At one of the round tables at the 20th-anniversary Artist Trust auction Saturday, February 3, The Stranger came up. Claude Zervas, who shows at James Harris Gallery and makes affecting homages to landforms using lights and their wires, said he had a bone to pick with Dan Savage.
Back when Savage encouraged liberals to run for Republican Party offices in order to raise hell, Zervas enlisted in the cause. He ran, unchallenged, for precinct committee officer for his neighborhood in the Central District. Then Savage's project fizzled, and Zervas was left to serve for two years.
"I didn't even know what I was supposed to do," Zervas says. "I was waiting for Dan to be the Pied Piper, and lead me to... something. But I did nothing. I got a lot of junk mail from the Republican Party and a lot of invitations to go to conventions, but I kept missing them; I kept meaning to go, and then I'd have stuff to do."
The artist Jeffry Mitchell, who also shows at James Harris and makes intense and endearing ceramics, also had a bone to pick, with Artist Trust. He had donated 10 white ceramic wall sconces bearing his signature idiosyncratic animals and the word "yes" in capital letters. They were to die for, worth every bit of the already cut-rate $1,000 suggested price—but Artist Trust mishandled and broke two of them. As for the other eight, for safety's sake, one was displayed lying on its back on a shelf and the others were stuffed in a box on the floor, so they looked terrible to potential buyers. The remaining eight did sell, but for a criminal $500 each.
Even the renowned video artist Gary Hill, who lives in Seattle but shows at Donald Young in Chicago, had some complaining to do. (He also had a lot of white frizzy hair that he pulled back into a ponytail.) The non-art segment of the audience was talking over him, so he told them to shut up.
"I'm here to raise money," he declared. Then he announced he was donating $10,000 to Artist Trust to fund grants like the one he got from Artist Trust in the '80s, and he challenged the audience to match him. The auctioneer, whose sturdy blond hairdo and shiny suit made her look like a pile of glowing gold under the lights, didn't go for the big money, though. She asked for smaller bids, until Artist Trust president Fidelma McGinn went up onstage and whispered something in the auctioneer's ear.
Clearly, Hill had inside information about his public gamble. The auctioneer changed tacks and asked for $10,000 bids outright, and—hey! Number 222 shot up. "Blessings abound!" said the auctioneer. Number 131 shot up. Raucous applause.
And then faster than you could say, "I'll have another pomegranate vodka energy drink," a painting of a chocolate glazed doughnut was up for sale.
A new In/Visible podcast is available every Wednesday at www.thestranger.com/visualart.