Dyin’ for Ryan Adams at the Morrison Hotel Gallery: Singer Auctions His Art for Housing Works

The last lot last night during an auction of Ryan Adams paintings at the Morrison Hotel Gallery was a double whammy: Two paintings, one of a sad face and the other of a happy one. Bidding was momentarily stalled at $2,100 when the artist intervened: “I can change them if they’re not good!” he called.

The line drew big laughs, but more importantly it goosed those who had shown up with money in their pockets back into action. Moments later one Vaughn Lewis, a former derivatives trader from Queens who now makes his living managing some metal bands, prevailed with a bid of $2,500.

Mr. Lewis, it turned out, was not an art collector—just a big Ryan Adams fan. “It was a good deal, and I like a good deal,” he said afterwards.

Like all the other paintings sold at the auction, the two Mr. Lewis won came out of a stunt-ish week-long residency that Mr. Adams just completed at the gallery. In that time, the singer-songwriter managed to produce something like 15 works, arriving early every morning and, according to friends, often working into the night.

“It was great just having the room to get messy,” Mr. Adams said after the auction, in between signing autographs for a long line of fans. “It sounds cheesy to talk about, because I’m not a professional painter in the least.”

The musician Jesse Malin, a friend of Mr. Adams who served as the evening’s official auctioneer, was pleased with the auction’s results: though untested with the gavel, he had managed to raise a total of $13,000, all of which Mr. Adams would be donating to the non-profit Housing Works. 

“I was nervous,” Mr. Malin said. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I felt like I was some kind of wrestling announcer or something. It was almost like doing a gig.”

Balloons floated near the ceiling and down by the floor as a hundred people walked around the gallery admiring Mr. Adams’ paintings. One was called I’m Retarded, and was listed at $15,000. Another was All We Did Was Lie, Lie, Lie, and that was $6,500. Consensus among fans was that for the most part all the works on display were rather expressive and arresting. Admirers included the actress Mary Louise Parker and a long-haired 22-year-old from the Kansas City rock band Queens Club who had come to the gallery after playing a show at the High Line Ballroom.

An Italian collector named Franco Granello who manages soccer players bought a work called I Miss These Headphones, a rosy canvas with a bulky pair of broken headphones glued to it that was priced at $9,000. “It reminds me of something pop art—Andy Warhol!” Mr. Granello said. “I have a good feeling after the first view.”

A banker in a black suit named Dave Fulkerson and his tall, blonde wife, Dascha, said sadly that they’d bid on five of the paintings in the auction but had been bested on every lot. “It was a little more than he was willing to spend,” Ms. Fulkerson said, causing her husband to wince slightly. “Oh well!” she chirped. “Anyway, we tried.”

One of the people who had outbid the Fulkersons was a young woman with a cat tattoo named Tami Bernstein, a computer person at a biotech firm in Seattle who had flown to New York specifically to see Mr. Adams’ art. She bought a painting called Bums in the Park, which she said looked “a whole lot like The Last Supper.” 

“I’m just a huge Ryan Adams fan,” Ms. Bernstein said. “I have been since January 26, 2008, when a guy I was dating took me to see him.” The concert, she said, changed her life, even though it turned out that the guy who took her was cheating on her. “I broke up with him a week later, but I went to see Ryan ten more times in the next twelve months.”

Former MTV news personality John Norris, who seems to be aging in reverse, wandered around wearing a skull cap alongside a woman from the gallery named Micki Stafford.

“Ryan is a very intuitive artist, but at the same time I think that his vision is constantly creating itself as he’s going,” Ms. Stafford said. “This information that pours out of him, it’s like this raging river. But it just keeps coming, and yet as fast as it comes, it finds its place.”

Mr. Norris said he was into it too.

“I really like the self-portrait,” he said. “Apparently all week long people thought it was a girl, until Ryan actually wrote ‘self portrait’ next to it last night.” Dyin’ for Ryan Adams at the Morrison Hotel Gallery: Singer Auctions His Art for Housing Works