An Auction Like Sotheby’s Does

Events Firsts Joe Shapiro

The MCA organizes the first Sotheby's-style auction to benefit a museum.

I knew John Marion, who was the CEO and main auctioneer of Sotheby’s, and Grace Hokin, one of our original trustees, marvelous, wonderful human being, she knew him, too. And we were going to do a benefit. And I said, “I really want to do an auction.” And Grace said, “Well, why don’t we talk to John?” So, we got John Marion to come here to Chicago, and I said, “I want to do an auction like Sotheby’s does an auction.” And he said, “Well, you can’t do that. People don’t do that. You have to auction trips and you have to auction stuff. You can’t run a real auction. You don’t know how.” I said, “Well, I’d know how if you taught me.” He said, “Really?” So, he did.

He taught me how to do an auction. We had the first real, professional art auction for charity, period. That was the first one. Of course, the rest is history, and maybe there are too many now. But that was the first one.

So, he taught us how to do a catalogue, how to put it in. And then he came and did the auction. And we made—you can look in the records, but I think we made something like maybe $100, to—or $110,000. We almost had a heart attack. I mean, it was—Joe Shapiro gave us a Magritte painting, and we sold it for $10,000. By the way, it would be worth $10 million today. We sold it for $10,000. We were hysterical. And it was wonderful.

And then we taught LA how to do it. I went to LA and taught them how to do an auction, so when you think of the history of this museum, it has a lot of firsts. And they aren’t just about exhibitions. I think they’re about a modern and contemporary philosophy. Break barriers, try something new. If you fail, get up. Take the store out of the closet. Get up and do something else. And I think—and I’m so proud that 50 years later, it’s just, it’s bigger but it’s the same.

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