TOM SACHS HAS MADE an art of aping the emblems and rituals of American culture. So when the artist was honored during the rituals of this year’s ArtCRUSH, it seemed a chance for the culture to give back. Wednesday marked the kick-off of the Aspen Art Museum’s annual benefit gala, and after eight years the museum and its winning host committee have the three-day fund-raiser down to a science. The events began with WineCRUSH, an opening ceremony held at the impressive home of collectors and AAM board members John and Amy Phelan. Though the Phelans’ collection was rehung to strike a serious note—with two late Ellsworth Kellys, a fantastic Basquiat, and a huge Jim Lambie—the mood at the party was kept light with plenty of Dom Pérignon, some amazing mountain vistas, and a four-course dinner paired with expertly selected wines.
In his preprandial toast, Mr. Phelan lauded Sachs’s most recent parodic project, Space Program: Mars, noting the concurrence of ArtCRUSH with the real NASA mission to Mars. “That’s important,” Sachs later joked, “because we’re hopefully going to find the answer to two big questions: Where did we come from? And are we alone?” Here on planet Earth at least we had good company, including Anne Pasternak, Marianne Boesky, Gavin Brown and Hope Atherton, Honor Fraser and Stavros Merjos, Perry Rubenstein, collectors Linda and Bob Gersh, Lance Armstrong, and Rashid Johnson (among others!). Over dinner, board member Paul Pariser explained his task of keeping the museum’s new Shigeru Ban building on schedule, while artists Jonathan Horowitz and Rob Pruitt chatted about Palm Springs, the next stop on their westward itinerary, all of us grabbing from Sachs-inspired centerpieces overflowing with cigarettes, grapes, and shooters of booze.
Much of the same crowd showed up the following night at the Baldwin Gallery’s previewCRUSH event, where bidders got a first peek at this year’s live auction lots. Making my way to the gallery, I was stymied by a motorcade of Escalades, state troopers, and what looked like secret servicemen. If not for a small group of protesters lampooning the 1 percent with signs and masks, I might have forgotten that Mitt Romney was in town hosting his own fund-raiser and participating in a retreat for the Republican Governors Association. Late, great local Hunter S. Thompson would have been proud of the scene being caused, but the elite mob that convened at the gallery had other objectives on their mind. “You won’t stop me from bidding this year,” one attendee whispered to her husband. Everyone seemed excited about outstanding works by Pruitt, Jim Hodges, Tom Friedman, Monika Sosnowska, and Ryan Gander. “I spend a large part of my year working on this auction,” curator Jacob Proctor wearily admitted. But the hard work would pay off the following evening when Sotheby’s European deputy chairman, Oliver Barker, would take the stage. “It’s not every day that such a high-level auctioneer is willing to come to a tent in a parking lot for a good cause,” noted AAM director Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson. “It will be interesting to see how he works the crowd, which will be different than how Tobias [Meyer] does things.”
ArtCRUSH’s Friday night feature event put Barker to the test. But first guests were treated to more Dom and gourmet bites of comfort food, including maple syrup fountains with bacon and tater-tot dippers (Sachs’s favorite). As if these little hints weren’t enough, the museum literally spelled out its artist crush via a large carpet with I ♡ TOM SACHS scrawled in the artist’s signature font. Surrounded by a lawn full of Mylar heart-shaped balloons, the décor was quite the valentine. The feeling was clearly mutual: Sachs had donated a new wall sculpture, Poche Vide—a stereo cabinet–cum–survival kit (or a quasi-satanic altarpiece with iPod dock)—created specifically for the auction. Bumping Beyoncé, Nina Simone, Snoop Lion né Dogg, etc., for the crowd, the work was a hit, and when it came up for auction, Barker was kept more than busy orchestrating the bids. Museum supporters across the tent clamored for the piece, pushing its value ever higher and making it the highest grossing work in the auction, bringing in an impressive $155K for the nonprofit. Among those outbid was big-time Dallas collector Howard Rachofsky, who summed it up best, shouting, “We know where Tom lives, and we’ll find him!”