Getting Sauza-ed

Notes from the (corporate-sponsored) underground

 The Rules

On June 30, Jody Hughes won a Sauza "Stay Pure" Award in the "Performing Arts" category. Jody is a tall, gawky guy with hair that looks as though he dyed it with black shoe polish. His performances involve dressing in tight costumes and flailing around with a microphone. Before the awards ceremony at DiverseWorks, organizers issued a press release in which Jody explained his work:

"Basically, I am a make-believe rock star. There are rules to movement on stage, dress, talk, manner for being a rock star. I use those. The only difference between me and other rock stars is, I am a real person."

Joel Peter Johnson

Model Behavior

Tamarie Cooper won the Stay Pure fashion award. Her friend Jason Nodler -- the head of Infernal Bridegroom Productions, and himself the winner of the theater award -- had nominated her on a lark. Tamarie isn't a fashion designer. She's a well-dressed actress, a thrift-store shopper with a flair for the weird, and her Tamalalia productions often include fashion shows drawn from her wild wardrobe. Apparently that was enough for the heads of various arts organizations, who voted for her instead of the honest-to-God designers on the ballot.

Tamarie threw herself into the role. Asked whether she'd like to bring models or show photos of her work, Tamarie decisively chose models. The afternoon before the party, she rounded up four friends, all closer to Tamarie's size (8 on top, 12 on bottom) than to Kate Moss's.

You are models, Tamarie informed them, and models drink champagne. So they drank.

Fashion designers are supposed to dress their models. Tamarie rifled her own closet for the perfect outfits. Amy wore what Tamarie calls a "blue Indian belly dancer's skirt" with an open-necked top; Tiffany, a chartreuse dress from the '60s. Despite the heat, Tamarie assigned Jodie a Lady Bird-ish dress made of black wool.

For Rebecca, Tamarie matched a little red velvet top with a pair of leopard hot pants. Amy wanted to add a red plush cowboy hat because it made her shaved head look less extreme, and Tamarie said fine. But for most of the outfits, the accessory pièce de résistance was a pseudo-price tag, a little blue square of paper stapled to the cloth, with the item's thrift-store price proclaimed in crayon, Value Village-style. Tamarie wore a slinky Jessica Rabbit-ish evening gown; its tag said $1.90.

What else? How else to do this thing right?

Oh, yes: Models snort powder. Tamarie produced Pixie Sticks.

The Uncomfortable Burden of the Alternative Art Space

DiverseWorks is usually described as an "alternative art space." Alternative art spaces (like alternative newspapers or alternative rock stations) are surprisingly standardized; they belong to a recognizable genre with its own rules. Most obviously, they often present works too shocking to appear anywhere else. They host plays whose titles can't be printed in a daily newspaper, and exhibit sculptures and paintings that make you wince. You might recognize the objects' artistic merits, but you do not yearn to display them in your own living room, next to the framed snapshots of your niece.

Alternative art spaces are, in short, in love with the new, and the new is sometimes recognizable precisely because it's shocking or puzzling; it's not something we already understand. At a DiverseWorks show, an artist would rather upset someone's stomach than bore him, would rather his audience think "huh?" or "ugh" than "how nice."

You May Already Be a Winner!

DiverseWorks's regular crowd is composed of the kind of hipsters who hate the word "hipster," and they wear black, or sleek, chic minimalist outfits, or bizarre ensembles whose components were bought at thrift stores. They know better than to look at a sculpture made of trash bags and ask, "You call that art?" Instead, they nod and crinkle their foreheads in thought. If modern life is trashy, then modern art must be trashy, too.

At 5:45 p.m. on Friday, before the party, DiverseWorks offered a photo op: As part of the Stay Pure awards, Sauza Tequila was making a $5,000 donation to DiverseWorks. The organization would receive a giant cardboard check, the kind you see clutched by lottery winners.

A photo op and a giant cardboard check? At DiverseWorks?

It seemed like an especially complicated piece of performance art, a moment that makes you think, simultaneously, "ugh," "huh?" and "how nice." Informed of the event, the reporter nodded and crinkled her forehead.

Their Quotation Marks, Not Mine

From the Sauza press release announcing the event:

"Sauza 'Stay Pure' Awards Celebrate Artists who have 'Stayed Pure' to their Artistic Visions."

Their Mothers Will Be Proud

The rules for covering an awards ceremony dictate that the reporter will list the winners, even if the list alone makes for dull reading.

The winners of the Sauza Stay Pure Awards were: Todd Frazier (music); Tamarie Cooper (fashion); Andrea Grover (film/video); Liz Belile (literature); Perry House (visual arts); Jason Nodler (theater); Jody Hughes (performing arts); Jane Weiner (dance); Christina Giannelli (also for dance); and Carlos Jimenez (architecture).

The Thingness of the Thing, Part I

"The Munchie Munchie," the sculpture show that occupies DiverseWorks's big main gallery, is the kind that dares you to ask, "You call that art?"

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