“When art critics get together they talk about Form and Structure and Meaning. When artists get together they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine.” -Pablo Picasso
A few years ago if I said the word “art” it might as well have rolled off my tongue as a curse. Art as I viewed it was a popularity contest amongst people who really had no idea what they were making or why. It seemed as though their intention was to stand back and when you said “I don’t get it,” they could turn up their nose and snidely reply “oh really…” This was my concept of any gallery, featuring any work of art, until I happened upon a recent First Friday event known as Sales Gaspillee.
I generally avoided First Friday in Philadelphia because of my preconceptions of what free wine and cheese in an art gallery would be like: boring. I would caution you to not misinterpret me when I say that. I like a calm gallery show from time to time. This is especially true if I’m with someone who I can point out the amount of times I see something phallic or phannic, but I like them on a weekday. Friday’s are the beginning of the weekend and happy hour should be spent with music, beer, friends, and shots.
I was on my second day of what would be a three day alcohol adventure when I got the call from Zero Lives, “Can you cover Sales Gaspillee with us?” My reply of course was a long colorful string of slurred swear words ending in a “of course.”
I paid my tab full of heavy-hitting cocktails, said goodbye to the poet I was discussing Ubi Sunt in early English Literature with, grabbed my camera, and caught a cab. It turned out this particular show was the one year anniversary since its inception last February.
I arrived at a doorway lined with balloons and a red carpet that lead up to the second floor. I could hardly believe this was a Mike Hans event, and the sun was still up! I entered expecting the typical debauchery that accompanies a Hans event, but instead was greeted by the excessively bright house lights. Typically, Sales Gaspillee features two artists, but since this was the anniversary blowout every artist ever to grace the event brought their work. The walls were camouflaged with works of all different sizes, mediums, and subjects, while French rock and roll cover songs softly caressed the air.
Zero stood in the corner with his arms crossed grinning at me, “Not the madness you expected huh?” he said noticing my surprise. It was like he read my mind. As I gazed around, I started to notice that a lot of the art was incredibly vulvic. It seemed that the place still had its normal night out with Mr. Hans feel, in that regard.
The artists were covered in tattoos and piercings, but dressed with a retro flair reminisce of the 1960s or ’70s. They merrily chatted with patrons who wandered in from the streets of Old City. The vibe of the room was like an art gallery from the height of New York’s own cultural revolution. If Andy Warhol walked in I wouldn’t have been surprised, but the event still had a unique modern ambiance weaved in with a splash of old world nostalgia. Instead of wine and cheese everyone had a Rolling Rock, whiskey and tater tots from the hostess.
The whole affair mocked the idea of the art world but at the same time this self-awareness lent some validity to the evening as serious discussions occurred. I found myself talking to one of the artists; he seemed uncomfortable with the whole situation. “They all ask me the same thing,” he said bitterly. “They want to know what I was thinking when I made something, like there is some deeper meaning to drawing my friend emerging from a vagina. I’ll tell you what I was thinking: I was thinking how cool it would be to draw my friend, as an adult, emerging from a vagina. That’s it.” There was no pretext, subtext, or counter-culture point, he made that piece for himself and if no one liked it, he didn’t care one bit. This was a notion I found refreshing and familiar, and a philosophy I apply to my own writing.
These are the artists of Philadelphia; they share the same frankness and blunted honesty as the reputation our city proudly boasts. They also share the same desire to drink, another part of our reputation that we hold in high regard. It wasn’t even midnight and the line between patron and artist blurred as the crowd grew. Mike Hans threw up a celebratory toast, quickly passing out free shots of whiskey to everyone. “To an amazing year, with many more to come!” he shouted as the crowd raised their cups in a cheer.
I became fully engaged at this moment. “Is this the art world?” I thought, “Is this what it’s really like?” Have I been misled by popular notion that art is for skinny pencil necks in suits forcing a funny accent and mocking everyone around them? I decided to consort with Team TD2BD.
I turned around to find Zero engrossed in a conversation with Mike Hans. “It’s all about hard work. I’m not making anything off this event. This is for them, the artists, and my friends. It’s my way of giving back to everyone for the amount of hard work and dedication they put in,” said Mike Hans. Zero nodded. “And that’s the reason everyone keeps coming back…I understand that all too well!” Zero said with a laugh.
Jayne snuck up behind me. “You hear it time and time again,” she said with a smile, leading up to her point, “Art is subjective; it’s what you want it to be. For us, the patrons and the artists that are here tonight, we want to pound shots and drink cheap beers. So just how art is what we want it, so is the venue.”
Those words stuck with me the rest of the night as I snapped photographs and forced my way through the crowd as the event came to a peak. Before I knew it the door man was asking us to leave. The amount of fun and lively conversation carried me through the whole night. I hit the streets feeling like a romantic, imbued with idealistic energy that raged through my veins: wanting to change the world.
The bottom line:
It’s between the two competing concepts that art should be accessible, but still have meaning, that Sales Gaspillee lies. That is what art should do at its basest level: It needs to empower anyone to go out and make a difference. Mike Hans, good sir, you have done it again. I hope to be attending the ten year anniversary of Sales Gaspillee, as well as every one before that, and each year after. It’s yet another brain child of the enigmatic Mr. Hans that does not disappoint if you came for booze, debauchery, and a hint of mocking self-awareness that lends more credence to the seriousness of everyone’s hard work.