Jacksonville’s City Council voted this week to auction off a piece of art worth millions. The money will be split between a public art maintenance fund and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
The Joan Mitchell abstract painting of charcoal and black hues, cream and little rusty orange is a tryptic — divided into three panels — and it’s huge — about 21-by-10 feet.
The city said auctioneers’ preliminary estimates value it between $3 million and $5 million.
After getting the piece as a gift in the 1990s, the city gave it to MOCA in 2006. But it was conditional, said the Mayor’s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa during a City Council committee discussion about the piece’s potential auctioning.
“If at any time MOCA quit displaying the art, that the art would revert back to the City of Jacksonville,” Mousa said.
And it did revert back to the city because there aren’t many places within MOCA big enough to hang it, except for the entrance atrium area. However the atrium has been serving as the venue for “Project Atrium,” since 2011, rotating installations by emerging and mid-career artists.
If the piece sells at the auction next month, the city will keep half the proceeds to maintain its collection of 115 public art pieces. They need about $700,000 worth of maintenance and conservation work, said Art in Public Places Director Christie Holechek.
Holecheck said that dollar amount was derived from an analysis of the city’s art maintenance needs a couple of years ago. At the same time, the conservator prioritized the projects needing the most work — like the LaVilla Braid piece on the side of the Ritz Theatre and Museum.
The artwork of neon lights is a high-priority item that is corroding and having issues remaining attached to the building.
Ten percent of the funding for city public art projects goes toward maintenance, but Holecheck said that’s only been consistent with projects after 2009. In addition, City Council has made $30,000 of a $100,000 fund available for art maintenance. Holechek said getting money from auctioning the Mitchell piece is huge.
“It’s a very big step and very positive move on behalf of mayor and administration to say this is a priority,” she said.
The remaining half of the piece’s proceeds will go to MOCA, “since the art at one time was given to MOCA,” Mousa said.
MOCA Executive Director Caitlín Doherty said the proceeds will be placed in an endowment to buy new art and to repair and maintain existing pieces.
“Those monies should be reinvested into the collection as a community asset and as a driver for the community,” she said.
She said it’s an exciting time for Joan Mitchell art pieces, adding “the artwork right now is reaching a crescendo point in terms of sales."
Doherty said the piece being auctioned is also special because it’s named Iva, after Mitchell’s dog.
The Mitchell piece is set to be sold at a big-time auction: Christie’s in New York, along with pieces from the Rockefeller family.
The city said the minimum bid it will accept is $2.7 million.
Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.