It was supposed to be about the art, but it was also about the party.
The Laguna Art Museum’s Art Auction fundraiser Saturday was a self-described “art lounge” that set a new bar for art shindigs.
Think David Guetta meets David Hockney.
Leatherette couches, dance music, fancy cocktails, killer outfits — do it weekly and there would be no reason to drive to West Hollywood.
“I think this last auction was the most festive it’s ever been,” said Los Angeles-based artist Theodore Svenningsen. “They hit a high point in festivities. It was really exciting.”
Svenningsen, whose “Electric Fields” painting sold for $12,000, started going to the auctions in the late 1990s, and this one stood out.
“It’s a lot better now,” he said. “When they first had it, it was not as exciting and spiffy. When the auction was going on, there was a lot of energy and a lot of good feeling, and it was really exciting. I’ve never seen that before. There was a buzz. They really achieved another level. It was really, really, quite nice.”
Glori Fickling, whose stylishly feathered hat stood out, said she was pleasantly surprised by the event. A longtime Laguna resident and fashionista, she said the city needs to dress up once in a while.
“We don’t have enough glamour,” she said. “So when we do have it, I’d like to see people be enthusiastic and turn out and show the world that Laguna Beach is a pretty classy act.”
But it was more than nice outfits and top-shelf martinis that made this event interesting. There was a genuine goodwill.
“We are a very social town,” said Fickling. “What I’m very proud about is how warm we are to out-of-town people. We always reach out to the new people — I mean, even the people who come visit for Art Walk. You get that feedback from them about how much they enjoy the friendliness of Laguna.”
For Svenningsen, when he compares Laguna to other cities that hold auctions, the difference is striking, especially with this latest effort.
“There’s quite a sophisticated taste in Laguna Beach,” he said. “People seem to have more of an eye for art at the auction. It’s very pleasant because there’s all kinds of art, and people are very attuned. I’m always amazed at the people in Laguna Beach. It’s not just your normal beach community. There’s more of an educated eye.”
“It seems like now the art is better,” Svenningsen added. “It looks like only about six pieces in the whole show didn’t sell. It used to be in the old days a lot of stuff didn’t sell.”
While the new auction format got good reviews, there were some artists who grumbled privately about the revenue split. The Laguna Art Museum gets 70% of the proceeds. Other art fundraisers typically take 50% to 60%.
With a smaller cut, the artists are not as motivated to provide higher quality work. Some argue that if the ratio was more balanced, the museum would get more money in the long run because the art would be more attractive and valuable to buyers.
While sitting in the live auction as his painting was up for bid, Svenningsen said it was a nerve-wracking experience.
“I have apprehension about these things. Other people don’t because I’ve talked to other artists about it. I was worried my piece wasn’t going to sell. And then when people made bids on it, I felt relieved. And then when there were a number of bids on it, I was really amazed. I was surprised; I was happy.”
With the auction out of the way, it was time to open up the dance floor and continue the party. The conversations continued and the drinks flowed.
“We like to celebrate,” said Fickling. “The community spirit here is very strong.”
The permission to celebrate is different for different people. For some, all it takes is just showing up among friends. For others, it is the rhythms of a deejay and liquid courage. And for the serious minded, of course, there is always the art.
But sometimes the most interesting is a single cool hat and a smile.
DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at email@example.com.