Fighting for life

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Carl Demeulenaere is like a nutty secretary from a bad Jerry Lewis movie. At least, that’s how he describes it. As one of four co-chairs of the 10th Annual Art Works for Life auction, a benefit for the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project (MAPP), he’s crazy as anyone in charge of a major event just weeks before it takes place.

The Midwest AIDS Prevention Project is a nonprofit, community-based organization that’s been around since the mid-’80s, providing HIV/AIDS education programs for community groups. Since 1988, the group has presented thousands of prevention programs for more than half a million people in the Midwest. Art Works for Life is indeed a benefit event for a good cause, but somewhere along the line it turned into Michigan’s premier auction.

The donors list reads like a veritable who’s who of artists showing and selling on the Detroit art scene. Craig Covey, one of the group’s co-founders, says Art Works for Life is its flagship event and is expected to raise more than $90,000.

The auction first came together in 1996, in the living room of former gallery owner Barbara Bunting. In years past, works for the silent and live auctions were donated by such reputable artists as Peter Williams, Tyree Guyton, Tom Phardel, and Ken, Ann and Michael Mikolowski. This year’s 300 contributors includes established, mid-career and emerging artists, among them: Tony Hepburn, Robert Sestock, Richard Bennet, Janet Hamerick, Toby Upton, John Piet, Charles Pompelius, Gilda Snowden, Sue Carmen Vian and Rick Vian, Nelson Smith, Mary Fortuna, Sergio De Giusti, Giorgio Gikas, Dick Goody, Lisa Spindler, Slaw, Scott Hocking, Stephen Goodfellow, Urban Jupena, Tim Burke, Sandra Cardew, Karen Sepanski, Miroslav Cukovic, James Viste, Clinton Snider, Matthew Blake, Evan Larson, Senghor Reid, Mitch Cope and Chris Turner.

Besides featuring art by a few hundred metro Detroit artists, this anniversary showcase includes a white-on-white painting by Yoko Ono entitled I Love You, as well as swatches of saffron-colored vinyl from The Gates project in New York’s Central Park by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The auction includes signed posters from the installation and a signed copy of a book.

There will also be works by New York-based artists Brenda Goodman and Michael Lucero. The auction committee, along with event co-chairs Demeulenaere, Phaedra Robinson, Anne Fracassa and Barbara Bunting, worked extra hard to up the ante in celebration of a decade’s worth of fundraising, and to honor Finney High School art teacher Sylvia Marciniak, a professional artist who had supported the event from day one.

Expert appraiser Joseph DuMouchelle, of DuMouchelle’s Fine & Estate Jewelers and Auctioneers, will host the live auction of four dozen items. He determines the art work’s reserve price based on the information provided, as well as audience response.

In years past, the event was held at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe. But last year, it outgrew that setting and moved to the massive Art Deco labyrinth that is the Masonic Temple in Detroit. Art Works for Life will take up the Crystal Ballroom, and several other rooms around it. “Even the balcony gets packed with people perched up there, looking down,” Demeulenaere says.

Everyone gets caught up in the excitement during the final minutes, event manager Yvonne Greenhouse says. “Occasionally, we have to pull parties aside.”

Anyone who’s been to an auction has seen that kind of behavior before: No matter if they’re trying to win with with a bid of $50 or $500, people hover over the tables like animals ready and willing to pounce on competitors. But it’s especially exciting to see what goes down at a MAPP fundraiser, when resolving an argument about the winner means the price tag blows up.

Here’s how it works: Both parties confidentially write on a sheet of paper their highest possible offer. Whoever can pay the big bucks walks away with the art — and MAPP wins. In turn, so do thousands of Midwesterners fighting for their lives. It may be the one night in Detroit when it’s not a bad idea to dig deep and get good and greedy.


6:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, at Masonic Temple, 500 Temple St., Detroit; 248-545-1435 for reservations. Tickets are $85.

Rebecca Mazzei is Metro Times arts editor. Send comments to [email protected]
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