Ping-Pong, Whiskey and Sparklers: A Night at the Joanna

A little evening ping-pong at the CAMH: The Joanna's Brian Rod (left) and Cody Ledvina
A little evening ping-pong at the CAMH: The Joanna's Brian Rod (left) and Cody Ledvina

When Art Attack showed up at the Joanna Gallery to talk with masterminds Brian Rod and Cody Ledvina about their upcoming Gala, the duo had just finished brainstorming over a game of ping-pong. They have three days to get the space transformed into a deluxe party of all things art (and all things party). The Joanna is known for using their art openings as a way to bring everybody together and have fun. Over the past three years, they have established their own growing community of people who not only appreciate art, but also just appreciate the hell out of hanging out with each other. If you've never been to one before, now's a great time to start. The Joanna Sexy Godz Gala will be going on from 8pm to midnight, this Saturday at 1401 Branard. No tickets, no RSVP necessary, just bring a good attitude, and be ready to get in on some mischievous auctions, raffles and bribes. Free shots upon entry (or so we hear).

Art Attack: So what is going on?

Cody Ledvina: The Joanna Gala.

Brian Rod: It's the first actual party we've thrown in three years.

CL: Openings are parties.

BR: But they're also openings.

CL: This is an excuse to -- the original idea was to make money, to fund shows through about next June. And each show costs roughly $200 to $300 depending on who comes in and what happens, and so we were hoping to raise that money, and we quickly found out that you have to put in money to get money.

BR: And we don't have the money to put in. So we're expecting to kind of break even this time.

CL: And it's also a way of doing something different with the space and thinking about bringing people together in a different way -- which is nice, because that's ultimately what we want to do is bring a community together, obviously to experience new work and good work.

BR: But also to kind of enjoy one another.

AA: Your openings definitely have that feeling. Is there going to be art up at the Gala?

CL: There will be. We're looking to take on a different kind of auction or raffle. You know how every art fundraiser has this "art for sale" or "art for auction" or whatever, so we're having three different kinds.

BR: One is our "Helen Keller Auction" which is we're not going to let people touch the work ...

CL: No, people can touch it -- that's all you can do! You can't talk to it or hear it or listen to it.

AA: Or see it?

CL: Or see it, that's what it is.

AA: It's just like a black box that you put your hand inside?

CL: Yeah, we're going to have fabric over the top.

BR: You'll just have to kind of feel your way through.

AA: Are there special pieces being created for that experience?

CL: Yeah, there's a couple that are going to be sort of interesting.

AA: It sounds like a haunted house.

CL: Yeah, with the grapes ...

AA: Yeah, the peeled grapes.

BR: We're also going to have a bribery auction.

CL: Where you can bribe Brian and I, and not just with money.

BR: But potentially favors for the space or favors for us in particular. If someone wants to do my lawn for a couple weeks, then they can do it.

AA: In exchange for?

CL: A piece of work!

AA: Very professional.

BR: We'll kind of coordinate and decide which bribe is the best.

CL: And then the last is just going to be a general auction -- silent auction kind of thing -- or like they do at Box 13 where you put your ticket in and then you pull out. That's a really good one. That's a good way to do it.

BR: Especially for the more desirable ones.

CL: Yeah, because the other two are just sort of spoofs ...

BR: Gimmicks.


Sculpture by Bill Davenport
Sculpture by Bill Davenport

AA: Is the art you're going to have up -- is it all new or are you doing anything sort of like a retrospective of your three years [as a gallery]?

CL: No, we just asked artists to give us work. We haven't even seen it yet.

BR: But it is kind of a retrospective in the sense that everyone that we've asked to do something for the gala has been a part of the Joanna before and has done work and has shown here. I don't think there's any exception to that right now, except for maybe people like Molly Gochman.

CL: Yeah, there's just a couple people, but they've been a part of the space in some way. And it's going to hinge the show being a sort of -- I'd hate to use the word "happening" -- but you know, experience.

AA: How have you seen things change in terms of this new space coming together. Now that the Joanna -- what was formerly the Joannex -- is now officially the Joanna again. [The space moved from it's original location on Graustark to the new location on Branard last spring]. Have you seen a lot of good change? Has your approach changed with all the extra room?

BR: We've been able to do shows a little bit differently, especially with scale. We've been able to show bigger works.

CL: For some reason -- and this was not planned by any means -- we got the new space, and our first show was a big group show, and that was reminiscent of a typical Joanna show, but then we got two shows, Daniel Heimbinder and Erica Prince, back to back ...

BR: Who were actually able to support the space.

CL: Who were really well-received by people who had money. We've never really --

BR: We've sold a couple pieces before, but --

CL: It's not like we didn't want to sell, but they almost sold out and we were sort of shocked -- we were like "Whoa, that can happen!" And that's not something we're intending on doing for the rest of our time.

BR: But it's nice to know there's that support group. And I think part of it is the space, part of it is having a little bit bigger, little bit nicer area that isn't just -- well it's still just living room -- but more solidly purposed as gallery space than half-living room, half-gallery.

CL: And we're having shows by artists that would not have been able to have shows at the other space. In February, we have Dennis Harper. We get to have much bigger group shows, showing a lot more different kinds of work instead of piling it all on top of each other like we did at the other space. And a bigger dance floor!

AA: That's important! What are some of your favorite memories from having been doing this for three years? Do you have any favorite moments or great stories that always kick you in the pants?

CL: Oh man.


Sexy Frogz? - Graphic for the Joanna's Sexy Godz Gala
Sexy Frogz? - Graphic for the Joanna's Sexy Godz Gala

BR: Well there's one moment that always sticks out in my mind, but it's not even like a favorite moment, it's more like two guys just being really creepy at the old space.

CL: Oh yeah. We were all standing -- it's at the end of the night -- and we're standing in the kitchen and we're all taking shots of whiskey. Oh, we were just a mess. And these two dudes who had just shown up, who had stayed the whole night, were there. And one of them was talking to us, and we asked him where his friend was. And one of us turns around, and the guy is outside, this other friend, and he is rubbing his face on a light bulb.

BR: We used to have hanging lights in the backyard, and he just would grab these light bulbs and rub them against his face.

CL: And it just sort of shut the whole thing down -- all conversation stopped.

BR: What were they doing after that?

CL: They couldn't walk! They couldn't walk straight, and we just sort of had to kick them out. But it was such a strange moment to see what they were doing with our space, with our light bulb, like "Goddamn it!"

AA: You should auction that light bulb off.

BR: It was either a really great performance, or the worst, worst party faux-pas.

CL: Yeah, he probably doesn't remember it.

AA: Woke up the next morning with a light bulb in his bed.

CL: He's got like a big burn on the side of his head. Another good one: Over there at the other space, somebody had decided to bring over a four-month-old dried Christmas tree, and it was still cool out, so we had the fire going on in the back in a small little pit.

BR: I really like it when Toby [Kamps] from the Menil -- well, now the Menil but previously at the CAMH -- came by. After our first show he came by, and he was walking through, and he saw Eric Pearce's piece and we didn't know how much Eric wanted for the piece or if it was even for sale, and he saw our piece as well, and he said "How much for these two?" We were like, "we don't think either of those is for sale." And he immediately kind of criticized us [slams his hands on the table] "Great way to run a gallery!"

CL: "Just get your shit together, come on!"

BR: But I think that's kind of been the theme of our experience.

CL: There's a hundred good stories. There's fights; there's all good things and bad things, but you get to share a lot of good moments and experiences with people. A lot of times, some of my favorite moments are right before an opening, when so much work has gone into all the press, all the anxiety of getting everything all together, and then realizing it will -- or realizing "who cares" -- and sitting down with Rod and having a beer. And also that moment right after everyone leaves and just being "Ahhh!" [sighs] Because you're exhausted.

BR: Especially when they used to go on until two or so. We've gotten really lucky here; we've just stopped them after two kegs have run out -- "Get out. Sorry. Let's go find something else."

CL: That's another thing: Our alcohol intake has increased since moving over here.

AA: More people?

CL: More people. And they just drink more. I don't know what it is.

AA: The economy.

CL: Yeah. They're not going to bars anymore; they're just coming here.

BR: They wait two months to drink. It's really helped out with a lot of people's drinking problems. Except they get really wasted here.

AA: What you're doing seems to be a specific vision of what you like about art and community. Do you see yourselves as doing that in the form of a gallery, or do you see yourselves as being something different -- a different type of institution?

BR: We're definitely a different type of institution, but that institution also includes a gallery. I think it's hard to deny the fact that we're a gallery at this point in time.

CL: I mean, we have a space that has white walls. But our mentality is less about being a gallery because -- and we've discussed this with some other folks in the past -- I think it hinges on the responsibility that we have. We don't have the responsibility to make a lot of money. We don't have the responsibility to a community that gives us money, or to grants that give us money.

BR: Or to any sort of politics involved with doing that. So it becomes very much that we can do whatever we really want here.

CL: Right. So sometimes I feel like we are very much a gallery. Like with Daniel's and Erica's shows, we were a gallery, and we ran as a gallery. We had invoices; we had to do things we'd never done in the past, which galleries do to sustain themselves, which is really good that we learned that. But now we can do things that don't make sense. And we can go back. That's the thing with not having that responsibility; we can shift back and forth.

AA: The initial vision you had when you started this -- have you seen that change or has it pretty much stayed the same?

BR: Pretty much stayed the same.

CL: Our initial vision was a little bit more wide open: We could have a record label, and we could have a printing press.

BR: Doing random things like we do with the gallery.

CL: And those ideas still exist. Those possibilities still exist, but right now we are focused on showing good work from young--or all kinds of--people who are making good work.


AA: What are the parameters of the Gala? Anyone can come? There's going to be a giant tip jar or what?

CL: Anyone can come. Yep, pretty much.

BR: I think we're going to sell raffle tickets. That will be our money maker.

CL: There will be an at-the-door thing.

BR: There will be a doorman and if you want to make a donation, he'll give away raffle tickets to you depending on the size of your donation. But beyond that you will also be able to buy raffle tickets.

CL: And you'll get a free shot upon entry.

AA: Oh wow.

CL: I mean, you get a free shot no matter what. You can just come in here and drink.

BR: Jack Erickson will be the doorman, dressed as a god, giving you a shot.

CL: Sexy gods. Sexy gods.

AA: Just as long as his chest hair is out.

BR: Exactly.

AA: Are you going to keep the ping-pong table up?

BR: We'll put it up at the end of the evening. We're serving desserts, which seems like the cheapest and most effective way to do it.

CL: We can't do a whole menu, so we're going to do just straight desserts. So if you eat beforehand and then come, there will be desserts and beer and drinks.

AA: Are you still going to build a pool for the backyard?

BR: We've got an above-ground pool, but --

CL: It's already setup, but it's at the old Joanna.

AA: So that's still in the future?

CL: That's definitely going to happen. We are going to have some very interesting things for the Gala. I don't know if I can say this, but we're going to have [REDACTED, suckers!] -- that's sort of like the hell of the gods.

BR: It's sort of like a decadent hell, though.

CL: And we're going to have a sparkler sing-a-long. We're going to get a bunch of sparklers, go outside, and have a nice sing-a-long. Hopefully they won't light everything on fire! And there will be more surprises. It will be fun!

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