Prince’s contribution to the local arts community continues to expand even after his death — this time at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
At its fourth annual auction on Friday, the highlight sale item is a photograph of Prince taken before his first album by Robert Whitman.
“It was Prince’s first professional photo shoot,” said Whitman, who grew up in St. Louis Park and now lives in New York. “It’s the most iconic photograph of Prince in Minneapolis.”
Miles Fiterman, the auction’s co-chair, asked Whitman, a friend of his family, if he would be willing to donate one of the photographs from the 1977 shoot. Whitman agreed.
“Ever since I was a young photographer in Minneapolis, I thought MCAD was cool,” Whitman said. “I gave the print to the auction to help young artists realize their dream to go to MCAD.”
Last year’s event, sponsored by international auctioneer Christie’s, raised $200,000 for scholarships. Christie’s is again sponsoring the event and providing the auctioneer. More than 50 pieces of art have been donated by MCAD alums, friends and faculty for the silent and live auctions.
Interest in the photo has already created tremendous buzz, Fiterman said. It is one of the items at the MCAD auction to already attract bids online.
Online bidding at Paddle 8 for Whitman’s 40-by-60-inch photograph of Prince started at $4,000 and was at $7,500 by Thursday morning. Most of Whitman’s portraits sell in the $1,500 to $4,000 range, Whitman said.
In the past he printed the Prince photographs in 20-by-24-inch or 30-by-40-inch sizes. More than 20 different photos from that same shoot can be seen at Robertwhitman.com.
‘Just having fun downtown’
“Prince was 19 and I was 26 when the photos were shot,” Whitman said. “He was willing to do his thing during the shoot — wearing sequins, blowing bubbles, taking off his shirt. We were just having fun downtown.”
The print at auction is the only one Whitman plans to make in the 40-by-60-inch size. The photo was taken in front of the music mural in the parking lot at 10th and Marquette in downtown Minneapolis, near Haskell’s and the former Schmitt Music.
Fiterman hopes that interest in the Prince portrait will benefit other artists at the event.
The local art gallery scene, which is known for high-quality, relatively affordable art, continues to struggle. Two galleries in downtown Minneapolis closed in the past six months, including Instinct on Nicollet Mall and the Burnet Gallery in the Le Meridien Chambers Hotel. “It’s a difficult environment to operate an art gallery, but the local arts scene in general is doing well,” Fiterman said.
Doors open to the auction at 7 p.m. Friday.
Live bidding begins at 8 p.m. Tickets ($150, which funds student scholarships) can be purchased at the door.
Whitman will be at the event to introduce the portrait and make brief remarks.
Minneapolis College of Art and Design is home to about 700 students at its campus south of downtown Minneapolis. Its annual auction is a separate event from the art sale in November, where most of the proceeds go to the artist.
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633