The only thing I had planned for Saturday was the attendance of a friend’s wedding. That somehow led to my going to the opening of a solo art show that I can most simply describe as “colorful.” I don’t go to many art shows, but if it was any indication of how they tend to go, I might have to make a note to start seeing more.
A full record of the events as I can disjointedly recall are below.
The wedding was for Jonathan(who nowadays almost never plays World of Warcraft). While everyone was standing around prior to the ceremony proper someone we knew named Nick Meriwether stopped by to say “hi” to Jon. Nick was a Painting major while I was finishing up my Photography degree, and he always had a strange collection of illustrations and concept pieces. The one I remember most distinctly was a small cassette player attached to a clapper. Clapping would cause the cassette player to turn on, but the recording on the tape was of someone clapping twice, which would trigger the clapper again, turning the cassette player off. Total mind screw.
Nick was sporting a nice sweater and a ratty-looking beard. I asked him about things in general and he mentioned he’d stopped working at Domy and was working on some sculptural pieces. He also said he wasn’t going to be able to stay long as he had to get ready for his first solo show later that night. I hadn’t seen any of his work in years, so I inquired about the specifics of the show and got the time and location. Soon after he left.
The wedding proceeded nicely. Jon and I both work on campus so we see and talk to each other a lot. This was the first wedding of a friend I’d attended since 2001, and I admit to getting a little choked up during the ceremony just from knowing him so well and knowing how important the moment was for his life as a whole. After the main ceremony I talked with both people I knew and people I didn’t know at all. While at a table of people I knew someone(Ryan) had the idea to have all of us, as we departed, ask why the DJ for the event played the “Men in Black” theme. As we left and said our goodbyes to Jon the first person brought it up and Jon was confused and laughed it off. When the second person mentioned it Jon said, “OK, this has to be some sort of conspiracy.” And even though I was in the very back, not saying a word, Jon’s wife, Alyssa, pointed to me and said, “It was you.” She hasn’t known me very long but she apparently knew me well enough to assume that only someone like me would come up with such a scheme.
After the wedding I stopped by my apartment for a bit to warm up and change clothes. Then, off to The Joanna Gallery for Nick’s opening.
When I arrived there weren’t many people around. The Joanna Gallery is a house that has had its primary living room area converted into a gallery space. A guy played covers of various pop songs on an electric keyboard. A small clump of people were standing on the porch and a few others milled about inside. I noticed immediately that Nick was now missing his beard. I asked about it and he pointed to a small peg board rack in the back of the main space that had a few items for sale. One was a “beard kit,” which included a vial of adhesive and clippings from Nick’s beard. Another item was some of those Calvin-peeing-on-something stickers, though the target of the urine was the name Nick Meriwether. There were also vials of clown tears. I asked Nick about them and he said that his grandfather was a professional clown. He even produced a small, faded picture showing a very young Nick in front of a dressed-up clown. Nick had apparently had his grandfather shed a couple of tears into a glass, diluted it, then split it into the little vials that were now for sale. “MADE IN USA,” proclaimed a label on the items.
After I had been there about ten or fifteen minutes Nick walked out of the kitchen with a tiny round cake in his hand and a pointy party hat on. It had chocolate frosting and large number-shaped candles arranged into the number 1000 poorly fit on top. “The next person we don’t know who walks in is our 1000th visitor,” he explained. He handed out champagne party popper fireworks, party whistles, and more pointy hats.
“What if the next person is the pizza guy?” the gallery owner asked.
“We do it anyway,” Nick replied. We waited around and watched. Nick, who was near the door, said, “It’s the pizza guy. Everyone get ready. When he walks up everyone needs to shout, ‘There he is!'” So the Dominoes guy walked up to the front door, everyone shouted the words, the keyboardist fired up a lively tune, champagne poppers and whistles went off, and Nick and another couple of guys marched outside.
The pizza guy really didn’t want to be there. He just wanted to be paid and leave, and couldn’t seem to understand what was going on, even as Nick explained it to him. Nick was, however, able to get a Polaroid of the very uncomfortable-looking pizza guy holding a tiny 1000 cake. Nick took the picture inside and stuck it in a plaque I hadn’t noticed that was on the wall. Its shimmering metal plate was etched with the phrase, “Our 1000th Visitor.”
Nick took a slice from among the pizza and added it to what became everyone’s favorite piece. It was what looked like a green hill on the top of which was a bit of black cloth shaped like a robe with a small skull face looking toward the viewer. There was a little motor Nick had set up inside the hill with a turning piston attached to the figure’s waist area. When turned on it moved up and down, making it look like the figure was humping whatever was beneath it. In this case it was a slice of cheese pizza. The program guide for the gallery named it, “REAPER HUMPING PIZZA.” Nick explained that he recalled an instructor in school telling him that most works of art were about Love, Death, Sex, Food and Nature. So he decided to combine them all.
All of his pieces were an absurdist spin on subjects that he thought people took too seriously in art. The flier for his opening loudly proclaimed that it was an art show and thus there would be wine and cheese. His representation of as much were some plastic cups half filled with wine with a cheese stick hanging out. Also, in the back, he had a crock pot full of Velveeta cheese with a cup of wine poured in.
He had a drawing that he’d made by attaching Sharpies to his beard and dragging them over a piece of paper several times. He also had “collaborative art,” which was a section of wall where he and someone else had thrown knives and throwing stars at the wall until they stuck. There was a spiral made of shaving cream on a couple of walls, and the “Shroud of Groucho,” which was a white length of cloth with greasepaint eyebrows and mustache.
A lot of people showed up. A lot. Typically while I was talking to someone another person or group of people would either come up and run off with the person, or start talking to me enough that the other person would just wander off. I met a lot of people that way, but never actually got to know anyone particularly well. I had an ongoing conversation with a girl named Amy about the creative process and technique that touched on such areas as inspiration, productivity, regional influences and the motivation to fill an unfilled creative niche in one’s immediate surroundings. The conversation, however, had frequent gaps of about twenty to forty minutes as one of us would suddenly get distracted, but each time we ran into each other again we would pick up the topics almost mid-sentence where they were left off. Eventually I just didn’t see her anymore, as I think she left with a new group. That seemed to be par for the night.
I even saw a professor from the University of Houston. He is part of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, the department I’m a part of. He recognized me and he asked what was going on with the show, and I tried to briefly explain most of the pieces. He and the people he was with glanced around a few moments and then left. At some point a guy wearing a green military jacket with a US flag on its sleeve came in and started violently throwing the knives from the collaboration wall back at the wall. He wasn’t there long but he seemed to have already been drinking heavily. Eventually a skinny woman came in and set a huge backpack in the corner near the keyboardist. The flag guy went to her and they took out guitars and started tuning them. The woman’s was an acoustic and the guy’s had a very long neck and small, triangular body. They started strumming songs and wailing along with them, not actually really singing anything. Some time later the woman got out a neck-mounted harmonica and added that to their noise pollution. I asked Nick who they were and he had no idea. His only comment was something like “How audacious do you have to be to bring instruments to someone’s show and just start playing.”
One time I found Nick holding a manila envelope. He opened it up and took out a calendar that made people laugh. When I looked at it I found that it was titled “Girls with Corpses Magazine – 2009 Calendar.” Its cover depicted a smiling woman in a swimsuit standing in a swimming pool holding a dessicated corpse. My initial response was WHAT, followed by, “There is a Girls with Corpses magazine?” followed by “Girls with Corpses magazine makes a calendar?” I borrowed it from Nick to show to some other people I was talking to, and eventually just tried to show it to everyone because it was so messed up. All of the pictures had scantily-clad women near or holding onto emaciated corpses. Several days for each month had notes like “eat your children day.” The general consensus was that it was funny and bizarre and Nick was really good at finding stuff like that.
A guy told everyone to stop throwing knives at the collaboration wall, which I thought was very reasonable as it was very near people lined up to use the bathroom and the average blood alcohol level was rising by the minute. He then took a knife and started carving his name into the wall. Someone, predictably, later added the word “SUX” under his name with a red marker or lipstick. All in all I think the collaboration wall was a success.
When the provided keg eventually went dry the crowd began to thin. People even started drinking the plastic cups of wine with the cheese sticks inside. It wasn’t terribly late at that point(only around 10:50), but I started to feel very tired from walking around and shouting at people so much. Shouting being the only way to converse with someone a few feet away due to the average noise level. Toward the end most of the remaining people were standing on the back porch smoking and talking. The rest milled about the main gallery space trying to decide on which bar to visit. As I finally left the guitar lady was playing long, wailing notes on her harmonica as she strummed on the keyboard, sounds which followed me as I walked out to my vehicle to depart. It seemed an odd, if fitting end for the night.