It was my fist visit to the New York Center of Operations for the venerable auction house of Sotheby’s. Long a Christie’s devotee, I may have to reconsider…
As guests streamed into the imposing, contemporary uptown fortress at 1334 York Avenue on Wednesday, October 12, and checked their evening coats and trenches, they were greeted by an attractive flank of wait staff carrying trays of wines and canapés.
The soirée was a private launch for a series of charity events that begin on November 12 (foremost an auction of covetable works of art), which benefit the Africa Foundation’s Art for Africa. For more than 20 years, the Africa Foundation and its patrons have worked to “uplift rural communities in Southern and Eastern Africa,” through education, sustainable empowerment initiatives, and health care. The organization presently operates in five countries: South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, and Kenya. The mission focuses on orphaned and vulnerable children living in these areas, often providing them with shelter and food.
The Art for Africa preview boasted a fantastic collection of works from a diverse range of over 50 leading American and African contemporary artists. As the bars, strewn throughout, hummed with enthusiastic throngs—other probable bidders crowded the various donated art from Alexander Calder, Mary Sibande, Ricardo de Oliveira, Andy Warhol, Nan Goldin, Mickalene Thomas, Alex Katz, Nick Cave, and more. Starting bids hover between $5,000 and $40,000, with several pieces estimated to go for considerably more in November. It will be the second Art for Africa Auction and the first to be held outside of Sotheby’s London.
The evening’s MC and most glittery attendee was surely Emmy Award-winning actress, Archie Panjabi, of hit drama The Good Wife, who radiated in a striking Georges Chakra number. Of course there were the usual philanthropic birds of paradise, dazzling in early autumn’s finest couture: Anne Bass, Liliana Cavendish, Cristina Cuomo, Jennifer Creel, “housewife” Ramona Singer, Chris Rock’s wife Malaak Compton-Rock, art philanthropist Christophe de Menil, hedge fund fashionista Julie Macklowe, Warhol star Jane Holzer, and notable artist Peter Beard with family (whose work will go to the auction block). A big surprise was the turnout of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, his wife Mary Davis Kennedy, and their kin.
After a cocktail dance performance lead by Maija Garcia, assistant choreographer of Broadway musical FELA!, an elegant dinner was served to the nearly 40 tables of guests. Panjabi then delivered genuine opening remarks about her experiences with Africa and the related charities she has championed. Shortly thereafter, Krista Krieger, Africa Foundation’s chair of the board of trustees, took to the stage to explain in further depth the projects, statistics, and current goals of the organization. Next, Eliza Osborn of Sotheby’s New York led a live auction raking in just under $100,000 in cash pledges, which astonishingly, was matched by the phenomenally affluent collector and generous socialite Audrey Irmas.
As desserts arrived and final glasses of wine were poured, the sophisticated gala came to an end with a live vocal performance by Samite of Uganda.
Scott Nussbaum, Sotheby’s contemporary art specialist concluded: “Sotheby’s New York is thrilled to be hosting the second Art for Africa auction. The first highly successful sale in London saw enormous enthusiasm from collectors for works by some of the rising stars of African and international contemporary art. We once again look forward to presenting the work of cutting-edge African artists alongside some of the major names in American contemporary art to raise money for this wonderful charity.”