Live: New York’s Bad Art Auction Featuring Xiu Xiu and Judah Friedlander


photo by Vivekananda Nemana

Bad Art Auction
(le) poisson rouge
November 19

“The Bigfoot looks kind of retarded, anybody want it?” asked New York Magazine Bad Art Auction Host Judah Friedlander, dressed in his trademark glasses and “Champion of the World” t-shirt, jacket, and trucker hat. He pointed to a raised paddle. “It’s yours, dude. $70.”

Thank God all proceeds go to charity.

Next up, a candle that resembled a purplish-brown birthday cake went for $125. “It’s just fucking disgusting,” was all Friedlander could say. The crowd admired a charcoal drawing from 1967 of two kids that looked like white versions of Gary Coleman. “They’re either five or 53,” Friedlander remarked. “And I think they were both molested.” A three-piece mural of a pink-and-purple paint splash, which looked more like Jackson Pollock had retched Pepto Bismol onto a canvas than the product of an actual creative process, caused even more commotion. “To me, this represents the ‘80s,” Friedlander commented. “If you were a hotshot Wall Street guy, you’d have this in your apartment so you could get laid.”

The crowd—young, dapper, and slightly drunk—was that particular blend of hipsters and professionals that unites around a willingness to pay three figures ironically for an original Sorceress movie poster.

“I really don’t like to call it ‘bad art,’” Friedlander, the bad—err, anti-good—art connoisseur himself, told me backstage. “Because if I keep it, there’s something special about it that I like. Stuff that’s accidentally funny is great, probably better than stuff that’s meant to be funny.”

Not unlike, say, the straight-faced choice of post-auction musical entertainment. By the time Xiu Xiu, that dark and tormented indie band, finally got up to play, the crowd was already a little too worn out, a little too drunk, too poor (New York Cares received over $3000 by the end of the night), and mostly gone. The shift in mood was remarkable: suicide, AIDS, and relationships gone seriously awry. Stone-faced frontman Jamie Steward could have brightened up a little after the third Bigfoot-themed painting sold for charitable causes, but the band’s communal vibe was limited to about five sentences total.

Not that he needed to talk. The band played a pretty electrifying set, at once both haunting and guttural. Those left cheered wildly. First an oil painting of a shirtless business man with his penis hanging out of his fly, then flutes, mouth organs, synthesizers, operatic vocals. People will pay for anything in this town. —Vivekananda Nemana