The art world takes itself too seriously 99 percent of the time and it is refreshing to be doused with a splash of sarcasm, humor and debauchery as was had at the Art Fag City’s Rob Pruitt Art Awards. Carrying on the tradition of Guggenheim Museum’s collaboration with Rob Pruitt, but with no official affiliation to the artist, the awards celebrated those categories which don’t make the annual Art+Auction lists. Squeezed into Site/109 on the Lower East Side, the evening proved to be a raucous consortium of personalities coming together for a great cause to support the voice of Paddy Johnson’s honest art criticism and the ArtFagCity.com website.
Opulent food displays were covered in precious metals by Jen Catron and Paul Outlaw, the collaborators behind fish taco trucks and hoisted dinner parties, creating edible masterpieces for the guests. Hand foiled with 24-karat gold, Catron admitted the cornucopia was “worth month’s rent for the raw metal” and set the high/low tone for the evening.
“Alcohol is the essential element of benefit auctions” touted C K Swett of Phillips de Pury before hammering down a bottle of White Pike Whiskey for $160 to get everyone in the spirit of bidding. The lots were truly unique and included: a phone message recorded by Hennessy Youngman (whose video mocking Hirst went viral), a reenactment of Richard Price’s trial in your home by Greg Allen (selling for $500), and a private tour of William Burroughs’ old apartment with John Giorno (star of Andy Walhol’s Sleep) and Debbie Harry, for $1,600.
The real entertainment of the night was the awards ceremony, following the auction. William Powhida and his personified alter ego (read: hired actor) were present to host the awards and cause massive disturbances, respectively. Jerry Saltz presented the namesake Jerry award, for a critic who exemplified Saltz’s friendliness and wit. Though it is usual for the acceptees to launch into prolonged speeches, it was Saltz who gave the audience a heartfelt explanation of what ‘being him’ entailed. The award eventually went to Hyperallergic’s Hrag Vartanian, who said that he could not accept it and wished to pass it on to the Occupy Wall Street movement. The award for Best Franco – as in James Franco, for being inexplicably everywhere, went to Bill Powers, who was ironically not there that night. The evening ended with the award for Most Powerful in the Art World, as determined by a bench press; Brooklyn curator Jason Andrew took home the honor*, proving his sinew by scaling a metal wall to the second floor balcony. Though I thought I had seen much in the art realm, checking off ‘feats of strength,’ was not something I expected to ever do. The night ended with guests spilling into the adjacent storefronts for late-night Chinese.
* It was brought to the author’s attention that the award for Most Powerful Award went to Ruben San Miguel, but was contested by Jason Andrew. Since it was Jason who climbed the wall, we still think he deserves it.
Elena Soboleva is a gallerist and writer in New York City. Follow her at @elenasoboleva