s, and has been represented by him ever since. …

“ ‘This is one of the gems we have on the Navigator of the Seas,’ Borotescu told the crowd, claiming that the ‘printed painting on canvas’ was valued at $23,500, but that he could start the bidding at $20,000. Less than 30 seconds later, the work was sold for $20,700.

“Max has decades of experience exhibiting at international museums. The highest auction record for a work of his is $53,125, according to the artnet Price Database. … Other artists on offer had decidedly less impressive CVs. Borotescu proudly proclaimed that Park West is the only gallery to represent David ‘Lebo’ Le Batard, noting that the artist is known for his paintings of cats and owls. …

“Every attendee was encouraged to enter a free raffle to take home a massive, unframed Thomas Kinkade [your blogger comments, ‘Ugh!’]. … One gimmick in particular stood out: A pair of works presented turned away from the audience, and sold as one lot, without any idea of what they looked like. ‘They are going to be two of the most gorgeous works of art that anyone has ever seen,’ Borotescu promised the audience. ‘Once you turn it around, if it’s something you don’t like, you don’t have to keep it.’ …

“And then there was Tweety.

“Borotescu never named the artist responsible for designing the tiny print, relying on the Looney Toons character’s name recognition … Supposedly, the artwork, which was just a couple inches high and therefore impossible to see from across the room, was valued at $549.

“ ‘Let’s have some fun,’ Borotescu suggested, asking everyone in the room to hold up their bid card. He opened the bidding at just $20. Two thirds of the crowd dropped out when he raised the price to $40, and suddenly the auctioneer slammed down the hammer, selling the cartoon bird to a handful of guests.”

More here, where you can also read about the latest confusion surrounding works by Peter Max, one of the featured artists.

I think if you didn’t take it too seriously, an onboard art auction would be fun. Gimmicks such as surprises under the chairs somehow make me think of a kid’s birthday party. The whole experience seems to play to the child worldview that is buried but available for anyone to tap in adulthood.

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When the MBTA subway system decided to rebuild the stop called Government Center a couple years ago, it began a search for the artist who created the original murals there to see if she would like them back, and if not, if she would be OK with selling them.

It wasn’t easy to find her.

As Malcolm Gay writes at the Boston Globe, she was baking pies as part-owner of the Pie Place Café in Grand Marais, Minnesota.

“ ‘I got a phone call one day,’ [Mary] Beams explained, ‘and a voice I didn’t know said, “How does it feel to know that all of Boston is looking for you?” I had no idea what to say.’

“Beams, it turned out, hadn’t disappeared at all. An animator who had been a teaching assistant at Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, and whose work has been collected by the Museum of Modern Art, she’d simply left the art world …

“With her blessing, the MBTA plans to hold an online public auction of the artworks, giving Bostonians a chance to own a piece of the city’s history.

“The online auction and display of murals will run Oct. 20-29, with a kick-off event at the state Transportation Building at 10 Park Plaza on Oct. 21. … The event will be something of a homecoming for Beams, who left Boston soon after completing the murals. She has never been back.

“ “I am so curious to see them again,’ she said. ‘I’ve gone on and lived this whole other life. But to be able to confront something that you made 35 years ago and ponder what they’ve been through? It’s quite amazing.’ ”

Pictures of the murals — and more information on the artist — here.

Mural by Mary Beams, for sale at Skinner

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Here’s a lovely story by Bella English at the Boston Globe.

Like many other people who feel helpless after a tragedy, illustrators of children’s books wanted to do something useful last April 15 and were delighted to be asked to give their talents.

“After the Boston Marathon bombings,” writes English, “Joe and Susan McKendry of Brookline wanted to do something. …

“Joe, an artist who teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design, thought he could auction off a couple of paintings he did for his first book, ‘Beneath the Streets of Boston: Building America’s First Subway.’

“But then he realized he had something more valuable: connections to other artists. Why not make it a group project? We Art Boston was born, with dozens of artists contributing paintings or illustrations to the cause: the emergency and trauma fund at Boston Children’s Hospital.

“The fund helps children and families get the treatment they need ‘when faced with a tragedy,’ says Stacy Devine, an associate director with the Boston Children’s Hospital Trust. What began as a response to the Marathon bombings expanded to include all traumatic events. …

“The McKendrys also wanted to hold a community event for children to get more directly involved. On Oct. 20, We Art Boston is hosting a family day on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, right across from the New England Aquarium.

“All of the donated artwork will be framed and on exhibit, and people can bid on them through volunteers who will place the bids online using iPads. Several of the illustrators will be there and will sign books or, for a donation to the cause, draw portraits of stuffed animals for children who bring their favorite one along.”

More.

Henry Cole’s “Penguin Pride” (l8-by-12 inches, framed) has a value of $550 and a suggested bid of $250.

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