Project Angel Food Auction Is Heavenly

Can a benefit be too successful? That was the question Sunday afternoon at the Ace Gallery, where Project Angel Food held its first Angel Art auction. More than 350 paintings and photographs have been donated to the group, which cooks and delivers daily hot homemade meals to AIDS patients.

Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Mapplethorpe were among the names on the wall, and those who were there in person were a starry list too: honorary chairpersons Anthony Perkins and Berry Berenson, Marisa Berenson, Michael York, Howard Hesseman, Teri Garr, Nancy Walker, Mickey Rourke, Penny Marshall, Lesley Ann Warren, Jimmy Smits, Roddy McDowall (whose portrait of Elizabeth Taylor was valued at $1,000), Stefanie Powers, Dawn Steel, Barry Diller, Carrie Fisher, and Elizabeth Montgomery.

An estimated 1,500 people showed up when only 600 had been expected, according to organizers. Halls were packed solid, oxygen was scarce, and the crush sent at least one artwork crashing to the floor. Even Wilshire Boulevard became crowded when some art lover abandoned a BMW in the street for the valets. Too bad he or she left it running with the keys locked inside.

"I'm a little worried about people being uncomfortable," said Project Angel Food president Marianne Williamson, but most guests seemed to take it in good humor, penciling bids and sampling food from local restaurants. Prices ranged from some photographs in the $100 range to a David Hockney gouache estimated at $45,000. If the group can solve its logistic problems, Angel Art stands a good chance of becoming a staple on the L.A. fund-raising scene.

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