The RenBen: Quite a Party







It was quite a party! As our Executive Director and Chief Curator Solveig Øvstebø returns home to Norway after seven years at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, we wanted to hit it out of the park for her last gala. —Mirja Haffner, RenBen Co-Chair.


Solveig Øvstebø (third from right) with co-chairs Ashley Keller, Jennifer Keller, Mamadou-Abou Sarr, Catherine Sarr, and Mirja Haffner.

For top art collectors, philanthropists, and supporters, RenBen is one of the year’s most anticipated galas for defining glamor. This year’s co-chairs, Mirja and Ted Haffner, Jennifer and Ashley Keller, and Catherine and Mamadou-Abou Sarr, welcomed over 250 guests to Rockwell on the River, exceeding their fundraising goal of $500,000.


Guests at RenBen 2019.

An independent and non-collecting museum that’s free to the public, the Renaissance Society raises a significant portion of the museum’s annual operating budget and makes possible an ambitious program of contemporary art exhibitions, events, and publications for the entire year through that one dazzling night a year.


Renaissance Society Board President Richard Wright, Solveig Øvstebø, and Valerie Carberry.


RenBen 2019 Co-Chairs Mamadou-Abou Sarr and Mirja Haffner.

Mirja Haffner and Mamadou-Abou Sarr, both passionate about contemporary art, told Classic Chicago about the evening’s excitement, including its eye-popping selection of 50 art works at auction. Sarr, who says weekends for him and his wife, Catherine, are opportunities to visit a multitude of art exhibits, explained, “Planners of the RenBen auction have real savvy as to what is relevant in the art world now, both with emerging and renowned artists. Many of our guests have been coming for years and know the quality of the works at auction. It doesn’t mean, however, that you don’t do a lot of pre-selling of the event to your friends and getting the word out about the artists at auction.”


Natalie Popovich and Mike Schuh take in the art on display.


David Salkin and Dirk Dennison view a photograph by Halida Boughriet.

Haffner, part of the art world at Christie’s International when she lived in New York and then on the staff at the Art Institute here in Chicago, related, “This year we really worked to expand our audience to the younger generation. Support groups of the museum helped us with that. You have to get new people to keep it going. There are so many benefits in Chicago, so it’s a gala leadership challenge to find fresh, new, and intriguing aspects of your event.”


Tom Shapiro, Madeleine Grynsztejn, Larry Fields, Valerie Carberry, Richard Wright, and Robyn Farrell.

The silent auction was populated by generous gifts from artists including Walter Price, B. Ingrid Olson, Matthew Monahan, Elisabeth Wild, and Molly Zuckerman-Hartung. The live auction, conducted by Melyora de Koning of Phillips, featured Hiejin Yoo, an exciting young artist from Los Angeles, Renaissance Society alumni Josef Strau, Jim Lutes, Richard Rezac, Robert Grosvenor, and Kevin Beasley, and Chicagoan Amanda Ross-Ho.


Silent Auction works by Astrid Klein, Walter Price, Masaomi Yasunaga, B. Ingrid Olson, John Pittman, Phil Chang, and Bella Foster.


Phillips Auctioneer Melyora de Koning.


Live Auction works by Josef Strau, Kevin Beasley, Amanda Ross-Ho, Robert Grosvenor, Richard Rezac, and Hiejin Yoo.

The Renaissance Society emphasizes that it is driven by an uncompromising commitment to artists and their ideas. Since it was founded in 1915, the organization has set out to offer artists the time, space, resources, and freedom vital for ambitious experimentation and risk-taking. The society’s work with artists frequently results in newly commissioned art, and their presentations in the 3,000-square-foot gallery spur further scholarly and creative reflections in publications and public programs. Events, including artist talks, lectures, screenings, concerts, readings, and more, are all free to the public and offer further opportunities for discovery and discussion.


Morten Kvamme, Nickol Hackett, and Darrel Hackett.


David Frej, Nancy Lerner Frej, and Larry Fields.

For further information about the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, visit

Photo credit: Michael Courier