Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Review: Imitation of Crisp: A Happening in the Profession of Being

Posted by Beau
Culturally forward queers!  Living Art! Bears, cubs, and voyeurs! And a rousing according rendition of “The Masochism Tango”.  It was this and more at “Imitation of Crisp: A Happening in the Profession of Being” last night at the Envoy Enterprises artist space on New York’s Lower East Side.
Read all about it after the break.
After some general handwringing yesterday, I followed Father Tony’s advice, “Go!  No need to fear it!” and attended the first part of “Imitation of Crisp: A Happening in the Profession of Being”.  The event was described as, “…a happening celebrating Quentin Crisp’s life in the profession of being and introduces F.A.G. brethren to the public at large.  F.A.G. is a new collective of creative artists, organized by Richard Weaver and Devin Elijah, dedicated to brash individualism in art and forward thinking in what it is and what it means to be a modern day queer in American culture, particularly in New York City.”

From the information on Facebook and the written description at the event, the idea was a celebration of Quentin Crisp’s life, focused on his coined phrase, “the profession of being”.  Connected to an organization called Crisperanto, models would dress in imitation of the stylish, dandy Crisp while the F.A.G. brotherhood of artists took photographs, sketched, and painted the event.  All the art created from these tableau vivants are going to be collected into a gallery showing later in the Spring.

From the event description paired with my total lack of LES performance art experience, I had no idea what to expect and found my way into a smallish space, lined with a hung photography exhibit not connected to this particular event.  It was pleasantly crowded with a handsome, mostly bearded, cubby-bearish crowd.  A singer and accordion player, both decked out in dandy-wear and a kilt adding music to the event in way that added a sensory layer but didn’t overcome or pull the focus from the models.  One end of the room was set up with a black backdrop and a handsome, sophisticated gentleman was posed elegantly on a chair, dressed in a stunning, long blue velvet coat, draped silk scarf, large Victorian-era rings, and a sly, slightly dangerous look.  While he sat, several young men with sketch pads were busy at work while around him buzzed a group of photographers, all using different kinds of cameras, from iPhone’s to Polaroid instamatics up through high-end Canon’s and Nikons. 

Over the course of the evening the models changed a few times, one writhing to the changing music performance and moving out into the crowd who were mostly not dressed up as dandies or imitating Crisp’s look, while the swarm of artists continued their respective image capturing of choice.  The dress of the models, mostly centered on large-brimmed hats set at jaunty angles or in the case of the man in the full-out lace dress and heels, a stack of ten hats at jaunty angles stacked on top of one another.  Even the singer had a large brimmed hat on and looked perfectly at home in the group.  Of the lot, I thought the poise of the blue-jacketed gentleman and the last model with jaunty hat but with his hand covering half his face while he stared out over the crowd were the most powerful of the posed images.  The both seemed purposeful and with some relationship to the topic and group.  With regard to the interaction and participation of the crowd, whatever was supposed to be happening was either actually not happening or was so subtle and I was so obtuse that it went over my head.

The part of the event where the artists swirled around, creating their art was interesting but jarring for me.  I’m fascinated with other’s creative processes and getting to watch while painting, sketching, and photography happened was a treat for me.  However, while I had a camera with me, the event was written up highlighting the “F.A.G. brotherhood” and their use of the models and event.  There was no distinct instruction or invitation for the attendees to do the same and so I spent the evening extraordinarily aware that I was standing in an active art gallery which in any other circumstance would almost definitely prohibit outside photography.  The fact that most of the group at the event seemed cliquish and by my reasoning part of this brotherhood wasn’t lost on me and so, feeling like a rotting fish out of water, I made as the voyeur and just watched from the most unobtrusive places I could find.  I suspect more extroversion on my part might have filled in the gaps for me during the evening, leaving me feeling less like I was standing on the other side of the window looking in on a great party.  On the other hand, since it was an open and public showing, I was exactly like one of off-the-street Gothamites that could have wondered in and tried to make sense of what was happening around the room and what the message of this art was trying to say.

The most interesting part of the evening was watching all the attendees standing around this thing with me.  It was such a diverse and interesting group, different from other kinds of gentrified grouping of gays, that I thought of it like a delicious smörgåsbord: The discrete Leatherman who’s only tell was his leather wrist strap and boots, the slave who whose thick neck chain and oversized lock belied an evening away from his Master, the perfectly-fit young professional in his gray wool suit whose trousers ended in a pair of open-toed, patent leather heels, a few white t-shirted lumberjacks with their rolled up jeans and red-suspenders and a bit of everything else in between.  All were talking with one another under the watchful gaze of a buffed, bald bouncer-like guy who never moved from the spot he guarded between the main floor and some unseen room in the back that only certain people he seemed to know were allowed to enter.  Was I standing among of sea of artists, creatives, or just like me, the mildly curious?  I have no idea.  As I continue to attend these kinds of events, I’m sure the same faces will start to appear over and over and eventually I’ll come to understand these are probably people who don’t really know what they’re looking at either but have friends involved and are there for support and an experience.

The second part of the evening moved from the Envoy Enterprises’ upstairs studios down to the Home Sweet Home bar which had been described to me as part hipster nightmare, part dive bar, and part suburban house from hell.   It was all that and perfect for the LES venue.  Several of the F.A.G. brotherhood‘s favorite bands were to perform while I assume the models and Crisp-ness continued moving and interacting with the bar crowd.  I actually bailed after the studio portion of the tableau vivant while most everyone else seemed to be heading down that way to get their drink on so I can’t say how that part of the evening dove-tailed or related to the first.

I’m glad I followed Father Tony’s advice and attended.  I know several non New Yorkers also encouraged me to go simply because nothing like this goes on in most places across the country and I shouldn’t waste an opportunity, even if I do feel like a tourist.  I’m still not sure what, if anything, the event was trying to say though I suspect the fact that I don’t know is not the point.  There were certainly people being their own being and that probably was more of the point than anything else.  I’m looking forward to the showing of art produced from the event last night; to see if what and how the things I saw were captured and reflected back through the lenses and mediums of the F.A.G. brotherhood.  Me looking at a picture of me looking at art being made makes my head hurt a bit.

UPDATE: Just so everyone understands how things are running under the hood around here, my fascination with the handsome, blue jacketed model appears to have been directed at Queer New York Blog's own Darling! whom I've never met...and still haven't!  Dang, talk about feeling like a total tourist now.  And he was the one guy out of the whole room I was working up the nerve to grab and ask what was going on...after I completely fawned over his posing and style first.


  1. Dear Beau,
    I'm glad you decided to go to this, and your friends are right - people elsewhere would kill for these kinds of opportunities that seem to take place only in New York.
    I was especially interested in your comments about feeling shy and hesitant with the camera. I hope you will soon meet the baad lamb who used to feel like that but is now entirely confident anywhere, despite his natural shyness. Your first jump is the most difficult. Every jump after that not only gets easier but terrifically enjoyable and suddenly you find yourself meeting all sorts of fascinating people and deeply into the fun rather than just watching it.

  2. I appreciate the encouragement and I'm very, very sure you're right. I've never really completely worked myself out of my own way and it impedes my fun. Adding a big camera to that has been a recipe for an almost catatonic state. Last night would have been a great scene but I just don't know my way around the rules at these kinds of things yet.

    Sorry you weren't there. I hope you can make the Spring show they're putting together. I bet it will be phenomenal.

  3. Beau,
    There really are no rules. You are your own rules and they trump any others. New Yorkers are used to the premise of the camera, but sometimes (rarely), if I sense hesitance, I'll ask before I snap.

  4. Beau
    If only you had said Hello....I would have loved the opp. to meet a fellow Queer New Yorker!