2:00 pm Dec. 5, 2011
There are holiday parties in offices. And then there are holiday parties inside a yurt—those teepee-like structures originally built by Central Asian nomads, now trending as curios of winter whimsy among the city’s cool kids. It was in the latter setting that McSweeney’s and The Believer feted the release of The Believer's annual art issue this weekend. Revelers gathered ‘round The Believer’s founding editor Heidi Julavits, who emceed the event in entirely yurt-appropriate winter garb, her furry white ushanka looked like a polar bear cub nestling adorably atop her head.
The event was hosted at the Warby Parker Holiday Spectacle Bazaar (on through January 8), the pop-up shop at 45 Grand Street. The site actually has two yurts inside a converted garage where the online glasses outfit has been offering eye exams ($50) and, of course, their stylish spectacles ($95 complete with prescription lenses). Even the yurts are for sale (for a mere $10,000), according to the press release. “Delivery by yak additional.”
The vibe in the space is something between Better off Dead and a Scandinavian bakery, with wood paneling, picnic tables, and fake fir trees adorned with old-fashioned tinsel. There was a lot of tinsel, actually. One wall had been made into a chalkboard upon which smudged Santas invited customers to check out the eyewear deals. One of the yurts was lined with mirrors and rows of chic, thick-framed glasses. Warby Parker salespeople patrolled the floor. The other yurt had been turned into a miniature bookshop, with tables of McSweeney’s books and publications arranged in artful stacks. In the back was a small bar, with beer provided by Brooklyn Brewery. The Believer’s art issue was for sale in “the northernmost yurt,” announced Julavits. “You can pay with antler turds or whatever you have in your pockets.” The bookstore yurt remained empty for much of the night.
A screen had been hung between the two yurts, and the night’s presenters—artists and writers featured in the art issue—alternately read and presented slides of their work. Matthea Harvey read from her book Of Lamb, chronicling the complicated relationship between Mary and Lamb and their romp through the seasons, until their eventual descent into madness, of course; Carlos Charlie Perez played what he called a “mash-up” of music videos; Molly Young read from an article about shopping for sweatpants and the rabbit-hole aspect of retail; Chinnie Ding read from her essay exploring the history and psychology of screensavers (oddly, there was no screensaver mash-up accompanying her work, only that grating blue background that signifies a computer error). Letha Wilson presented the coolest artwork of the night, slides of what she calls “extrusions,” photographs from which sculptures protrude into the viewing space.
Each year’s art issue offers a specialty interactive feature. This time it was paper airplanes. When asked her favorite piece in the magazine, Believer deputy editor Karolina Waclawiak pointed to a page with what looked like a Magic Eye image, a pixelated orange and yellow pattern set on graph paper. “It’s an orange!” explained Waclawiak. Like the paper airplanes, one is meant to cut and fold the Orange (For Throwing), by artist Lucas Blalock, into a three-dimensional object. (This reporter may have spent a chunk of her Sunday cutting out the shape and fashioning it into a miraculously round orange that is, in fact, pretty good for throwing.)
It seemed a shame, but by the end of the night, most of the audience had taken to trying on glasses instead of listening, even though many of them seemed already to be sporting stylish specs. Only a few dozen folks were to be found sitting cross-legged on the floor between the two yurts. “It turns out glasses-buying is a super conversational event,” noted Julavits. “Art and commerce are fighting right now.”
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