Take Home a Nude, and an Interview with Gabriela Palmieri

By Claire Cushman (MFA 2015) 

Gallery 1 Closing
You may have heard of “Take Home a Nude” and wondered whether this annual fundraising auction featured dates with the New York Academy of Art’s nude life models. Allow me to clarify – Take Home a Nude, wherein academy students, alumni, and other artists donate works to raise money for Academy Scholarships and programming, first took place at the Academy in 1992 – and the name stems from the fact that most of the work created by Academy artists at that time featured, well, Nudes.
Black Bottoms, by Tim Noble and Sue Webster
This year’s 23rd annual Take Home a Nude took place on October 9th at Sotheby’s. Although today’s Academy students still spend a minimum of twelve hours a week drawing from the nude figure during their first year, the work showcased at Take Home a Nude this year included a wide range of subjects, from abstracted elephants and minotaurs to chandeliers and seashells.  Of the 184 lots featured, (including work by Will Cotton, Alex Kanevsky, Vincent Desidirio, and Laurie Simmons, to name only a few) there were around 50 nudes – and the definition of what constitutes a “nude” is a loose one. Some of my favorite pieces were butt cheek prints by Tim Noble and Sue Webster, “Black Bottoms.”
Artwork hung in four galleries. Guests including Brooke Shields and Mary Kate Olsen perused the walls from 6-9 for the silent auction. At 9 pm, Senior Vice President of Sotheby’s and firecracker auctioneer Gabriela Palmieri opened the floor to a live auction, where she charmed guests into bidding just a little higher for each work. By the end of the night, $900k was raised to benefit the Academy’s scholarships and programming.
Gabriela working the crowd
Before the night kicked off, I interviewed Ms. Palmieri about her involvement with the Academy, Take Home a Nude, her work at Sotheby’s and her love of art in general. Here is our conversation.

CC: You’re part of the Academy’s president's Advisory Council and a big supporter of the Academy. What led you to support the Academy, and how did you become involved with Take Home a Nude?

GP: My dear friend Robby Looker, who was my mentor when I first came to Sotheby’s, introduced me to the Academy in 2007. Then I happened to sit next to Eileen Guggenheim at a luncheon, and I was so impressed with what the Academy stands for. I’m an Academic in training, and I really do celebrate any entity that is so committed to development and learning. Robert invited me to Take Home A Nude when it was still happening down at Phillips, where he was helping hang the installation. Then I asked Eileen if she would consider having Take Home a Nude here at Sotheby’s. She said yes, so I introduced the team. I think we’ve achieved unprecedented success in this format here. This is my third charity auction this week – and it certainly feels like “save the best for last” for me. This is a great crowd, and there’s a huge amount of energy, support and interest coming through here tonight.

CC: Well we owe you a big thank you for bringing Take Home a Nude to Sotheby’s! Do you have a favourite Take Home a Nude moment you can think of from over the years?

GP: They started doing this thing called “Hot Lots” during the silent auction portion of the evening. On some of the pieces, you start to see a bidding war – it’s as if these vultures begin swarming the works, like out of a Hitchcock movie almost.. . So you take the last bidders, the ones who really want to take home this nude, the last two or three standing, who are now somewhat hostile to one another, and you go into a bid-off.  Last year we had a hot-lot that ended up raising an additional fourteen thousand dollars. You can generate a lot more money this way, and it really makes a difference. It also becomes like a spectator sport – it’s this intense rally, and watching it feels like watching the US Open.

Gabriela in front of a Hot Lot piece

CC: Sounds intense! And I imagine the Live Auction is even more so. Can you tell me about what it’s like for you during the Live Auction process?

GP: There’s so much hope and anticipation riding on the results, so you feel very responsible. You have this gavel, and there’s something about when you get behind a podium… See, every bid matters, so you certainly want to coax people to keep on bidding, whether it’s through funny banter or a little bit of prodding. But there’s a fine line between that gentle nudge and putting someone on the spot when they’re really done bidding. So there’s a finesse and balance between the two. This is my artistry. It’s a privilege, a pleasure, but a really big responsibility.

CC: Sounds stressful. I can’t imagine being in that position! You are also the Vice President of Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s - Can you tell me how you came to Sotheby’s?

GP: Well, first I completed by PhD in Art History at the University of Chicago. Chicago is an extraordinarily rigorous program that is really steeped in academia, methodology, historiography, and deconstructionist arguments… It’s a fantastic program, and made me into much more of a critical thinker and a better writer. However, being the art romantic I am, I really missed the proximity to the artworks. I had such a need for being around the actual art, that and that’s what landed me here.

CC: Not a bad place to be for an art lover. Are you an artist yourself?

GP: (laughs) No. I think the creative, artistic mind must skip a generation. My father is a musician, but none of my siblings or I got the creative gene. But I am mesmerized by someone who can pick up whatever implement or instrument – the crayon, the brush, the pencil, the camera – and make something, whether it be abstraction, figuration – it really inspires me. I also love being part of the nurturing process for artists, so that’s why I’m so excited about Take Home a Nude. Here at an auction house, we are a secondary exchange, and don’t get to have any involvement with the actual artists.  I love being involved with the Academy because it allows for that nurturing the early stages of an artist’s career.

CC: Do you have a particular movement or moment in art history that you’re especially drawn to?

GP: I really love any artist who pushes or punctures through the atmosphere of what was done before. So I gravitate towards seismic and defining moments in art history. Say, how radical the New York school of Ab Ex was, or how radical someone like Helen Frankenthaler was with a painting like “Mountains and Sea,” one of the first color field paintings ever painted. And I gravitate toward female artists. You never want to look at something for gender specificity, but there is something to be said for female artists and the challenges they have faced. For someone like Lee Krasner, when Hans Hoffman said of her painting, “this is so good you wouldn’t know it was done by a woman.” Honestly I’m a little all over the place because once I see the work, I’m more intellectually, romantically engaged with the subject – because of its history, its context.

CC: I’m sure that makes it even more difficult to pick a favorite within contemporary art, then.

GP: Yeah. Before I started here at Sotheby’s I was a cataloguer and researcher, and there was a running joke that before I looked at the front of the painting I’d look at the back – I wanted to see where had it been. What shows had it been in? I’m really fascinated by the social life of works.


Brooke Shields and NYAA President David Kratz

Take Home a Nude is the Academy's Annual Art Auction and Party, held at Sotheby's.

Claire Cushman (MFA 2015) is a painter and Social Media scholar with a penchant for blogging.  From time to time check in on the Academy's blog to read more entries from Claire throughout the year.

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