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Raising the Gavel!

The Early History of the MassArt Auction & its Chief Auctioneer


From a humble grassroots beginning the MassArt Auction has grown to become one of our institution’s most recognized and bounteous events. Few know, however, about the Auction’s origins and how it evolved to become the event it is today. This exhibition highlights several facets of the Auction’s early history and its formation within MassArt’s Fine Arts 2D Department. 


The very first Art Auction at MassArt was held in 1977. Conceived by the Painting department’s Student Painting Association (a predecessor to the SGA), it began with a single altruistic goal: to provide scholarships to financially strapped students.  The auction began by soliciting drawings, paintings, and prints first from students and faculty, then from alumni, and grew over the following years to include works from the FA3D department and other visual media. In 1989 the Massachusetts College of Art Foundation took over governance of the auction to benefit scholarship aid and program support across the entire campus. 


The early years of the Art Auction cannot be introduced without giving due acknowledgment to its Founder and Chief Auctioneer - Dean Nimmer.  Dean was Professor of Painting and Chairman of the Fine Arts 2D program at MassArt from 1983 to 2001. A prolific and internationally respected abstract painter and teacher, Dean’s teaching career at MassArt began in 1970. He retired thirty-five years later, in 2004. 


In 1987 Nimmer initiated the Celebrity Auction and collected auction-worthy ‘art’ donations solicited initially from politicians on Beacon Hill and later from international celebrities like Whoopie Goldberg, John Updike, Bob Dylan, and more!  


The modest FA2D Art Auction of 1977 was the historical precursor of the today’s MassArt Auction, which is overseen by the College’s Foundation and which now raises more than a million dollars each year. The current exhibition highlights the early history of that auction, and how it grew to become the auction that it is today, while highlighting its initial goal of raising scholarship funds for needy students.  


This exhibit and the adjacent exhibit The Art of Lobbying are dedicated to the memory of their Founding Father - Dean Henry Nimmer (b.1945 - d. 2023).


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  • Rowan Kaplan

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