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Healthy Bids Bode Well for MOCA

June 16, 1998|BETTY GOODWIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Museum of Contemporary Art's biennial art auction is not your usual sale. For instance, one person at this shopping extravaganza on Saturday night in Santa Monica Airport's Barker Hangar doggedly bid well into the five-figure price range for one of the evening's gems. But she put her paddle down at the moment of truth. Why? She really didn't like the piece that much, she admitted later.

Maybe it was the Tobias Meyer factor that kept her going as long as she did. Many people got the feeling that the attractive auctioneer, senior vice president and director of contemporary art worldwide for Sotheby's, was too charming to fight. When he refused to accept $7,500 for a Brice Marden etching and aquatint (with an estimated value of $4,000 to $5,000), he implored, "Will you say $8,000? I can wait a little." He waited. At $9,500, he waited again. "Make it a round number," he teased the sellout crowd of 900 MOCA board members and supporters and dealers. Eleven thousand dollars was finally round enough.

Afterward, Meyer reminded those people congratulating him on his smooth skills that it was he who recently sold Andy Warhol's "Marilyn" for $17.2 million--"the second most expensive contemporary art painting ever sold at auction," he said.

The evening's two crowd pleasers were a Roy Lichtenstein lithograph and woodcut, which sold for $95,000 to Vivian and Hans Buehler, and an Anselm Kiefer mixed-media piece that Leonard and Susan Nimoy took home for $110,000. They weren't sure which room in which home to put it in--Los Angeles or New York. "We're going to carry it from room to room," suggested Leonard, who didn't want it out of his sight.

Most of the art crowd agreed that the booming economy helped the cause, which is supporting the museum's exhibition and education programs. "The art market likes the stock market," explained Cliff Einstein, the art auction chairman. As he had hoped, a lot of money was spent, and close to $1 million was netted.

A silent auction featuring more than 200 pieces (each costing considerably less than a down payment on a house) was a hot spot throughout the evening. In the hangar's makeshift, though still glamorous, candlelit dining area, salmon tartar was served, but Los Angeles Councilman Joel Wachs had a don't-get-in-my-way look in his eyes. "I want to eat, but I gotta bid," he said.

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