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COLLECTING CELEBRITY ART
by Baird Jones
 
I have spent over $1 million on my celebrity art collection, buying works by everyone from Bob Dylan to James Dean. Some of these objets d’art were made as afterthoughts, done as scribbled drawings in the margins of a celebrity autograph. Others are legitimate artworks made by celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Johnny Cash, who despite their accomplishments in their respective fields still turned to fine art to establish their true creativity.

A handful of celebrities have made serious money in the art biz. Red Skelton sold some of his paintings for as much as $80,000 a canvas, and some of these were clown paintings on velvet -- if any artist can do clowns on velvet without irony, it would be Skelton. Sinatra’s art prices also became astronomical. David Byrne and Martin Mull have managed to enter the contemporary art mainstream, at least somewhat.

But celebrities like these are the exceptions. When Sotheby’s auctioned off a trove of Muhammad Ali memorabilia five years ago, everything went wildly above estimate -- except for Ali’s artworks, which fell significantly short of their presale evaluations. The people who take art seriously are rarely the same people who care about celebrityhood.

Galleries that specialize in celebrity art, typically located in tourist-trap areas like Las Vegas, Beverly Hills and Hawaii -- and now, like SoHo in New York -- tend to be insanely expensive. Among the wares are works by the likes of Richard Chamberlain, Marcel Marceau and Anthony Quinn, interspersed with art by noncelebrity artists like Peter Max and assorted questionable works by Salvador Dalí and such.

I can recommend two galleries that often have celebrity art for sale at reasonable prices, however. The first is Image Makers Art Gallery of Stars in New Hope, Pa., where I bought a work by Micky Dolenz of the Monkees. The website is at www.imagemakersart.com. The second gallery is Robert Rogal’s Ro Gallery, which conducts an extensive business in lithos and other artworks at www.rogallery.com. My acquisitions there included works by Ali and actor Jeff Bridges.

Other celebrities sell their own artworks on their own websites. Peter Falk sells his impressive lithographs -- academic-style figure studies and comic drawings, in editions of 300 or more -- at www.peterfalk.com. Prices are only a few hundred dollars each. One of Falk’s assistants told me that the actor enjoys the idea that his fans can buy his work, but that the website isn’t really a money-making enterprise. Celebrities are so used to sending autographed photographs to their fans for free that they continue this goodwill attitude in the pricing of their artwork on their websites.

Comic screenprints by Kurt Vonnegut are available at www.kurtvonnegut.com for bargain prices. A signed and numbered two-color print, measuring about 11 x 15 in., showing a falling blue bomb inscribed with the words, "Goodbye Blue Monday," is $275. Vonnegut also offers an aluminum cutout sculpture, showing a nude from behind, for $1,800.

Another good online buy was an awesome Marilyn Manson self-portrait lithograph -- as an amputatee baby -- which I purchased from his website for a bargain: $150. Generally speaking, Manson is hip to the art world, and his art can be quite expensive.  

Even after his death, Buddy Ebsen’s "limited edition lithographs" were still available on his website -- "Uncle Jed Country" -- for only $150 for a "framed, signed and numbered Artist’s Proof, edition of 100." Spring Bath, for instance, measures 18 x 24 in. and features Uncle Jed taking a bath in the water trough while his bloodhound Ol’ Duke looks on.

I don’t have to tell you that an artist’s prices can soar after his or her death. For instance, I bought a number of paintings directly from rock star Dee Dee Ramone for $200 each in order to include them in an exhibition I was organizing at the Paterson Museum in New Jersey. Only a few weeks later, poor Dee Dee died after a heroin overdose, and paintings like the ones I had bought were being bid up into the thousands on eBay. 

Many people assume I have bought much of my celebrity art on eBay. In fact, eBay has its problems for a celebrity-art collector. The general celebrity fascination in our country brings competitive, savvy bidders to eBay in droves, and they often push up prices during the final minutes of online auctions. I’ve only purchased about five percent of my collection on eBay, including works by artists like Dr. Seuss, Charles Schulz and Mel Blanc (who are actually legitimate cartoonists, of course, only needing a slight adjustment to transition into the "artiste" category).

And while caricature self-portraits by celebrities Art Carney and Jimmy Stewart can be found cheaply on eBay, such wares are also offered at even lower prices on autograph auction sites. At Signaturepieces.com, for instance, a search under "sketch" can turn up autographs that have been accompanied by a doodle or a caricature. With eBay, authenticity can be an issue, while good autograph auction houses like R&R Enterprises in Amherst, N.H. (and online at www.rrauction.com), have staff to vet the material pretty closely. I have bought half of my collection through rrauction.com, which publishes a lavish catalogue every month -- though it features only a few good art items each time around. Among the works in my collection are captivating self-portrait sketches by Vincent Price, Whoopi Goldberg, Fred Astaire and George Takei, all purchased for less than $25 because most people considered them only minor autographs that just happened to include a doodled image. 

"Celebrity" is a broad term and one peculiarly active area among collectors is art by serial killers and infamous murderers -- not least of all Adolf Hitler. On the specialist website www.murderauction.com one can find all manner of drawings by condemned killers. Authenticity can be a problem but with prices as low as $25, the risk is limited. My purchases from this site have included small drawings by Richard Ramirez (the Night Stalker) and Ottis Toole (the friend in the movie "Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer"). Expensive paintings by Charles Manson are regularly featured here.

Another macabre addition to a celebrity collection are signed and numbered posters by "Dr. Death," Jack Kevorkian, available at the Ariana Gallery in Royal Oak, Mich. Last I looked, these posters were only $200 each.

Charity auctions often include artworks by celebrities, and the interested collector should keep an eye out for these kinds of art benefits. Some years ago I paid $700 at Marianne Boesky Gallery for a Lou Reed photograph of hazy New York skyline, a work that I treasure, and about ten years ago I scooped up a Rudy Giuliani photograph of the Twin Towers for $400 at the Leica Gallery on Broadway, an image that recently went for $4,000 at Sotheby’s. I also acquired a painting by Congo the Chimp for a $200 donation at an animal rights benefit, and a slightly claustrophobic litho by Merce Cunningham at a dance benefit.

I have a weakness for postcards and notecards designed by celebrities, which aren’t signed, of course, and consequently are very inexpensive. The art is terrific, in any case. An organization called Kids Art collaborated with the Pediatric Epilepsy Project at UCLA to produce an amazing series of postcards by celebrities -- ranging from David Arquette and Laura Dern to Matthew Broderick to Don Rickles -- which are for sale at www.kidsartinc.com. Similarly, at www.angelwear.com, I paid $4 for a set of ten postcards by Keanu Reeves, Diane Keaton, Sly Stallone and others. And at the website of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network -- www.rainn.org -- I bought postcards by Natalie Merchant, Michael Stipe and Cyndi Lauper.

And last but not least, Long Island Cares and the Harry Chapin Food Bank is offering a series of ceramic tiles imprinted with doodled self portraits by Dion DiMucci (of Dion and the Belmonts), Phyllis Diller and Jefferson Airplane’s Marty Balin, among others. They are $15 apiece and are very handy around the house.


BAIRD JONES reports on art and celebrity in New York.

 

Link to the Artnet article

 

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June 13, 2005Media&Society

2005 THE NEW YORK OBSERVER, L.P.

What An Artist Should Be

"Why do people go to museums?" Baird Jones asked. The question was rhetorical, offered up as he whisked The Transom through a private tour of his extensive collection of celebrity artwork, which crams the walls and fills the closets of his two-bedroom East Village apartment. "Isn’t the real purpose entertainment?"

Mr. Jones, a fixture on the downtown New York scene since his days as a doorman at Studio 54, continues to be a ubiquitous presence at events where celebrities, real and purported, collect. He started collecting their arts and crafts more than 20 years ago and recently put together an exhibition entitled Star Art, currently on display at the Chelsea Art Museum.

"I think my promotion of celebrity art makes me more lethal to the art world. What museums want is celebrities," boasted the multi-talented Mr. Jones, who aside from his work as a curator is a contributing writer for artnet.com and moonlights as a nightclub promoter for (among others) Webster Hall, pumping the venue’s name by dishing his celebrity scoops to the city’s gossip columns in exchange for being credited with the unseemly byline "Webster Hall curator Baird Jones."

Mr. Jones says he’s spent over $100,000 framing the collection, which includes over 500 works, from an illustration of bullfighters by James Dean to an acrylic battle scene painted by Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin, James Earl Ray. The collection blurs the line between high art and low as much as it does the difference between celebrity and notoriety. Many of the pieces are little more than doodles. Some are merely signed posters; others are intricately composed paintings. But all visibly bear signatures, an essential component to the value of a celebrity work, according to Mr. Jones, who likes to read "Ph.D.-level art criticism" and sees a big future in his enduring obsession.

"The thing about celebrity art is that it’s the next movement. Graffiti was the first step, where they saw the signature as a statement. But then something has happened—I think it’s related to internationalism and the way New York has been robbed of its prominence.

"And so there’s an ironic statement that’s been going on that is now going to make celebrity art the new groovy thing."

Regardless of where the art world is headed or what the far-reaching effects of "internationalism" may be, Mr. Jones—who likes to say he’s "a wealthy guy"—isn’t in this for the money. He merely wants to let others experience the pleasure of celebrity art, and he dreams of sending his exhibit on a national tour.

The reception on June 2 wasn’t quite the celebrity hoedown Mr. Jones had hoped for.

"When you see David Bowie walk through the door, it’s because David Byrne just walked in before him," Mr. Jones had advised The Transom before the show. (Works by both Mr. Bowie and Mr. Byrne are in the show.) But it wasn’t a complete flop either: Featured artist Victoria Gotti Sr. turned up, Sopranos bit player Oksana Lada made an appearance, and "Hoop"—renowned about town for his van plastered with clocks, which he calls the "Time Machine"—was there from start to finish.

Mrs. Gotti had five pieces on display, most of which draw on her favored panther theme. "I equate the panther with a beautiful woman—smart, sleek, sexy and deadly," she said. More generally, she takes inspiration from the work of Claude Monet. "He’s just my idea what an artist should be," she said.

The creative widow of the Teflon Don, who tries to paint "a little every day," is prone to sounding a bit like a goodfella herself. "I came here as a respect to you," she told a beaming Mr. Jones, who was clad in his traditional uniform of preppy attire topped off with a Yankees cap. And when The Transom put foot in mouth, having let slip that Muhammad Ali’s painting of a jet was its favorite, Mrs. Gotti raised an eyebrow and asked, "You want me to smack you now or later?" But her tender side shined through as she gazed at her portrait of a woman on a dock. "She’s waiting for her man," she offered.

The civilian turnout was more impressive. While opinions varied on the artistic merits on display, most of the fairly packed crowd in the Project Room section of the museum acknowledged a certain level of curiosity about celebrity artwork. The crowd’s attention, however, was divided between Star Art and the works of "urban surrealism" by Damon Johnson, the 26-year-old son of Page Six gossip columnist Richard Johnson, who was having a simultaneous opening, also curated by Mr. Jones, on the other side of the room.

(Mr. Jones and Richard Johnson are themselves old friends.)

Proud Papa Johnson, who plans to purchase some more of Damon’s art before the "prices get too high," had some insights into the celebrity mind.

"I think a lot of people who do one sort of art think that they are multi-talented." Assessing the celebrity artists on display, he added: "Some of them are dilettantes, some of the are just bad artists, and some of them are not."

Mr. Jones, for his part, had mixed feelings about the success of the show. "I was very pleased, because nothing was stolen," he said. "Lots of times, celebrity art gets stolen because it brings out the crazy element. I felt a lot of people were laughing at the art. They seemed to be ridiculing it. I noticed the Buddy Ebsens were a great source of guffaws. They weren’t really giving the art a chance. Everybody was there for girls first, the booze second and maybe mingling with Victoria Gotti third. Even with celebrity art—which draws more attention than any other kind of art—people don’t pay that much attention to the art."

—Spencer Morgan

Link to the Observer Article

 

N.Y. / Region

About New York

He Knows Art ... and Larry Hagman's Hat Size

By DAN BARRY

Published: April 15, 2006

IT takes hard work for you to be informed that RICHARD BELZER dislikes being mistaken for HENRY WINKLER, or that BAI LING loves J. LO's "curves," or that LAUREN HUTTON's favorite hobby is "digging up weeds," or that ANDIE MacDOWELL wants it known that she is not, not, the illegitimate daughter of Charlie Chaplin (whose right to BOLDFACE treatment died with him).

Celebrities must be willing to share their innermost inane feelings. The gossip columns must measure public interest through a complicated calculus that factors wattage, cleavage, latest development deal, substance-abuse history, embarrassment quotient and, of course, the variable known as canoodle.

And someone must be willing to dedicate his nights — his life, really — to attending book parties, gallery shows and other promotional affairs where the air is kissed and authenticity is absent. That someone is BAIRD JONES, who has earned uppercase status through his long obsession with, and desire for, that fleeting state in the human condition: fame.

Rarely a week goes by without Page Six or Rush and Molloy or Cindy Adams or Lloyd Grove publishing some gold-plated nugget mined from the celebrity slurry by Mr. Jones, who is usually described as "Webster Hall curator" — an inside joke of an identification that actually should say he is a promoter for the Webster Hall nightclub in Greenwich Village.

But who is Baird Jones, really? And why has he made this his life's work?

He answers the door to his 22nd-floor apartment in Greenwich Village wearing a double-breasted blue blazer and a Yankees cap shoved over his stringy, rust-brown hair. The cap, ever present, is central to his signature look.

He insists on showing off his collection of what he calls celebrity art, which he says has cost him more than $1 million. Framed paintings, lithographs, sketches and doodles by the famous and infamous cover nearly the entire wall space of his spare gallery of an apartment, with more stacked in closets and on the floor.

A JONI MITCHELL self-portrait. A DEBBIE REYNOLDS scrawl of a spider. Works by PAUL McCARTNEY, Alfred Hitchcock, GLORIA VANDERBILT, John Gotti, LOU REED, Fred Astaire,JACK KEVORKIAN, Evel Knievel; a green room of the living and the dead, careerwise and otherwise. "MARCEL MARCEAU over there," he says, pointing to some stacked paintings. "I've got SALLY STRUTHERS behind that."

On a table, he has set aside an envelope that contains his "press kit." The return address reads: Baird Jones, B.A., J.D., M.S.W., M.A., M.A. In addition to reflecting the extent of his higher learning, these letters also summon three more: W.H.Y.

The envelope contains 50 pages of photocopied news clips by or about Baird Jones dating to the early 1980's, carefully arrayed several to a page, as well as his résumé (winner of the Extracurricular Reading Prize, Groton School, 1971) and his family's listing in the 1983 Social Register, featuring an enviable Upper East Side address.

The clips reflect the arc of a life. First as a privileged preppie who held dozens of parties at Studio 54 for the similarly blessed, then as a party consultant, then as a critic and curator intimately familiar with the East Village art scene, then as a collector and promoter of celebrity art — and oral celebrity kitsch.

Peering from under the brim of his Yankee cap like a pitcher trying to read a catcher's signs, Mr. Jones alternately answers and evades questions about his life.

He is wealthy, but he does not want to discuss money because "it's just going to ruin my mood." He was born in New York but conceived in Rio de Janiero, he says, "So I've always considered myself Brazilian. That's very important to me."

He says that he attends events just about every night of the week. He carries a tape recorder, waits for an opening and then pounces, often asking questions that demonstrate he has done some homework on the celebrities he approaches. Then he forwards the items to various gossip columnists and hopes one of them bites.

Mr. Jones is asked again why a man with wealth and many postgraduate degrees would spend his nights finding out that LARRY HAGMAN has a huge hat collection, or that RACHEL WEISZ attributes bushy eyebrows for her sometimes being mistaken for BROOKE SHIELDS.

"I do think about it — the trivia," he says after a pause. Another pause follows, after which he says that his art criticism balances things, "so it doesn't really bother me."

It's nearly 6:30; time to hit the galleries. Fame is out there somewhere.

 

Sunday, March 26, 2006

New York/Region

Street Level

In Club Land, 'Neighbors' Doesn't Mean Nearby

Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times

Crobar, early March 18.

By PAUL BERGER

Published: March 26, 2006

A STEADY line of cars, mainly yellow taxis and white limousines, crawled eastward through the night past the floodlit entrances to two of Manhattan's best-known nightspots, the strip club Scores and the nightclub Crobar. Each time a car stopped for more than a few seconds, a driver impatiently honked his horn. It was 2:30 a.m. on a Saturday in West Chelsea, and the party was in full swing.

This is the heart of New York club land, a hodgepodge of former warehouses and factories that by day is busy with gallery hoppers and by night becomes an adult playground. In five years, nightlife capacity has increased to 10,000 people from 1,000, and the area bounded by 10th and 11th Avenues and 24th and 29th Streets is home to a score of clubs and bars.

The nightlife, while helping reinvigorate an area once troubled by prostitution and crime, has brought its own problem: noise. Not from the well-soundproofed clubs, but from the irritable drivers and boisterous revelers, a noise that seems to peak around midnight and again between 2 and 4 a.m., according to Michelle Solomon, acting district manager of Community Board 4.

Starting two years ago, Crobar on West 28th Street, the area's largest nightclub, with a capacity of 3,000, has tried to make friends in the community by opening its doors and bar to neighbors once a month. But its definition of "neighbor" is broad.

Last Friday Crobar, a former metal factory, was doing a brisk trade at the unusually early hour of 11 p.m., with free entry and a "sponsored" — a k a open — bar between 10 p.m. and midnight for anyone who had replied to a "Get to Know Your Neighbor" party invitation. Although the front bar was crowded with people trying to make themselves heard above the music, West Chelsea neighbors proved elusive.

Max Erickson, a record label owner who lives on the Upper West Side, said he had been invited by Baird Jones, a gossip writer who used to organize parties at Studio 54. Mr. Jones, he said, was having a party to celebrate the 73rd birthday of Andy Warhol, although, as it later turned out, Mr. Warhol's 73rd birthday was actually in August 2001.

"Really, it's my 73rd birthday party," said Ivy Nicholson, who was wearing a silver crucifix and a Gothic-looking black top.

"I was born on February 22, 1933," added Ms. Nicholson, who was featured in Mr. Warhol's 1967 movie "I, a Man," "and this is the fourth birthday party my friends have thrown for me."

Also present was Robert Capria, a video editor. Mr. Capria, 35, who lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn, said he had come for the Warhol party to meet well-connected filmmakers but had been disappointed to find the bar filled mainly with what he called "the bridge and tunnel crowd."

There appeared to be no sign of the 800 or so people who live in residential pockets in the neighborhood, or of occupants of the 1,100 public housing apartments nearby. Some residents of surrounding neighborhoods showed up, but they turned out to be friends of club managers. The only other neighbors were the invited employees of nearby businesses such as Chanel, whose SoHo store manager, Irma Segal-Gebski, could be found dancing in the V.I.P. room.

Explaining the paucity of local folk, Tim Bauman, Crobar's strategic marketing director, said the club viewed its community as wide: "We include neighborhoods like the East Village, the West Village, SoHo and Chelsea. We invite the retail stores and the art gallery owners. It's not residential here; it's commercial mixed-use properties."

By 1 a.m., a sea of more than 1,000 people bobbed and bounced as the music rushed over them. A few hours later, with the club still in full swing, people started making their way outside onto West 28th Street.

On this particular Friday the postparty jam was minor, the turnout perhaps lower than usual because it was St Patrick's Day. But as cars headed east past the Chelsea and Elliott Houses, the public housing developments that are home to 1,100 families, impatient drivers continued to honk. "Yes, they honk their horn," one cabbie said. "But it's O.K. Nobody lives around here." 

The New York Post, PageSix

THE MAN IN EVERY PICTURE  

December 26, 2002--A NEW book on Mark Kostabi makes the controversial artist look like Zelig, the Woody Allen movie hero who popped up in every bit of newsreel footage. "Mark Kostabi and the East Village Scene 1983-1987" (Matteo Editore) by Webster Hall curator Baird Jones includes dozens of photos showing Kostabi with top celebrities of the day. Many of them, however, didn't seem to know who was posing with them. In one shot, Steve Martin and Paul Simon are seen at a party while Kostabi sneaks into the picture just behind them. At another fete, Dick Cavett looks caught off guard by a grinning Kostabi, who strode up next to him as the shutter clicked. Kostabi - who became simultaneously rich and hated when he began having assistants paint all of his work - is also seen mugging for shots in the vicinity of Lou Reed, Si Newhouse, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Peter Max, Joan Rivers, John Cage, Grandpa Al Lewis, Tama Janowitz, Robin Leach, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Huntington Hartford, Sylvia Miles and Fran Lebowitz. Jones, himself a fixture in those circles, took all the photos.

The New York Post, PageSix

SIGHTINGS    

May 22, 2005 -- BAIRD Jones, the freelance gossip often identified as the curator at Webster Hall, being ordered to take off his Yankee cap at One in the Meatpacking District as retired slugger Mo Vaughn consoled Met outfielder Cliff Floyd after an 0-for-4 game ...