Nearly 600 people jammed into Laguna Art Museum for Feb. 4's 2012 Art Auction and afterparty, setting an attendance record since 1997 for the annual benefit event, LAM officials said.

The 584 attendees represented a 35% jump in attendance compared with last year's benefit soiree turnout at LAM. By evening's end, the live and silent auctions netted $145,850 in combined winning bids, said Sarah Strozza, the museum's special events director.

Altogether, Saturday's event, which organizers dubbed as a "California Art Lounge," grossed $182,000 — a figure that included sales of tickets to both the auction and afterparty, and also broke museum records since 1997, officials said. The year 1997 was the first one after LAM's failed merger with the Newport Harbor Art Museum as the Orange County Art Museum.

"It was beyond a success — it was a smash success," said Strozza said. "It was beyond what we expected."

The occasion also marked the first public event presided over by Malcolm Warner, LAM's new executive director. He joined Curator of Exhibitions Grace Kook-Anderson at the podium in the museum's Steele Gallery to tell the crowd about the artistic merits of 21 pieces that were auctioned live.

"We are a museum of California art and we aspire to be the museum of California art," Warner told the crowd before auctioning got underway.

Money from the proceeds going back to the museum will benefit its exhibition and educational programming, while participating galleries and artists who opted not to auction off their works for free were to take a 30% cut from the art sales. Food, cocktails and wines were donated for the event by Laguna- and Newport Beach-area establishments.

Nineteen of the 106 artists whose works went on the auction block opted to give 100% of the proceeds back to LAM. However, only 14 out of the 106 art pieces were auctioned off at or above value, while bidders passed on 33 of the pieces, including three placed at live auction. These were John Mason's "Trans-Orb, Blue W Tracers" sculptor, Guillermo Bert's "Double Justice" work and Mike Henderson's "Frame Work."

Collectors have till 5 p.m. Friday to buy any of the leftover pieces, or the museum will return unwanted works to the galleries promoting the artists who created those works.

The two pieces that drew the biggest bids at live auction — Corona Del Mar painter Tony DeLap's "Summer Séance" and painter Theodore Svenningsen's "The Electric Fields II" — were snapped up for $17,000 and $12,000, respectively, by bidders married to members of the museum's Board of Trustees, Sara Heeschen and Liz Kramer.

"I was completely surprised that he bought it," said Heeschen, referring to husband Paul's winning bid on DeLap's "Summer Séance."

"We collect California Art almost exclusively," she added. "We're thrilled to add a DeLap to our collection."

imran.vittachi@latimes.com

Twitter: @ImranVittachi