Standing at the guitar-shaped bar of the Hard Rock Cafe, Leroy Neiman, in white dinner jacket, pink bow tie and cheroot, said, "I went into my Sammy Davis-Frank Sinatra door of drawings -- the ones I don't usually sell -- and picked out 'Bojangles.' "
Moments later, Neiman's donated drawing to the Art Aid Auction for African famine relief sold for $6,000.
It was not your usual art auction. Rock 'n' roll met the art world, with a horse auction thrown in at the end, all in the name of charity. When it was over, a little more than $250,000 had been raised to benefit the Live Aid Foundation.
Even with John Marion, president and chairman of the board of Sotheby's North America, presiding, bidding was slow. But the mostly rock crowd of 600 perked up somewhat when dye transfer prints of rock stars photographed at last year's Live Aid concert in Philadelphia came up. A portrait of Mick Jagger mugging with Tina Turner went for $6,000, but Peter, Paul and Mary drew a quiet $600. An untitled drawing by Bob Dylan -- an auction first -- snared $4,200.
Bid spotters prowled the mezzanine, and a table full of Sotheby's staffers handled the telephone bids that competed with the action on the floor. Most of the 73 lots sold for considerably less than their estimated prices. One surprise was a 1970 Dodge postal van, donated by art dealer Max Protetch, that had been painted by two graffiti stars, Keith Haring and Futura 2000. Parked in the towaway zone in front of the cafe, the van sold for $6,000. "I wanted it to have a good home," Protetch said, "and a museum accepted it, but they would have dismantled it for the Haring roof. You know, that roof alone must be worth $10,000 to $15,000."
Even before the bidding began, some of the younger artists present were perplexed at the odd mix of tuxedos and ponytails, the somber-looking auctioneer's box and the sea of hors d'oeuvres. Martin Wong of Rising East Village Artists saw his six-foot-square canvas, "Narcolepsy," go for $4,750. "I have a great dealer," the artist said. "You can give a painting away and still sell it at the same time."
One of the more spectacular items, Ronnie Cutrone's painted turquoise Smurf carrying an Olympic-style torch against the background of a genuine American flag, sold at a disappointing $7,500, well below its expected $11,000 to $13,000.
Roy Lichtenstein's "Painting Beach Ball" was the star lot of the evening, fetching $37,000. It was the last work of art to be sold.
After the gavel had affirmed the sale, people were asked to step back for the evening's added attraction, the sale of a purebred Arabian mare, Alianna, and her 3-week-old foal. The horses were bred and donated by Brad and Greg Gallun of Bethesda Farms Inc. in Santa Ynez, Calif.
Photographers were warned not to use their flashes, and rubber pads were laid down red-carpet style. As the lights dimmed, the beautifully speckled Alianna skittered in off 57th Street with three handlers petting and cajoling her. She appeared calm, unlike her foal, who jumped and twisted as the audience clucked in sympathy.
The two horses sold for $35,000, which included complimentary "equine management consultation for one year," according to the catalogue entry.
"Please, folks," auctioneer Marion urged the crowd, "please stay back. The horses have cooperated, and they didn't even raise their tails." As if on cue, Alianna lifted her tail and made a direct hit on the rubber padding.
The horses were led out again. Hard Rock Cafe owner Isaac Tigrett congratulated the bidders on being "rock 'n' rollers at heart," and the crowd adjourned to a party celebrating Art Aid downtown at the Palladium nightclub.