At a Chelsea art-gallery fund-raiser for Obama, Pop Art painter James Rosenquist counts the money
“The Rednecks in Florida didn’t vote for Obama,” artist James Rosenquist murmured.
Rosenquist was getting restless. Patrick Gaspard, executive director of the Democratic National Committee, was in the middle of his speech at Artists for Obama 2012, a fundraising event held Monday night at Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Weyl gallery in Chelsea that specializes in print work. Attendees had been circulating for close to an hour, drinking wine and munching on small hors d’oeuvres. Weyl and Sidney Felsen, co-founder of Gemini G.E.L., had risen to the podium to offer a short introduction, and Gaspard was well into his stump speech.
“A lot of [the Rednecks] are Republicans,” Rosenquist continued saying quietly as Gaspard held forth, “for one reason and one reason only: anti-abortion.”
Gaspard was vouching for Obama’s commitment to the arts and then outlined the major political achievements of Obama’s first term—the healthcare bill, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Obama’s commitment to troops, and the killing of Osama bin Laden.
“You know, they’ve raised a lot of money already … like a million bucks on this portfolio,” Rosenquist said.
The gallery is offering a special Artists for Obama 2012 portfolio, which includes 19 limited edition lithographs in exchange for a $28,000 donation to Obama’s re-election campaign. It features work from a powerhouse group of artists including Bruce Nauman, Brice Marden, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra, Richard Tuttle, as well as Rosenquist.
Rosenquist was intent to tally the donations so far. He grabbed a pen and paper, multiplied 28 by 60 (his estimation of the number of portfolios already sold) added three zeros and came up with: $1,680,000.
“I spent six years working for the council of the National Endowment of Arts,” Rosenquist said. “My job was to try to get money down from Capitol Hill into the arts. I had a friend in Jimmy Carter.”
The crowd was packed with artists, including contributors to the portfolio like Brice Marden, Claes Oldenburg, Julie Mehretu, and David Hammons, who had earlier been hobnobbing among a group of well-heeled art collectors and enthusiasts. Model Maya Haile posed for Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum of Harlem; Haile was wearing a dress designed by Golden’s husband, Duro Owolu. (Haile’s husband, chef and restauratuer Marcus Samuelsson, joined his wife shortly thereafter.) Golden chatted with artists Sanford Biggers and Glenn Ligon.
As Gaspard’s speech wore on, the crowd seemed to be getting mildly uneasy. Golden said that she thought everyone needed to be well informed about Obama’s past four years in office. Others thought Gaspard was preaching to the converted.
Indeed the art world has become a large resource for campaign funding. In July, Paula Cooper Gallery held a $1,000-per-ticket event with readings by Jonathan Franzen and Jonathan Safran-Foer and featuring work by Barbara Kruger, Richard Serra, Frank Stella, Cindy Sherman, and Lawrence Weiner.
Chris Santa Maria, the gallery director for Gemini G.E.L., said they intend to hit a target of $4.2 million in donations.
Emily Santangelo and her husband Mark were potential buyers.
“All the pieces, the sum of all the parts are way more than 28 thousand dollars,” Emily said, considering the donation.
“And who can get a Jasper Johns these days?” she continued, “We do have a couple of Serras in our collection.”
The Santangelos consulted the list of artists on the wall and ticked off about half as having a place in their collection.
"I'm an art advisor—it's an occupational hazard,” Emily said, giggling. “I'm so passionate about selling it to other people [that] I sell it to myself.”
Artists Amna Asghar and Anthony Giannini could only manage the $300 admission price. Students at the Rhode Island School of Design, they came from Providence just for the night. They hung close to Mehretu, as Giannini had worked as her assistant in Berlin.
“Baldessari is blowing my mind right now,” Giannini said to Santa Maria. Baldessari’s print had an image of dog’s jaw, mouth agape with a flaccid tongue hanging over a set of pointy teeth.
“It’s great, isn’t it? Dogs have feelings too, man,” Santa Maria replied.
Baldessari’s print is the most figural of the bunch; his and David Hammons’—a screen print of a Japanese shrine titled Obama Shrine—16th Century—Obama, Japan. Most of the prints were abstract renderings—two sideways humps by Ellsworth Kelly, a sketchy white circle on a black background by Richard Serra, titled NOROMNEY. (All the prints can be see here.)
“I gave a lot more money last year,” one gentleman said, making his way out of the gallery. “I was really drinking the Kool-Aid back then.”
He still supports Obama, he said, but largely because of the lack of alternatives.
“Like the last go around you had Sarah Palin … now this year, we got Romney," he said. "They are both a bunch of bozos.”
All photographs by Marielle Solan.