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Inside the 21st Annual Faculty + Alumni Fine Art Auction

Proceeds benefit the Academy’s Student Scholarship Fund

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School of Fine Art Executive Director of Painting & Printmaking Craig Nelson addresses the guests at the Fine Art Auction. Photo by Bob Toy.

Just one street away from the hustle and bustle of Fisherman’s Wharf, art collectors and enthusiasts were enjoying wines and hors d’oeuvres under the open arches of The Cannery. It was the Academy of Art University’s 21st Annual Faculty + Alumni Fine Art Auction, held on Nov. 12. Between friendly chats, attendees were carefully observing, ready to bid on 424 original paintings, prints, jewelry and sculptures created by Academy faculty and alumni.

“The main reason is so we can raise money to give monetary awards to students at the Spring Show, which no other college does,” said School of Fine Art Executive Director of Painting & Printmaking Craig Nelson. “I hope today we have a big turnout and a lot of people willing to bid.

As in past years, half of the proceeds will go to benefit students via the Academy’s Student Scholarship Fund; the rest will go directly to the artists. 

“It used to be we were only able to give away prizes to students that were maybe paints or pencils,” said Director of Fine Art Painting Carolyn Meyer. “Now we are able to give them decent money, and this shows that art is a viable career that they’ve chosen to go into even though sometimes it seems risky.”

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Photo by Bob Toy.

Nelson and his team started the Academy’s Fine Art Auction in 1995. “I remember the first year we had it in one of the classrooms up in 79 New Montgomery,” said Brian Blood, School of Fine Art instructor. “We just put things on the table, and we didn’t know what to expect.” 

The first auction surprisingly raised $11,000, and the number went up every year.

Today the non-profit fundraising auction has grown to become a highly anticipated art event in the city. 

Thirty-one artworks displayed at the live auction were all sold, including realistic oil painting, 3 Trash Cans, by alumnus Greg Gandy. The bidding war had continued till the last minute before the silent auction came to an end. People stood up in front of their favorite artworks ready to outbid their competitors. Some ended up with a short live auction within the silent auction, like in the case of the auction over recent B.F.A. graduate Drew Price’s piece, Alone in Room, picturing a full-figured woman standing, wearing only a white T-shirt with a bare bottom. 

Some gallerists and collectors have been coming every year specifically to buy from artists that they admire and to discover new ones. 

“This is my seventh year that I’ve been here, and we have a number of works by acclaimed artists like Caroline Meyer and Kevin Moore,” said Alvin Hirsch, one of the high bidders that afternoon. “[The Academy] auction is a great [event] to see what’s up and coming. The whole idea that this school promotes a sense of aesthetic for all of us and the opportunity for many people to get together to see different styles of artwork by burgeoning young artists.”

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Photo by Bob Toy.

There are also many first-timers like tourist Dudley Thompson, who came with his wife. “We saw ad banners across Post and Mason Street and decided to drop by,” said Thompson. “We’ve been looking for a sculpture for our living room, and this is a great place to get an artwork at an excellent price.” The Thompsons went home with Standing Emerald Green Female, a sculpture by School of Fine Art faculty member Peter Schifrin.

All faculty and alumni are welcome to submit their works to be reviewed and selected for the auction. This gives recent graduates the opportunity to participate and get their work out to the public.

“It’s giving me a lot of exposure, and I’ve gotten a few of my collectors from being in the auction,” said alumna Nina Fabunmi from Nigeria. This is her third time participating and each year she sold every painting. “Last year, the person who bought my pieces invited me to his house; it was an honor to see my paintings on his wall.”

Students are encouraged to come and experience the gallery scene. “They can see the interest that there is in fine art, and they get excited seeing that many people are willing to bid on things,” said Nelson. “It is also a way to engage with the community, so the public is able to come in and see what we are producing, as well as the quality of our faculty and alumni.”