Saturday night saw the art space Life in Deep Ellum transformed into a stomping ground for Art Conspiracy‘s annual seed auction. The Dallas-based non-profit works to support community-based arts initiatives throughout the city.
Art Conspiracy has held curated auctions similar to last Saturday’s in anticipation of a larger open fundraiser auction in the fall. Their spring event functions as a way to generate buzz and early donations and to announce who will receive their financial backing through the rest of 2014. Every year organizers choose an artistic theme and a small group of artists whose work will be auctioned off at the event. This year, artists were tasked with taking a random household object and making a piece inspired by that object, redefining it, and reconstructing a new meaning.
Erica Fellicella, executive director of Art Conspiracy, explains that the executive team chooses each year’s theme democratically. “This year was probably my favorite because it wasn’t any one particular person’s idea. It was a collaboration of a bunch and we worked it together and we developed it.”
After a period to work on their individual projects, the artists then put them up to auction at the yearly seed event. The theme was present in the event title, WRECKED, and the decor of the auction room, with art hanging off walls made from a collage of recycled plywood. The elements gave the wide array of photographs, sculptures, and paintings a sense of being rediscovered and at the same time wholly brand new. The casual lighting, well stocked bar, and live musical performances helped disperse the usual feeling of formality that comes with most art auctions. The room filled quickly as the first musical guest of the night, Ronnie Hart, took the stage.
This was the third Art Con for abstract photographer Kurt Griesbach, who was nervously anticipating his piece’s auction. When asked about his expectations he said, “I hope somebody wants it. I hope somebody wants it and puts it on their wall and likes it for many, many years. That would be a good expectation.” Using the word “books,” Kurt contributed a long exposure photo of Dallas construction, divided into parts. The description read, “Nothing is ever finished, everything becomes something new.”
This was Jessie Martinez’s third Art Con as well and she spoke about how every year she enjoys seeing the next challenges. Originally from California, she is a University of Dallas graduate student, and works primarily in printmaking, silkscreen, and lithography. Her item was “jewelry box” and when looking at her own jewelry box, she found nothing but friendship bracelets. Jessie used that as a jumping-off point, incorporating the idea of memories and friendships. Using clothing from different sources, she chose to weave lives and stories together that otherwise would not have connected. This year’s theme allowed Jessie to consider deconstructing and rebuilding something new — a challenge she regularly faces in her own art.
The community behind Art Conspiracy has many supporters who have transitioned from volunteers to contributing artists through the years. Rick Fontenot joined the executive team last year after many years of volunteering. He works as the construction coordinator, where he helps build the walls for the auctions and other elements of Art Con, and this year, he contributed to the auction for the first time. A general contractor, Rick builds to get involved with design and looks at his contribution to Art Con as helping create the vision. “It’s not just executing for others. I get a lot of design input — not just on the piece but on the walls and the concept of the show.” With the word “staircase”, Rick originally wanted to create a pristine staircase using concrete, but the vision of WRECKED helped him transform his piece “Bridging the Gap.” The piece shows a family crawling across a shattered concrete staircase towards a room with blue light, which Rick attributes to the thought of doing whatever it takes to get to the next level. When asked if he had any expectations for his piece, Rick laughed. “I just hope it sells. I don’t want my wife to have to be the sole bidder.”
The first auction got underway around 8 pm. The room was packed and people crowded around the auctioneers, Rob McCollum and Robb Shearer, as they stood on step ladders and pointed to the items hung along a side of room. The auction, they explained, was made to be affordable, and as such each piece would start at $50. Despite the promisingly low opening bid, the audience was slow at first, and was goaded with reminders that all the money would go to this year’s beneficiaries, so there was nothing to lose in the long run. By the third piece the room saw its first $100 dollar bid. The auctioneers cheered and invited the audience to cheer with them every $100 benchmark. Soon after that the room saw its first $500 bid, and the whole room went wild. The rest of the auction continued with that same level of excitement as pieces easily passed the $100 price range and the auctioneers joked and laughed with the crowd as they profiled each piece.
When the first auction ended, members of the executive team filed on stage to announce Art Con X’s lucky beneficiary — the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico, an organization dedicated to bringing awareness of folklorico as an educational dance form. As principal dancers for the organization, Ruben Soto and Giovanna Prado explained the artistry that goes behind the dances they perform. “It’s not just where you can just teach a dance. You have to understand the dance, the purpose behind the dance, the costume that goes with the dance. It has to have its pieces fit together,” Ruben said, while Giovanna added, “It tells a story.” Executive director, Lisa Mesa-Rogers expressed how excited and honored she was to have the organization named the beneficiary as well.
Local band French 75 took the stage next, headed by Art Conspiracy’s own Director of Marketing, Jencey Keeton, before the second auction began at 9:25. This time, the crowd flocked towards the right side of the room where the second group of items was backlit in red light. As the auctioneers introduced each piece, the pace of the bidding quickly shot past the last auction. One piece that utilized the pieces of an antique Playboy collection sold for a fair amount but the highest bid ended the night — a sculpture by Hobbe Vincent, entitled “I wish I were a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas,” that sold for $800.
For artists, especially first-time contributors like Jill Foltz, watching the auction was terrifying. “It’s weird to put yourself out there and see a part of yourself be bid on.” But she added, “it’s good to be a part of the cause.” As a regular contributor to Art Con events, Erica understands an artist’s perspective at events like this. “It’s nerve-wracking. I’ll look across the room and I’ll see one artist and they always look a little timid when their piece is up in the air or projected on the wall. It’s an energy, it’s an excitement. There’s something about watching somebody’s hand across the room go up for your particular piece. As artists we’re used to stuff being on a wall quietly and people walking to a counter to talk to somebody about buying it. To see the active process, it’s a totally different world.”
With the word “vanity”, Jill took her inspiration from the Baroque tradition of “vanitas” paintings, relating to the inability to take items beyond the threshold of death. In talking about her art, she finds inspiration from growing up in Lubbock, where she lived until she was three. Upon her return to Lubbock for college and graduate school, she realized that she was claustrophobic everywhere else and had missed the flat expanse of land. “A lot of my work deals with the fear of the ocean and of islands and things like that where I feel trapped. I would say the sense of place is the biggest thing about my art. And also a sense of safety.” Although Jill holds a graduate degree in finance and a recently completed doctorate in aesthetic studies, her background in various disciplines doesn’t necessarily play a role in her art: “Maya Lin is an architect and also designed the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial but she says she’s an architect separate from her art and I think that might be the case for me as well.”
While this year most artists at WRECKED chose to work alone, Pamela and Dylan Dowdy of Dowdy Studio worked as a husband and wife team to create a finger gun coat rack out of reclaimed wood, based on the item “gun rack.” “We were [always] working as a team naturally. We were kind of working independently…but we were collaborating so much,” Pamela says. “I prefer it. As an artist, you always second-guess yourself and also you need someone to bounce your ideas off of to make them better. That’s who we are for each other as a team.” This isn’t their first time at Art Con but Pamela still gets nervous before the auction. “You’re like the kid waiting for your birthday party to start, banging on the window like, ‘Where are my friends?’”
Devyn Gaudet of Fort Worth, has worked with Art Con as a volunteer and had a chance to debut her art at Art Conspiracy for the first time at WRECKED. She agrees that it was nerve-wracking to be a part of an auction, but thought her piece — a four-image polaroid transfer grid of a fan outside — did pretty well. “As an artist you’re very vulnerable with your work and so to sit there and let it be auctioned off for a certain amount — you just have to know that whatever amount it is, it’s for a good cause.” She added, “It got auctioned for more than the $50 so that’s nice…My mom said she would’ve come and bid on my piece if I wanted her to, but I felt like that’d be cheating so I didn’t.”
The total amount raised over the course of the night has yet to be announced, but the event saw approximately 700 attendees and higher closing bids, with several pieces landing at or around $400. In the aftermath of WRECKED, Erica said, “The beauty of tonight is that we took it and let the artists do whatever they wanted and the crowd responded in a beautiful way.” She continued, “There is such a sense of community, collaborative effort, and connectivity. To be an artist with this organization is to be part of something. Not just giving your work to something but to actually enjoy and join a group and community that gets to do something as a collective whole.”
The sentiment was supported by many people at WRECKED, both organizers and bidders alike. The Master of Ceremonies, Mark Schectman, has been helping Art Conspiracy for the past three years. “This is my favorite cause every year,” he says, citing the organization’s dedication to the community and the quality of the work being presented. “[It’s] lots of really good work,” he added smiling and looking around the room, “these artists are so incredibly creative.” Art Conspiracy’s Vice President on the Board of Directors Cat Hough also touched on how central the idea of supporting the community is to the organization. In her words, events like Wrecked are not designed to be about one particular part of the artistic spectrum: “It’s not just for music people, it’s not just for art people… it’s everyone.”