It’ll be a cold night in Iowa City, buffeted by bumps of chilled thrills in the air, as students return to campus and continue their sloppy migrations to and from downtown bars. But just below the surface—literally, in Public Space One, downstairs in the Jefferson Building (129 E. Washington), Jan. 25—begins the third Annual After xmas Art Auction (AAxAA), a night of red-hot deals and burning art passion, an institution and an absolute must-attend for art aficionados of all shapes, sizes and flavors. According to John Engelbrecht, the Director of PS1 and its new second site PSZ, “The PS1 art auction started as a small artwork-based fundraiser in January of 2010. The first auction was composed of artwork gathered by Caleb Engstrom, pieces he had people send from all over the country to support the gallery exhibitions that had just started the February prior at Public Space One.” This auction, according to Engelbrecht, “was the first step in an ongoing process of making our noncommercial gallery sustainable throughout the year.”
The nature of the event aims to preserve the spirit of a group show while incorporating the auction format. “The art in the art auction, unlike most of what we normally show, is essentially presented to be viewed as a commodity,” Engelbrecht explains, “a commodity that artists have lent to us to sell to others so that we don’t have to do that on a regular basis. We hope we make this transaction interesting enough that the whole process is more entertaining, enlightening and/or educational than shopping for a TV at Best Buy; but, in the end the show is really about seeing work, finding something that you wouldn’t mind having in your life a little more and supporting our spaceby taking it home.”
Items in this show run the gamut, ranging from more traditional works such as paintings, prints, sculptures, light fixtures and books, to pieces a bit more participatory, some that push, bend and even sneak around the very notions of how an art show usually works. “I am excited for a couple pieces so far,” John says. “There is a piece by Josh Dumas, ‘JOSHUA DUMAS’ VOICE,’ where the winning bidder shall receive a recording, 30 long minutes, of
Joshua Dumas’ voice reading/speaking/singing the text of their choice. I’ve heard his voice so can speak to the exquisiteness of this offering.” “I’m interested in participants really being provoked,” he continues, “Sometimes this takes the form of strange items for sale; the name of the show, for instance … last year, unfortunately, perhaps, the money spoke and the show was named Rindjob [Tyler Luetkehans, a local artist, won that honor] … while I’m not
into that title, I do like that forfeit of control and level of audience participation.” Past auctions have also offered such art as a “drunken tirade” from John Engelbrecht himself, purchased by your humble correspondent in a $60
bidding war victory that ended in a predictably beautiful disaster.
As the annual auction has morphed over the years, the local and emerging artist component has increased. “It has become a great opportunity—or excuse—for people to get local work that isn’t often presented in a consumable form, especially within our noncommercial circles,” Engelbrecht says. That means high quality art from artists in Iowa City or with some connection to it. It also means that the art is affordable, something near and dear to the ethos of PS1.
Alongside the auction, there will be a week’s worth of exciting events representing all walks of art life in Iowa City. And, to answer the best question not everyone knows to ask, yes: the art opening will have pancakes. “YES!,” Engelbrecht says excitedly, a sweet syrup of thrills rising behind his eyes. “The pancakes will be back the night of the opening Jan. 25, 6-8 p.m. We are hoping to have local video art collective Space Camp come and lend their expertise in making them, and will attempt to build an event around the idea of “Spacecakes” … there will also be a Seagull Society open-mic storytelling event that evening. It should be a good kick off, with lots of other events happening throughout the week, including a family friendly hoedown with local, old time music players!”Also initiating the week’s festivities is HELL-Ø-SCAPES, an auction hosted by your humble ARTicle correspondent, which
Engelbrecht says, “begins our January auction fever in an alternate style with an aweinspiring installation of defunct and poetically painted electronics at our sister space, PSZ. I hear there will be cake for Art’s Birthday on Jan. 17 (when HELL-Ø-SCAPES opens) and a Sharpless auctioneer at the closing on Jan. 24. I am looking forward to the happening!”
AAxAA is, like all gallery shows at PS1, free and open to the public from Jan. 25 through Feb. 1. At the AAxAA, silent bid sheets are placed next to items, giving patrons the chance to outbid one another in the hopes of taking home fantastic top-level art at thrift store floor values. When asked about some of his favorite memories from auctions past, John’s immediately questions, “in addition to the usual intense, exciting and frantic endings
that have characterized the AAxAA so far?”
When it’s all said and done, the real auction winners are the patrons of the arts in Iowa City whose fighting spirit and sharing nature make this happen. Engelbrecht elaborates on his auction memories, saying, “What I do
remember mostly about past auctions is the overwhelming amount of support we are given in the form of artists donating quality work for our future well-being and people showing up to participate in the auction. The auction is one of the annual events we have, along with others such as the Works-in-Progress festival, where the generosity and participation of this community are humbling and make me pause for reflection. The auction has always felt
positive and as I look back, this is it’s most important aspect, the continued vote of confidence for the brand of art we present by our ever-expanding community and the good folks who find themselves in Iowa City.”
Russell Jaffe is the editor of Strange Cage poetry press.