Ever wanted to hang an extra-large neon-coloured print of Madonna’s 1980s head in your living room but couldn’t even afford the thought of such an act? Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’s ArtAttack! makes dreams like this possible. Once a year, the specially curated auction (and, let’s face it, wild and messy art party) brings affordable paintings, photographs, sculptures and artifacts to the people, often at very affordable prices.
Artist Chris Ironside has served as the event’s curatorial advisor for the last three years. Working with a rotating team (which this year includes Alex McLeod, April Hickox, G N’ S Projects and Suzanne Carte), he’s assembled 30 works by local artists, including paintings, photographs, collages, sculptures and textiles. This year will also see the Cabaret space dressed up to resemble Warhol’s Factory, complete with interactive performances and food courtesy of the bearded boys of west-end hotspot Parts & Labour. No word on whether artistic director Brendan Healy will be dropping his pants for cash again, but one can hope.
The auction has been a Buddies mainstay since 1981. Conceived in equal parts as fundraising event and debaucherous party, the evening is nothing like the stiff black-tie events that many other organizations throw. Founding artistic director Sky Gilbert co-hosted many of the early events (typically as his drag alter-ego, Jane), though he admits the booze-addled evenings left his memories fuzzy.
“I was always a very bad auctioneer,” he says. “I think I ended up doing a lot of demonstrating of products and just being glamorous, as was Jane’s wont. Jack Layton and Olivia Chow were there for several years, and Jack was a very good sport, modelling a pair of chaps and a harness we had on offer once. All the boys loved him!”
Actor and director Clinton Walker got his start as an intern at Buddies in the 1980s at the tender age of 19. Tasked with doing “whatever needed to be done,” he found himself not only planning, but also modelling in the show his first year on the job.
“The vibe of the auction was very scrappy,” Walker recalls. “There was a great sense of anticipation that we were creating something really new and exciting. I had to model a full leather body harness. I was nervous I was way too skinny to fill it out. But thanks to the endless supply of free beer, I strapped it on and chucked myself down the catwalk. It was so liberating and was one of the many experiences I had at Buddies that helped me achieve a greater sense of personal courage and permission to celebrate my sexuality.”
Former Buddies publicist Jonathan Da Silva worked on the event through the 1990s, starting in the company’s old space on George Street. Usually staged in November or December, the evening took a variety of forms, including the XXX auction and Sexy Santa.
“Everything that was done at Buddies had a decidedly queer bent,” Da Silva says. “It was operated in the early years by a committee that also ran the Dungeon parties [the controversial SM soirées that sparked a spat with Toronto Sun columnist Christina Blizzard, who tried to have the company’s funding yanked]. The committee would bring in donations through their friends, like haircuts, massages and home porn video services. There were lots of donations from sex shops across the city. There was always art, too, but mostly erotic.”
While both the event’s profile and its prices have shot up over the years, ArtAttack! maintains its community spirit, offering a variety of options for the less-moneyed. The silent auction features such affordable items as pole-dance lessons from Kitty Neptune, beauty essentials by MAC Cosmetics, bathhouse passes, gym memberships and art books.
Now in its third year, relentless provocateur Keith Cole’s Rock Hudson Memorial Tuck Shop offers goodies starting at $10. “He has a bad reputation now, but I still love Rock Hudson,” Cole says. “The tuck shop is named in his honour because he went slightly off the designated area. The auction is what the big deal is all about, but the tuck shop steals a bit of the limelight by being on the fringe.”
The tiny Christmas-light-speckled cave, which fits a maximum of five people at a time, provides an alternative to the glitzy main event. It often features works by emerging artists, thereby providing a great opportunity to snatch up early pieces by potential future art stars.
“I go to a lot of auctions and I find the whole process exciting, but I can never afford the prices,” Cole says. “The tuck shop was born of that necessity. People want to participate but lack the funds, and the tuck shop allows them to find great affordable items. You could walk away with three or four original works of art for less than $100. Absolutely no stealing, though. Even I don’t do that anymore.”