Art Turns Into Cash at 'Bye-Bye Bush' Fundraiser

Andy Warhol's (search) pop creations, William Wegman's (search) offbeat portraits and the abstract drawings of  Willem de Kooning (search) are more than works of art to some Democrats. The auction-block objects are a means to a desired goal — defeating President Bush and other Republicans on Nov. 2.

Artists, art galleries and wealthy collectors are contributing more than 170 works for an auction June 29 in New York to raise money for two pro-Democratic groups, America Coming Together (search) and the political action committee ARTS PAC (search), that will use the cash for voter mobilization and other election-year efforts.

"Join artists and friends in saying 'Bye-Bye Bush' and help to elect Democratic candidates at the federal, state and local levels," an event flier says.

One artist behind the auction is Chuck Close, a New York-based photorealist painter who sought the donated works. The sentiment among several artists, according to Close, is that the Bush administration's anti-terrorism efforts, epitomized by the Patriot Act, are endangering civil rights, including artistic freedom.

"The Republican Party seems to want to be perceived as having a lock on patriotism and I think it's really a mistake for Democrats to give up the whole issue of patriotism. It's just a different notion of what it is," said Close, who expects some donations will carry patriotic themes. "I think a commitment to a free and open society is the ultimate patriot act."

America Coming Together and ARTS PAC will use some of the money for direct support of presidential and congressional candidates, and other money for get-out-the-vote drives and other campaign work. Close declined to provide the fund-raising goal for the event, but estimated it would bring in several million dollars.

Paintings, sculptures, photos, drawings and other works are scheduled for auction at the fund-raiser, including pieces by Warhol, de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Diebenkorn, Jasper Johns, Mark Rothko and Close. Wegman, known for photographs focused on canines, is donating his services as a portrait photographer to his winning bidder. Actress Meryl Streep is an honorary chairwoman of the event.

Politics and art have a history, especially in New York. Mexican painter Diego Rivera, a communist, angered industrial tycoon John D. Rockefeller's family in the early 1930s by including the image of Soviet revolutionary Vladimir Lenin in a mural the Rockefellers commissioned Rivera to paint at Rockefeller Center. After a standoff between Rivera and the Rockefellers, building workers destroyed the painting.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York housed Pablo Picasso's famous anti-war painting "Guernica" before its return to Spain after the country's move from dictatorship to democracy with the death of Gen. Francisco Franco in 1975.

Democrats previously have mixed art and politics for financial gain.

Retired Ohio Sen. Howard Metzenbaum raised money for his 1982 re-election bid by copying and selling original prints donated by more than 30 artists, including Warhol, Peter Max, Diebenkorn, Lichtenstein and wilderness photographer Ansel Adams, with whom Metzenbaum became friends. Metzenbaum said he personally asked the artists for donations.

Artists also have donated their works to raise money for 2000 presidential hopeful Al Gore, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.; Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., former South Dakota Sen. George McGovern and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Metzenbaum and his wife, Shirley, bought and still display some of the donated artwork from their 1982 campaign.

"We started collecting whatever we could afford, and each thing is a memory," Shirley Metzenbaum said. "And that's why when we were trying to raise money for my husband's campaign, we decided we loved it — maybe the artists would be interested in helping."