Art and Booze in Unequal Measures at AGO's Massive Party
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Art and Booze in Unequal Measures at AGO’s Massive Party

For better or worse, art wasn't the main attraction at AGO's gold-themed fundraiser.

Maylee Todd moving the crowd at the AGO.

We’re tempted to refer to Thursday’s Massive Party at the Art Gallery of Ontario as an “art party,” but that wouldn’t be strictly accurate.

There was certainly a lot of partying going on, and there was some fairly interesting art around, but the two had very little to do with each other. People were there to party. The art, as good as it was, was mainly window dressing.

In its ninth year, the AGO Massive Party is one of the gallery’s biggest fundraising events. This year, the theme was “gold.” According to local artist Justin Broadbent, who curated the party, the theme came about because he thinks of the AGO as being like a nugget of gold in the city.

“I thought of the AGO as an entity in the city,” he said. “And I thought of it as like this nugget in the city. We have a whole lot of drab, and a whole lot of bustle, and then we’ve got this slow, beautiful nugget in the middle of the city that has all these beautiful pieces. It’s like finding gold.”

He adds that, for the artists who created work for the party, the gold theme provided a lot of room to play around.

“You can talk about religion, you can talk about the Golden Rule, there are so many places you can take it.”

The artists involved took the theme in several interesting directions. Broadbent created a video projection of a man’s gold-grill-covered mouth. The mouth spouted various pick-up lines and other random statements while subtitles ran underneath. Across the room, Mahmood Popal set up a vending machine dispensing fake grills.

Artist Jeffrey “Mango Peeler” Garcia had created a golden caravan that paraded through the concourse, in an homage to the traditional Filipino tinikling dance. Textile artist Noelle Hamlyn‘s installation featured members of TOES for Dance, who danced gold threads onto a loom. Hamlyn plans to weave those threads into a tapestry.

“They’re doing a process called warping,” she said. “Warping thread ensures you know how many threads are going on the loom and how long…Every time I warp, I find myself swaying like I’m dancing, so I thought it was time to bring in a dancer to do it justice.”

The highlight of the evening was almost certainly “Hurdles,” a performance piece by Tibi Tibi Neuspiel and Geoffrey Pugen. Neuspiel and Pugen ran several heats of hurdles. After every heat, the winner would have a different obstacle placed in their path, be it a wheelbarrow full of tennis balls, a taxidermied raccoon standing on top of a globe, or a structure made out of Kool-Aid cartons and Pringles tubes.

“The idea was to take a race and tweak it so that there was no real advantage for winning. Because every time you won, a new hurdle was put in your lane,” said Neuspiel. “We were playing with the idea of effort versus reward.

There were also not one but two high-energy sets from local R&B/disco revival songstress Maylee Todd, who came out rocking a gold dress and golden hair extensions. Members of her band wore gold glasses, gold-sprayed facial hair, and gold paint.

“The gold was what appealed to me,” she said. “We really wanted to dress up, and to see what all the other artists were doing…I’ve never had the opportunity to play the AGO before, and who doesn’t like gold?”

Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to matter how good the art at the Massive Party was. It may have been an event in an art gallery, to support an art gallery, but the vast majority of those who attended were there to schmooze, be seen, dress up, and get drunk. The only things that really managed to interrupt the relentless appetizer scarfing and smartphone pic-ing were “Hurdles” and Maylee Todd. (“Hurdles” was so big and kinetic that you couldn’t ignore it if you tried, and Maylee Todd is too much fun live to resist. Though to be honest, the crowd didn’t really warm up to her until her second set.)

It was telling that two of the AGO’s regular exhibits that had been left open for party goers—a photo gallery detailing the exploits of local performance-art crew Life of a Craphead and another gallery featuring work by rock legend Patti Smith—were largely empty. They were also the furthest from the bar.

One party-goer, who wouldn’t give her name, summed the event up.

“It’s like everyone here wants to be seen with art, but none of them actually want to see any art,” she said.

CORRECTION: April 20, 2013, 8:27 PM This post originally misidentified the artist behind the video projection installation as Mahmood Popal, when in fact it was Justin Broadbent. Popal created the vending machine dispensing fake grills.