Works donated by artists raise $22.5 million for Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles on March 7, 2013.

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles on March 7, 2013.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

In a first for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, a two-day Sotheby’s auction of donated works by artists has raised $22.5 million for the museum.

Forty-one works donated by 41 artists including Barbara Kruger, Mark Bradford, Ed Ruscha and Takashi Murakami were auctioned Tuesday evening and Wednesday afternoon at Sotheby’s in New York. One piece by Mark Grotjahn fetched $6.5 million.

“It was a really good day — and evening last night — for us,” MOCA Director Philippe Vergne said Wednesday afternoon. “It’s really a tribute to the artists. I was very moved when we started talking about this initiative that the artists reacted so well and so generously.”


Vergne said he and a small group of museum board members solicited works from artists with whom the museum has relationships. All of the artists who participated have had “major projects” with the museum, Vergne said. He said the artists were told the proceeds were for the museum endowment “and would be dedicated to programming exhibitions and education and that it was really the future of the museum and to support artists. And they were extremely supportive.”

MOCA has never held a sale with a major auction house before. It’s atypical for a museum to do so, though in May 2013, New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art raised $19 million from a Sotheby’s auction for which artists also donated works.

Though some might see soliciting artists to help raise funds for the institution as a potential conflict, Vergne disagreed, noting MOCA’s history with artists.

“I don’t see it as a conflict,” he said. “I think it shows that artists want to have a voice in the institution and also be involved on the philanthropic level. If you look back at our collection and its history, the artists have been so generous with MOCA over the years,”

Verge added: “The interesting story here is how much artists have become philanthropists over the past 10 years if not more..”

All five artist trustees on MOCA’s board — John Baldessari, Catherine Opie, Bradford, Kruger and Grotjahn — donated works for the auction.

The downtown L.A. museum asked Shepard Fairey to create a work of art to be sold at auction as well as a print of that work that can be purchased at the museum’s store. “Artistic Freedom” depicts a female artist standing on a pedestal and wielding a giant paint brush.

The Artists for MOCA sale also included a recent Bradford canvas, “Smear,” that brought in $4.4 million, and a Murakami print depicting flowers fetched $790,000. A Ruscha canvas, “Goods and Services,” sold for $970,000.

The Grotjahn work that sold for $6.5 million was an untitled abstract painting that dates from 2011. The sale prices from the auction include the buyer’s premium that Sotheby’s adds to the hammer price.

MOCA has been rebounding since an exodus of prominent artists from its board of trustees while the museum was led by Jeffrey Deitch. Under new director Vergne, artists have rejoined the board.

Tuesday’s auction of contemporary art included works that weren’t related to the MOCA benefit. Mark Rothko’s 1954 canvas, “Untitled (Yellow and Blue),” fetched $46.5 million.