An ominous sky scratched plans for the outdoor picnic, but the smell of Sabrett frankfurters wafting through Corcoran gallery halls was more than a nasal illusion.
It was a kind of artist's trick. So that those attending the Corcoran School of Art Second Affordable Art Auction would not be disappointed, a hot dog vendor was hired to bring his cart into the Hemicycle Room. "They found me over on 18th and G," said Mike Tsamouras. Tsamouras said he has a regular customer who works at the Corcoran and who paid him to pull his wares so that an improvised pre-auction picnic could be had.
The purpose of the auction, developed by Olga Hirshhorn last year, is to raise money for the growing Corcoran School of Art, which operates, according to its dean, Bill Barrett, on a $2 million annual budget. Last year well over $70,000 was cleared at the auction. This year's total take was about $60,000. The expected total, according to Corcoran director Peter Marzio, had been only $50,000, because the Corcoran is giving artists half the profit of their donated works.
"If this will be a continuing event we will have to do that" to attract artists, said Marzio. "In the short run we'll make less money, but in the long run we'll have more."
Even before the auction began, 800 tickets had been sold at $5 each. And a silent auction raised $30,000. Those interested in bidding were able to look over the art acquired largely from local artists at suggested prices between $200 and $4,000. Marzio predicted that the piece that would draw the most money would be George Luks' watercolor cityscape, "The Harbor," which he said would be one of the biggest bargains at a value estimated between $8,000 and $10,000. Marzio was correct in his prediction that "The Harbor" would collect the highest sum. The Luks painting was purchased by John Toole, treasurer of the Friends of the Corcoran, for $3,450--$50 less than the suggested starting bid.
The item that sold for the least amount of money was a photograph called "Theodore Roosevelt Dam," taken by Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), which went for $125.
One piece that drew heightened interest was a 10-year-old doodle by the late philanthropist and art collector Joseph Hirshhorn, which was donated by his widow, Olga.
"You see," she said, "I have always been saving them. He threw them away and I cleaned the wastepaper basket. He was quite a doodler.
"I have the biggest private collection of Joseph Hirshhorn doodles," Olga Hirshhorn continued. "I think I've cornered the market."
"Hirshhorn Doodle" sold, finally, for $475, and it wasn't any easy battle. "An autograph alone would be worth that much," said art collector David Lloyd Kreeger, who came who to help Olga Hirshhorn at the auction block. "And this is a full-scale doodle."
The doodle was bought by Jerome Smith of Nyangoma's Gallery who said, "I admire the gentleman . . . I'll just keep it for a while and treasure it."
Another of the Hirshhorns' contributions to last night's auction was New York artist Larry Rivers, in the flesh. Rivers, a friend of the Hirshhorns' since he was commissioned to paint Joe Hirshhorn's portrait many years ago, also helped Olga auctioneer. "I'm not nervous at all, but I think I'm nervous about being at the other end," said Rivers. "I know what it feels like to be auctioned and it's not pleasant."
Rivers, who wore shoes of soft peach-colored leather laced up like sneakers, which he called "chic basketball shoes," said of knowing the Hirshhorns: "Our relationship is about the fact that they were interested in my work and I was interested in the fact that they were interested in my work. But somehow it became more personal."
Olga Hirshhorn. The absence of Joseph Hirshhorn was felt last night. "Last year, you'll recall, Joe and Olga made an unforgettable pair up here," said Marzio as he opened the bidding. "So I'll call this the Joseph Hirshhorn Memorial Auction," he continued to loud applause.
Marzio also announced that this year's bidders could pay with credit cards. "Oh! We're saved!" sighed Corcoran artist Gabrielle Steers.
Her husband didn't agree. "Oh, why didn't he keep his big trap shut," said former congressman Newton Steers. "Well, I didn't bring mine. Did you?"
"I brought everything!" replied his wife.
And so the bidding began.