I went to the Hunting Art Prize event last night as a "finalist". I was expecting the worst, having been warned about the baloney sandwiches and goofy name tags artists were asked to eat and wear (respectively) last year, but it wasn’t that bad. Aside from being asked to park in the furthest level of the parking garage, we artists were allowed to eat the same things as everybody else. The goofy nametags actually made it easier to see who was who, since I have never met most of the hundred and a half other finalists.
We were asked to stand somewhere near our work, looking casual, but alert for possible sales, which was brutal. It’s what I do at openings, but since most galleries are relatively small, the artist merely has to be there somewhere, talking to people he wants to talk to, but available to talk to people (with charm and intelligence, of course) whom his dealer wants him to talk to. This was much more hands-on, a potentially humiliating cross between a dog show and a used-car lot. In the spirit of the event, I crafted a funny, non-threatening intro line by which I could introduce myself to people who stopped in front of my painting, and set about hawking my ware but had no luck.
Then there were the toga-clad trumpeters at the entrance, and the valets dressed as Buck-Rogers air hostesses. And the mounds of (quite tasty, actually) macaroni and cheese.
Gauche? Misguided? Bizarre? Grotesque? All are words that come to mind, but strangely, I wanted more, not less. Never forget that cosmopolitan sophistication, here in Texas, is a fool’s game. We’re far better at idiosyncratic kitsch, fueled by oil money. Name your house Rienzi. Piece together fragments of an ancient Byzantine fresco in a futuristic glass framework. Paint every building in your neighborhood a peculiar soft gray. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth.
Next year, rather than another jury, Richard Hunting, chairman of Hunting PLC, should select the winner personally; drawn in a cart by seven white bulls, he will fire a laser wand through a series of crystal prisms to illuminate the chosen work. The artist will receive a golden belt buckle, and then lose it the same evening in a binge of celebratory drinking. That would be something to talk about.
also by Bill Davenport
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