Oprah Winfrey got into the spring cleaning spirit a little late (or early?) this year and invited the public to come peruse her old junk on Saturday at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club. With $10 valet parking, a fleet of food trucks that included the Santa Barbara-based Georgia's Smokehouse, $50 auction catalogs for sale, an outdoor bar area with $8 Bloody Mary's, a full camera crew taping the auction for Oprah's Own network, and portable potties that were nicer than most indoor toilets, the benefit for Oprah's Leadership Academy in South Africa felt more like a fantastical fundraising gala than a bargain yard sale.
The Montecito-based media mogul showed up around 10 a.m. in a neon yellow blouse and jeans and played up to the Santa Barbara crowd, hailing the beach town as one of her favorite things and then repeatedly singing the words “Santa Barbara!” and reminding everyone to “think of the children” in South Africa when placing their bids for items like her old burnt-orange armchair with gold fringe tassels or the stair master she used to work out on with personal trainer Bob Greene. “Remember there's no friends at an auction,” she cautioned, taking bids from her own BFF Gayle King and name-dropping Tyler Perry, whom she says was envious of her art collection.
From naively-painted folk art to various portraits of Oprah, surely the strangest items up for auction were the pieces of inexplicable artwork she's amassed over the years. We documented ten of the weirdest paintings, drawings and collages that we saw at the Oprah auction, although sadly, our bids just weren't competitive enough to take any of them home.
10. “The Makeover,” by New Orleans artist Chris Roberts-Antieau.
Maybe it's a folksy homage to the myriad makeovers Oprah's facilitated on her talk show over the years?
9. “The Women of Brewster Place,” by Phoebe Beasley
Bidding started at $1,600 and closed at around $4,500 for this hand-drawn collage inspired by “The Women of Brewster Place,” a 1989 TV mini series Oprah starred in. Oprah is pictured at center, “looking exactly like my grandmother,” she says.
8. Portrait of Oprah with two dogs on her lap
Judging by Oprah's hairdo, the painting looks like it might've been made around 2003.
7. “Ladies' Day” Collage
Bidding started at $2,250 for this collage Oprah says is all about church ladies dressed up in fancy hats for church on Sunday.
6. This painting of an unidentified Victorian woman with a protruding chin
It doesn't seem to fit in with Oprah's broader collection of African American folk art, does it?
5. This curious painting of a girl about to stick her finger into a watermelon
Oprah says she's been “a collector of folk art for a very long time and then my home here just didn't fit the folk.”
4. This 1992 painting by L.A. artist Cynthia Janet White
The subjects mostly have theirs backs to the viewer — but are they giving us the thumbs up sign?
3. This pencil drawing of Oprah
It seems to have been made around 1994 judging by the hairdo, which resembles Jennifer Aniston's “Rachel” cut.
2. This pastel-colored portrait of Oprah
The hair, once again, is the focus of the image. We'd be willing to wager that this iconic hairstyle and pink turtleneck look dates back to the late 1980s.
1. And finally, this painting by Haitian artist Pierre Joseph Valcin
At first it seems like a child-like painting of a woman gathering corn, but then we notice she's actually urinating in the field. Who wouldn't want to mount this painting in their, uh, bathroom?
Jennifer Swann on Twitter:
Public Spectacle, L.A. Weekly's arts & culture blog, on Facebook and Twitter: