Ben Stiller’s Haiti Charity Inspires $10.5 Million Art Auction

When actor Ben Stiller approached David Zwirner to help him raise money for Haiti through a charity auction, the art dealer proposed an evening sale at one of the big auction houses.

“This is the environment where people are conditioned to single out major works and stretch for them,” said Zwirner in an interview at his Chelsea gallery in Manhattan.

Together, Zwirner and Stiller -- whose Stiller Foundation provides educational opportunities for children worldwide and has been helping build schools in Haiti -- set up a stand-alone charity, Artists for Haiti.

Christie’s International agreed to waive all its fees and commissions. The cause is dear to Francois Pinault, the French billionaire who owns the auction house, said Amy Cappellazzo, Christie’s chairman of postwar and contemporary development.

“We knew it would be an extraordinary event and we had a chance to really make a difference,” she said. The sale, on Sept. 22 in New York, is expected to bring in between $7.5 million and $10.5 million, according to Zwirner.

With Christie’s on board, Zwirner secured large-format works by big names, people like Jeff Koons, James Rosenquist, Jasper Johns, Neo Rauch and Cindy Sherman.

“They got amazing things,” said artist Chuck Close, who agreed to donate a 2007 screen-print self-portrait, with an estimate of $70,000 to $100,000. “Who didn’t weep at the sight of Haiti after the earthquake?”

Artists for Haiti will donate the proceeds from the sale to various charities operating in the country, including Architecture for Humanity, Partners in Health and Sean Penn’s J/P HRO.

‘A Huge Change’

“For very little you can make a huge change,” said Zwirner, who visited Haiti with Stiller in January. “We take for granted that we can put our children in a good school, a decent school, a school that doesn’t exist there. There are all these kids running around. How is it going to change unless they go back to school?”

Rosenquist’s memories of Haiti go back to 1975. “It was a horrible place. Babies were starving in the streets. At a voodoo ceremony, a beautiful girl bit a head off a pigeon.”

“I want the money to go to people who really need it,” he added. His 6-by-11-foot canvas “The Richest Person Gazing at the Universe Through a Hubcap” might fetch as much as $800,000.

Top Lot

The sale’s top lot is Dan Flavin’s 1967 light sculpture “Monument for V. Tatlin,” with a presale estimate of as much as $1.2 million for its seven cool-white fluorescent tubes.

Koons donated a sleek silhouette of a stainless-steel bikini bottom silkscreened with images of a desert and a waterfall. Its presale price range is $500,000 to $700,000.

Leipzig-based Rauch gave a 10-by-7-foot canvas, “Chor,” estimated to sell for $600,000 to $800,000. Rich in purple, it depicts a mysterious choir scene in the woods.

“This painting was meant to be in my upcoming show,” said Zwirner, referring to his Rauch exhibition in November. “So that one hurts a little bit.”

After a special exhibition at the David Zwirner gallery, the works will go on view at Christie’s starting Sept. 16.

A Sept. 23 gala for the Stiller Foundation and honoring the artists will be co-hosted by Stiller, Zwirner and another Haiti supporter, Bill Clinton.

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