“I tell you how much money to spend, and you spend it,” said Sara Friedlander standing on a podium in a gold-sequin skirt and a jean shirt tied at her waist. “It’s like I tell my husband.” Ms. Friedlander, a post-war and contemporary art specialist at Christie’s, was moonlighting last night as an auctioneer at Performa’s first benefit auction.
The benefit for Performa, which organizes a performance art biennial in New York, was held at the Flag Art Foundation’s Chelsea gallery, which was filled with sun for almost the entire evening as guests sampled porcini mushroom pastry puffs and endive spears filled with crab salad while surveying the works at auction by artists like Mike Kelley, Laurie Simmons, Christian Marclay and Shirin Neshat, among many others. A black crown fashioned from black leather and rhinestone studded stars, by Rashaad Newsome, sparkled in the sunlight streaming in from the balcony. A dancer with the Trisha Brown Company said he had bid on the Marclay piece, a torn corner of a page from a comic book.
“It’s like finding a piece of ancient Greek pottery,” said RoseLee Goldberg, performance art historian and founder of Performa, to Gallerist as we strolled through the gallery, after the bidding. “A little shard tells you a big story. Each of these pieces has that kind of story.”
Ms. Goldberg, who was in a black and white cocktail dress and stiletto heels stopped in front of the Kelly piece, Double Sunset, two large framed prints from 2005, which showed the silhouette of a man against a sunset. “What’s wonderful about the piece is that it’s three times removed,” Ms. Goldberg said. “First he took the yearbook, then he made this film and then he brought the film to life for Performa.” Ms. Goldberg was referring to Kelley’s 2009 performance at the Judson Church, “Day Is Done,” which was inspired by photographs from yearbooks and Detroit newspapers.
During the auction, Ms. Friedlander expertly tempted bidders to go higher. “The work is going to be in the retrospective,” she told one man in a pinstripe suit of the Kelly, as he hesitated to make another bid. He was in competition with a woman who had bid $11,000. “You’re going to be sorry, and she’s not.”
“She’s a good friend of mine,” said the man. The audience laughed. Someone whispered that he was a character on Mad Men.
“Come on, Larry is retailing this for $50,000,” said Ms. Friedlander, referring to dealer Larry Gagosian.
“Larry who?” someone shouted from the audience, and everyone laughed.
Later, as we were looking at a small photograph of performance artist Clifford Owens standing with a woman, both nude, the artist appeared from behind our shoulder. “Get that,” he said. “It’s only at $500. How could you not want that? A picture of a naked man and a naked woman.” Then he walked off into the next room.