Stephen Colbert Brings a Little Truthiness to Phillips de Pury
Published March 9, 2011
STEPHEN COLBERT AND A LESS-THAN-FULL HOUSE. PHOTO BY AUSTIN NELSON
How valuable is a piece of art that contains multiple portraits of Stephen Colbert, was discussed on national television by Steve Martin and Frank Stella, and was “re-contextualized” by Shepard Fairey and Andres Serrano? That estimate, according to Colbert himself, is “inestimable.” Phillips de Pury & Company auctioned off the piece on Tuesday first in its lot of almost 300 works, including pieces by Chuck Close, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, and others, with the proceeds of the Colbert portrait benefiting the education foundation DonorsChoose.org.
The portrait, titled Portrait 5, Stephen(s) features receding likenesses of Colbert, each one standing in front of a painting of himself. Colbert tried to convince comedian and art patron Steve Martin to purchase the painting when he was a guest on the December 8 edition of The Colbert Report. After Martin was reluctant to purchase the piece, Colbert brought out minimalist artist Frank Stella, who declared that the piece was, in fact, art. Still not able to convince Martin to buy it, Colbert then brought out street art legend Shepard Fairey, who stenciled his trademark propagandistic “Obey” command into the piece, and adorned Colbert’s lapel with an “Obey” military medal. Controversial artist Andres Serrano was called out next and used a Sharpie to give the portrait version of Colbert a Hitler-esque hairstyle and moustache, though Colbert thanked the artist for making him look like Charlie Chaplin.
Though he never was able to convince Martin to purchase the piece, Colbert was in attendance at yesterday’s auction, trying his best to influence the bidders to dig deep for a good cause. Before the auction, Colbert and crew were running around the auction house collecting footage for a segment about the event to air on The Colbert Report. He ran around the building acting the parts of the auctioneer and art patrons, shouting out fake bids—the likes of “the head of a newborn baby!” and “one of my wives!” When Colbert is in character, he is a tornado of energy, working harder than everyone else in the room.
The bidding started at a dollar—hilariously low for a New York fine art auction house—but quickly climbed into the thousands. When the bids started to slow, he took to the podium himself, jokingly pushing the auctioneer out of the way as if to say, “You’re not doing it right!” He then started throwing in extras to boost the bids, including an offer to personally come to the winning bidder’s house or yacht to install the work. The piece eventually sold for $26,000, but you could tell Colbert was disappointed that it didn’t bring more, saying towards the end of the bidding, “If you are not raising your paddle, it means you hate children!” Later in the auction, a Damien Hirst piece would sell for $47,500.
The majority of the auction patrons were stiff to Colbert’s jokes, but this performance was clearly intended for his television audience, and Colbert and his writers were already brainstorming bits to edit into the segment—including Colbert raising his fist and shouting, “Fuck you, Damien Hirst!“