Modern art prints discovered in donation to Habitat for Humanity’s Frankin restore sold for $88,000. Here’s why.

Bridget Riley's Green Dominance, Blue Dominance, Red Dominance, 1977

Bridget Riley’s Green Dominance, Blue Dominance, Red Dominance, 1977

There are windfalls, and then there’s something even more.

Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity thought it had the former when staff at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Franklin discovered a three print set, “Green Dominance,” “Blue Dominance” and “Red Dominance,” produced in 1977 by renowned modern artist Bridget Riley in a huge donation of otherwise unremarkable wall art. When the prints went to auction at Hindmann in Chicago on Thursday, they were expected to fetch up to $35,000.

By the time the auction ended, the price had been bid up to $88,200.

After auction costs and commissions, Habitat’s portion of the sale will cover most of the $75,000 cost of building a new, volunteer-built Habitat for Humanity home, Habitat spokesman Jake Brandt said.

“We’re just thrilled and humbled by this whole experience, and it goes to show you never know what you’ll find in a ReStore,” Brandt said.

more: Modern art donation surprises Habitat for Humanity. How the auction of valuable Bridget Riley ‘op art’ prints will help build new homes.

The auction set a record for Riley’s ‘Dominance’ series

The price was the most ever paid for the three-print set, which was number 76 of a limited run of 100 prints.

Monica Brown, Hindman vice president of prints and multiples, said the price was driven up by a confluence of factors, but most notably the conditions of the prints.

She said the “Dominance” series and others of its vintage typically had issues with fading and their condition, because at the time they were produced, Riley wasn’t well known, and the prints were often not well cared for. That wasn’t the case with the prints Habitat received.

“These were kind of stuck in a building, like nobody really knew what it was. And so really, it kind of helped to preserve them over time,” she said.

Who bought the prints?

Brown said the prints were bought by a buyer in the United Kingdom. She said several UK buyers were involved in the auction, but declined to identify the high bidder.

How did Hindman convince overseas bidders of the quality of the prints?

The answer was ingeniously analogous: Brown placed a Sprite can in front of the prints to trick her iPhone into not correcting the color of the prints.

“When we’re dealing with someone who’s in London, they’re not necessarily going to fly to Chicago to see them as close,” she said. “In putting a Sprite can there, everyone could really see what the true colors were. And the general consensus was, no, those are not faded, they’re in great condition. It really helped to give people that confidence to bid without seeing them.”

What’s driving the high level of interest in Riley’s work?

Riley, 91, was a pioneer in the op-art movement, which used color and shape to create optical illusions of depth and movement in paintings and prints. However, she was somewhat overlooked due, in part, to her being one of the few women who were working in a male-dominated field, Brown said.

More recently, Riley has been getting her due as a result of shows in places like the Art Institute of Chicago. At the same time, she’s benefited from the rekindled interest among collectors in the work of artists that are in their 90s, including Riley, Frank Stella and Jasper Johns.

“Because they’re getting older, people are starting to look at their entire body of work and say, ‘Wow, this person was really influential — they influenced other artists, and they really pushed boundaries’ — and the market responded to that, ” Brown said.

Where did the Bridget Riley tryptich come from?

The prints were part of a large donation from a downtown Milwaukee commercial building that was undergoing renovation. The donors, who have asked to remain anonymous, were unaware that anything of value was included in the donation. When they were told about the prints they agreed to continue with the donation.

Sara Mulloy, Hindman’s senior director of trusts, estates and private clients, said the tie to the Habitat ReStore also helped to support the record price.

“I think that the Habitat for Humanity angle definitely played a role in it,” she said. “People love to support a cause. But I also just think that her market is growing steadily and this is an indication of where her prices might be going.”

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Habitat for Humanity scores big with $88,000 sale of modern art prints

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