Wednesday night, Sotheby’s debuted its new Impact Gala in New York, featuring three separate auctions, one live, whose proceeds will help fund Instituto Terra, a rewilding project in Brazil led by photographer Sebastião Salgado and his wife Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado.
The event was co-chaired by Annie Leibovitz, championed by Charles Stewart, Chief Executive Officer of Sotheby’s, and his wife Caterina, and sponsored by Morgan Stanley.
Guests were invited for cocktails on the exhibition floor of Sotheby’s New York, where 50 of Salgado’s photographs, spanning from the late ’70s to the present, were on view. Made using a platinum-palladium printing process, each photograph has a grainy, soft patina that make them look as if they come from distant past. This sense of historicity, that Salgado took these photos in a much different time, is highlighted by his subject matter: sailors in Trapani, looking far into the sea, God-like perspectives of clouds dumping rain on a sprawling forest, an Indigenous Amazonian scaling a tree whose leaves dwarf his body. The photos, always stunning, range from a National Geographic-esque cliché — a woman staring intensely from beneath her veil, beautiful Natives in Eden — to Salgado’s fascinating, cinematic documentation of gold mines, oil fields, and canal excavators.
The photos, titled “Magnum Opus”, are for sale until October 12th. Salgado is also offering NFTs. Tree of Life (2022) is a single edition NFT of a four minute video in which Salgado’s photographs create a moving collage of Indigenous Amazonians in the jungle. An NFT collection of 5,000 unique Salgado photographs priced at a mere $250 each will be released on Sotheby’s NFT marketplace, Sotheby’s Metaverse, on October 12th. Finally, a live auction on Thursday sold a variety of lots, including a portrait sitting with Annie Leibovitz and a meeting with painter David Hockney in his house in Normandy. Thus far, the gala has raised $1 million.
The proceeds will go to Salgado’s Instituto Terra, where they have been rewilding the devastated Atlantic Forest, which used to be the second largest rainforest in the world but has all but disappeared since the Portuguese colonialists came. The patch of Earth the Salgados have been working on was once an old family farm where pasture land was introduced to raise cattle. Thus far, the Salgados have reintroduced 2 million trees to the 1,750 acres in their care, and are hoping to plant 15 million more. Hence, the auction.
“This auction is very important because it will bring the funds for what we need to do,” Salgado told ARTnews over dessert, as giant arrangements of palm fronds, monstera leaves, and staghorn ferns spun gently above. “This country is amazing in its concentration of wealth. In this room there is more money than the national product of my country.”
But getting people to provide funds is its own task that requires close friendships with the right people. Thankfully, that’s exactly the kind of wealth the Salgados have. The Salgados are close friends with the Stewarts, who are, in turn, very close with John Moore, Head of Latin America at Morgan Stanley, and his family.
“During dinner one night Charles [Stewart] told me, ‘We need to get closer,'” said Moore during his speech at the gala. “I said, ‘How? Our wives talk everyday, we’re god parents to each others children!’ and he said, ‘John, I’m not talking about us, I’m talking about the planet, I’m talking about money.'” Though the anecdote is a little opaque the point stands: they’re close.
Salgado also has a great relationship with Annie Leibovitz, who single handedly raised the most money for Instituto Terra that night.
“We are old, old friends,” said Salgado while dabbing chocolate off of his trousers. They had both worked for Rolling Stone and what started out as a playful rivalry turned into a life-long friendship. Aside from co-chairing the event, Leibovitz donated a portrait sitting for the auction which ended up, predictably, being the most valuable lot of the night. Not only did she bid $150,000 on her own portrait sitting (“Most expensive selfie ever,” said the auctioneer) she offered to provide portrait sittings to anyone in the room who could match her bid. In the end, two portrait sittings were sold for $150,000 and a third for $100,000, resulting in a total of $400,000 raised for Instituto Terra.
A good friend indeed.