Alyssa Davis was a small gallery. So small, in fact, it used to run out of Davis’s apartment in the West Village. That is, before a private investigator hired by her building gathered enough evidence to shutter the space for violating zoning laws in April.
Founded in 2016, the gallery was known to those in-the-know, as evidenced by the huge turnout for Merde! the Alyssa Davis Gala that was thrown last night in farewell to what once was and in celebration of what it is (hoped) will come.
Simply put, everybody was there. It was like art prom.
Outside, the line for the self-described “funerary celebration” snaked around the block, expensive tickets already in hand. Strolling around inside 99 Scott, an enormous venue in East Williamsburg, were hundreds of guests that included gallerists, curators, artists, fashion people, nightlife legends, models, dancers, and everyone in between. The party was so large that people weren’t just bumping into pre-pandemic friends, but acquaintances from five, six years ago.
It’s not surprising the Gala drew such a crowd considering the gamut of events the organizers put together.
Twenty-eight performers sang, danced, and read on the outdoor stage, including an opera singer. A full video program, including works by Rachel Rossin and Karinne Smith played behind a velvet rope. Five portrait artists roamed the party and sat at picnic tables doing live, quick sketches of guests. A red carpet was set up so people could take pictures in their floor-length gowns.
Deep inside the venue, smoke machines and pulsing lights read more nightclub than gala. Musicians Eartheater, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, and Umfang headlined, preceded and followed by a long list of local musicians.
Cordoned off to the side was a VIP room for guests who had shelled out for a $250 ticket, or were simply cool enough to get those perks for free. Regular tickets for the event started at $40.
At the center of the space was a large, tiered structure that held the 64 pieces up for auction, of which 26 sold for yet unknown prices. Included in the auction were New Talents artists André Magaña and Diana Sofia Lozano, among many other talented folks. Each of the pieces was photographed in the weeks preceding, in collaboration with No Agency, which arranged to have the photos with represented models. The models took bids at the event until midnight.
Many of the performers and artists involved were there with the support of downtown gallery partners like Lubov, Anonymous, carriage trade, Kings Leap, Entrance, and other others.
An event like this isn’t easy to pull off. “This is incredibly ambitious,” said artist Rossin during the event. But it was made possible, in part, by the many, many artists like Rossin who contributed works or performances without expecting much in return. Not having contact with Davis before, she found herself agreeing to contribute a short video work to the film selection.
“We had so many friends in common, it was easy to say yes,” Rossin said.
What the ticket or auction proceeds would go toward wasn’t clear to any of the artists that ARTnews spoke to that night, but the organizers of the event, Alyssa Davis, Genevieve Goffman, and Rachel Rosheger confirmed that they were used to fund the party itself. An art world ouroboros.
Artists seemed happy to contribute, regardless.
“I assumed that the money would go to getting a new space or maybe making this party happening to kind of get the energy or momentum going to get people excited about a new space,” said Zoe Brezsny, cofounder of Gern en Regalia, as well as a poet who was invited to give a reading at the event. Brezsny considers Davis a good friend, and was glad to be involved for whatever purpose.
A few disgruntled guests, who asked not to be named, suggested that the event was somewhat misleading, having assumed that proceeds from the ticket prices and auctions were going to support some artistic cause or the start of a new Alyssa Davis Gallery. They thought at least the local performers, and not just the headliners, should get paid.
Davis, Goffman, and Rosheger admit that the structure of the event made things a bit unclear.
“People hear gala and they assume it’s a fundraiser,” said Davis. “Our industry is inherently tied to the financial necessities of donations that come in the form of a gala party.” She pauses, “but it was designed to be a little confusing…”
“The art world is in this place where there’s two ways galleries make money,” said Goffman. “There’s the blue-chip galleries that are for-profit and there are the smaller galleries that often follow a nonprofit model, and if you’re a small gallery people assume it’s a nonprofit project. But there’s a lot of community-run spaces that don’t fit into either model.”
For the organizers, Merde! was a chance to experiment with another way of bringing together community, displaying art, and selling it too, as artists in the auction would get 50 percent of the hammer price.
“Ultimately, it was an event we designed for the community,” said Davis. And the community showed up.