On Wednesday night, the Zaha Hadid-designed Moore building in Miami’s Design District played home to a starry (RED) Auction curated by artist Theaster Gates and architect David Adjaye alongside the rock star Bono to raise money for the fight against HIV/AIDS. The auction, organized by Sotheby’s and Gagosian gallery for an occasion unusual for Miami Art Week, drew a formidable cast of attendees including Naomi Campbell, Jeffrey Deitch, Hank Willis Thomas, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Christian Louboutin, and Larry Gagosian, who kicked off the evening with an introduction.
Bono energized the crowd with the pronouncement that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation would match the price of every sale, thus doubling donations for the cause. It didn’t hurt that the U2 frontman also sang a few bars of a song that he appeared to be improvising. “Art has always been a vehicle for activism and for truth-telling,” Bono said, “and the truth of the matter is that we’re at a pivotal point where the progress we’ve achieved is in real jeopardy. Theaster and David—and all the artists here tonight—are raising the red flag at a critical time when fatigue and complacency are very real threats to the future.”
The sale’s 35 lots—presented by auctioneer Oliver Barker, chairman of Sotheby’s Europe—notched what the auction house touted as several artist records, though any note of records would require an asterisk since bidders were buying in the context of a charity sale. Among them were an $807,000 sale price for Theaster Gates’s A Flag For The Least of Them (2018), as well as notable prices for Jennifer Guidi, whose 2018 painting Energy of Love (Painted Universe Mandala SF #4f, Red, Natural Ground) sold for $375,000, and Hank Willis Thomas, whose Jet People (2013) went for $75,000. And yet another, for a Leo Villareal work made exclusively for the event: Liminal Gradient for (RED), which sold for $50,000. In total, with the Gates foundation’s extra help, the funds raised for the night came to $10.5 million.
“It feels like we’ve all been witnesses in one way or another to the trauma of AIDS,” Theaster Gates told the crowd. “But I’ve also been witness to (RED)’s pragmatism, thoughtfulness, and elegance in which they make these exhibitions happen. The real thing for me here is that the work is intended to save lives.”
Other notable sales included Jenny Saville’s Susanna (“that piece by Jenny Saville—wow,” Bono said in his opening remarks), which went for a cool $735,000. Theaster Gates bid for and won a piece by Ebony G. Patterson for $72,500. Two lots of furniture by Adjaye sold: a set of four chairs for $45,000 and a coffee table $140,000. Sean Scully’s painting Red (2018) raked in $591,000.
All of the works in the sale, Theaster Gates said, count as “pieces of work that now will extend beyond traditional utility and serve an even greater purpose in helping save lives.”