Kultur: Wednesday, May 24, 2006
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Guston or your cousin Gus? The Thrift Art Show makes the distinction irrelevant.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Story-fronts

This week’s round-up of cultural happenings goes from the thrift store to The Blue Saloon to hell.

By KULTUR

In the surface, Christopher Blay’s Thrift Art Show looks like just a bunch of innocent fun. Hipsters bidding on art that Blay bought at local thrift stores? That’s hilarious.

But when you really look at what the 38-year-old multi-media artist’s show means, there’s nothing innocuous about it.

Blay assembles the exhibit by visiting area thrift stores and buying art that to his highly trained eye is technically impoverished. He titles his inexpensive finds, attributes them to made-up personages, and sometimes creates elaborate, fictional backstories for certain works or “artists.” He hangs the art, opens his doors to the public for one night, and auctions off the pieces. The pocket change generated by sales goes directly into the following year’s show. Except for 2003, Blay has produced a Thrift Art Show every year for the past six.

In the “real” art world, just about every artwork gets its value from extraneous sources, such as the artist’s reputation, collectors’ tastes, historical context, critical approval, auction houses’ estimates, everything but the tangible materials with which the artwork was actually made. Well, the Thrift Art Show reminds us that whether we’re talking about Picasso’s “Guernica” or a high-school sophomore’s scribblings, we’re still essentially talking about paper and paint, stuff you can buy down the street for a couple of bucks. Maybe once we accept that so-called “great” art isn’t as untouchable as cultural institutions make it seem, we’ll be less afraid to decipher its nuances and, more importantly, separate the good art from the bad on our own. One of the best parts of the Thrift Art Show is watching would-be collectors activate the irony in the room by one-upping one another on the auction floor. The most coinage a Thrift Art piece ever brought at auction is $75. The culprit? A sweet painting of a matador.

Naturally, Blay doesn’t see himself as any sort of savior of the art world. He knows that nobody can redeem or even control a freewheeling juggernaut fueled by its own momentum. He just hopes that by satirizing the machinations that prop up the establishment — celebrity, money, and, often, unearned reverence — he can enlighten the unwashed a little. (Though Blay may not agree with me, he also seems to be saying that we don’t have to be Ivy League-educated millionaires to appreciate visual art. All we need are a pair of working eyeballs and a willingness to be enthralled.)

Blay got the idea for the Thrift Art Show while working for The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. As he scanned the museum’s galleries one day, he noticed how quiet and timid most of the patrons seemed. He didn’t blame them for their fearfulness — he blamed the hundreds of cultural institutions that forever hector us to blindly respect particular splashes of paint on particular canvases by particular human beings.

“We’re talking about how stuffy museums are,” Blay said of the Thrift Art Show’s essence. “They don’t promote art for everyone. Even when museums have great outreach programs, it’s still just for conditioning, for people to look at a piece of art as some elitist thing.”

Ever since the first Thrift Art Show, Blay has endeavored to continually roast the art world, from the museums to the galleries to the auction houses to the whole ball of wax itself. His ultimate goal is to get people “to look at art institutions the way they look at The Man.”

By setting up and knocking down the myriad intermediaries that come between our eyes and works of art — artists’ names, artists’ biographies, monographs, auction houses, media coverage — Blay plans to effect “richer viewing experiences” for all of us.

There will be about 20 pieces of thrift art on view, and bidding will start at an appropriate yet subversive 50 cents.

The gavel swings at 8 p.m. on Saturday at the Metrognome Collective, 1518 E. Lancaster Avenue in Fort Worth. Admission is free. Call 817-810-9777.

That’s Amoré —

or Amoral?

People are calling The Blue Saloon Fort Worth’s first gay feature film. But don’t tell Saloon filmmaker Dave Stovall. He resents the “queer” label for a couple of reasons: 1.) He doesn’t want his indie barroom comedy to be pigeonholed; and 2.) Saloon neither proselytizes nor casts judgment. Let other so-called queer films get across messages or deal with psychosexual “problem” drama. Blue Saloon just wants to have fun.

At 90 swift minutes, the movie, which world-premiered last week as part of the 7th Annual Q Cinema film series, is quite a romp. It’s mainly about Salvatore, an old-fashioned Sicilian who inherits his dead brother’s Texas honkytonk, the titular bar. Flying first class from Italy, Salvatore giddily imagines himself as the new proprietor of a Billy Bob’s Texas-type place. What he doesn’t know is that his brother was gay and that instead of Billy Bob’s, Salvatore is the proud new owner of a fictional version of Fort Worth’s Hot Shots. “Mr. Anderson,” Salvatore says in his fractured English to the deceased’s lawyer. “Why did you not tell to me that my Mario, he owned a bar for the funny boys?!”

As Salvatore struggles with his mild case of homophobia, he eventually befriends some saloon staffers (characters such as Britney Queers, Vogue, and Rocky the Bartender), makes a love connection with a heterosexual babe named Georgina, and even gets chummy with the mayor, who just so happens to be a Saloon regular.

Everything is well done, and the acting is decent. However, you may wish at some points that Stovall had actually gay’d up the flick a little more. When Salvatore gives Saloon staffers mini-statues of the “Leaning” Tower of Pisa as gifts, everyone in the theater not only expects but wants a penis joke. Why the hell not, Dave?

For a first-time writer/director, Stovall is pretty damn impressive. Blue Saloon does interject some serious conflicts into the narrative (gay-bashing high-school hicks, a fire-and-brimstone pastor), but for the most part, the film doesn’t overdo the drama to the point at which the flowing main plot is dragged down. There are big-budget directors in Hollywood who can’t even pull that off.

Shot mostly on the South Side, Blue Saloon has been nearly four years in the making. Funny thing is, the storyline is just as accessible, funny, and relevant now as it was when filming first began.

Maiden Italy

Fort Worthian Don Young loves the work of legendary Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini. Now thanks to him (Young, that is), other Felliniacs from across the globe will soon descend upon Fort Worth for Tuto Fellini, a celebration of all things Fellini that will take place at the The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth throughout August and September. There will be guest speakers, discussion groups, and, yes, tons of Fellini films. Might as well start making reservations at your favorite local Italian restaurants now. ... Local Spoken-Word Poet Laureate Tammy Gomez is seeking literary submissions for 666, an interrogation, to use academic argot, of the cultural-religious-sociological phenomenon known as the sign of the devil. Prose, poetry, fiction, monologues — just about anything is game (except maybe Iron Maiden lyrics, though they might be cool in an un-cool way). The performance will be at the Metrognome on — you guessed it — 6/6/06. E-mail literary-six-six-six@hotmail.com.

Contact Kultur at kultur@fwweekly.com.


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