In the middle of fluffy art-theoretical chit-chat, outfit regret, and the anxiety of having possibly consumed more free macarons than anyone else in attendance, it’s sometimes easy to forget that art fundraisers and galas serve a very necessary purpose. The buyer market is an essential part of art’s continued growth, and charitable events, as far removed from the cause being fundraised for as they sometimes seem, are central to the survival of many organizations that we wouldn’t second-doubt supporting.
One such organization is Casey House, a Toronto hospital that provides specialized care and hospitality for people living with HIV/AIDS, whose funding is largely supported by the annual Art With Heart auction. Now in it’s 21st year, Art With Heart is regarded as a premier Canadian art event, and an on-going success story of how charity is not only a powerful motivator, but tastemaker as well.
We sat down with Steven Endicott from Casey House, and Stephen Ranger from Waddington’s Auctioneers and Appraisers to ask them about Art With Heart’s continued success, and what to expect at this year’s auction.
Studio Beat: So this will be my first Art With Heart, and I’ve never been to any a high-end auction of any kind before. Could you give me quick run-through of the organization process it takes to hold an event like this?
Stephen Ranger: Our curatorial committee solicits and curates the submissions we receive, and because we get hundreds of submissions, this is an eight or nine-month long process. We then start the marketing, organize sponsors, corral volunteers, hold a week of previews, and then it all culminates at The Carlu on the night of the auction, which is typically a sell-out event of over 700 attendees.
Steven Endicott: It’s actually closer to 900 this year.
SR: As much as it’s a really fun party, collectors, artists, dealers, and curators do take it seriously because it is difficult to get that much good quality artwork into one event, and then sell it successfully.
SB: The artwork is a great overview of who’s-who in the Toronto art scene. Do you find that what sells reflect current gallery and buyer trends?
SR: We do, actually, but we always have huge surprises as well. Charles Bierk’s market really exploded after his work sold for more than ten times the estimated price for two years in a row. These prices often serve as benchmarks for artists and their dealers going forward, and also give collectors a good sense of where the pieces in their collection stand.
SB: Does the auction have an international reach on the buyer’s market?
SE: Not really. At the end of the day, Canadians buy Canadian art, Americans buy American. Canadian art is hugely undervalued, but, contrary to many nay-sayers, we do embrace our art.
SB: And historically as well, activism and advocacy for HIV/AIDS has been such a large focus in the Toronto art community. I wonder if Steven could speak to that continued importance for Casey House and Art With Heart?
SE: Casey House opened its doors 26 years ago to provide hospitality care for people dying of AIDS, and in 1993 it became very clear that we couldn’t meet the demand for our services, so Art With Heart was started. It’s still a large part of our funding, and also gives us the opportunity to connect with our community in what I think is a really celebratory way.
SR: It really is a celebration, and that’s what been the constant throughout the 21 years that the auction has existed. People always have a great time. I remember the very first auction I did, it was the second ever Art With Heart, at Olga Korper’s space, under a tent in the rain, but the energy in the room was incredible. The gay community was central to its success, and what’s beautiful is that the whole event has expanded to include the larger art community as well.
SE: The auction also helps us keep the message that HIV/AIDS is still an issue in the forefront. It’s true that people with HIV are living longer, but often there are multiple more health complications on top of this illness, and that’s where Casey House comes in. We provide specialized care, and Art With Heart allows us to keep that dialogue going through the celebration of art.
SB: And I imagine that keeping younger generations of artists and activists involved is a huge part of keeping that message going.
SR: Absolutely, and that was a key part of it initially – artists were seeing their friends dying around them, and the way they could tangibly help was by speaking out to lessen the stigma surrounding HIV.
SB: Are you finding that younger artists are still approaching you and wanting to be part of the auction?
SR: Definitely – there’s a line-up. I have to credit the curatorial co-chairs and committee for keeping the event energetic and vibrant. There’s always section within the sale for emerging artists, and that’s what it’s all about – bringing in the new.
SB: What do you think we can expect this year – any predictions?
SE: That’s the thing – you never know! Like Stephen said, the curatorial committee has a big responsibility of creating a collection that has artistic merit, but will also sell. Our job is getting the right people in the room.
SR: Finding the balance between edgy and what will sell is a tough thing. For sure, some work is more challenging and requires a bigger commitment, not just intellectually or aesthetically, but that’s a big wall in your house – you’re the one who has to wake up and go to bed with this work of art you bought.
SB: And lastly, do you have any tips for those who have never been to an art auction, whether they’re intending to buy some, or just if they’re just looking to follow along with the bidding?
SR: If you’re looking to bid, you have do so with your head and your heart, and try to keep those things in balance – which can sometimes be a bit challenging! Come to the previews, have fun at the auction, enjoy the work and embrace the cause.