New York art scene comes out for gold-dusted apple slices and ‘dolphin’ bouncy lap-rides at blogger Paddy Johnson’s inspired mess of a benefit

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Auctioneer C.K. Swett and Art Fag City's Paddy Johnson ()
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Jed Lipinski

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The main goal of the first annual Art Fag City Rob Pruitt Art Awards and Auction was to raise money for the popular New York art blog Art Fag City. But as one attendee, food and art critic Stephen Stern, put it: "This must be the most impractical, ridiculous way one could have gone about achieving that goal."

At the ceremony, which took place last night from 6 to 10 p.m. inside Site/109, a pop-up exhibition space in the Lower East Side, a man dressed as a dolphin offered "Free Bouncy Rides" on his lap to the 200-plus members of the crowd. Another man, dressed as George Washington, served apple slices dusted with 24-karat gold. And the artist William Powhida, one of the evening’s M.C.s, brought along an actor who plays a drunken, ego-crazed version of himself, and who heckled the real Powhida throughout much of the evening.

Even the zebra-striped auction catalog described the event as "ridiculous." And yet, in the minds of those present, it was not nearly as ridiculous as the original Rob Pruitt Art Awards, an annual Guggenheim Museum–sponsored ceremony that began two years ago as satire, but quickly devolved into a bizarre, seemingly unironic embrace of art-world excess.

"This benefit is an example of what we like to call guerrilla franchising," said Paddy Johnson, the founder and editor of Art Fag City, by way of explaining the use of "Rob Pruitt" in the title. Initially, a caveat was added to the title that read: "Not affiliated with Rob Pruitt." But that was before Pruitt, a sculptor infatuated with Pop Art, publicly endorsed the event, and donated a piece for the auction made of "twenty bags of melted ice." At press time, the event was known as: "Art Fag City Rob Pruitt Art Awards and Auction* *Not affiliated with Rob Pruitt, now affiliated with Rob Pruitt."

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"Maurizio Cattelan once built a gallery and decided to call it Gagosian Gallery," said Johnson, whose cheap gold-sequined shirt glittered in the space’s track lighting. "This was done in the same spirit."

Many of the evening’s tropes were derived from the Rob Pruitt Art Awards, which featured appearances by Marina Abramovic, James Franco, and the art critic Jerry Saltz. Awards were given out for "Best Franco," which honored "the art world personages who were everywhere, for no apparent reason," according to the catalog. The award for "Best Jerry" celebrated "the art critic or cultural commentator who best exemplifies the qualities of Saltzhood: talent, populism, baldness, and excessive friendliness."

Andrew Andrew, the ubiquitous and identically outfitted iPod-D.J. duo, were in the running for "Best Franco." But the competition was stiff.

"The Einstein guy deserves it more," one of the Andrews said in reference to a fellow nominee named Sim Tomer, who resembles the famous physicist. "He’s literally everywhere: art openings, concerts, the Bulgarian opera. We’ve tried to reach out to him, but he gave us the cold shoulder."

Prior to the auction, C.K. Swett, a licensed auctioneer at Phillips de Pury and Company, was running through the list of auction items backstage. These included relationship advice from Genesis P-Orridge, the former frontman for the band Throbbing Gristle; a Richard Kern photograph of a naked woman ironing; tea with Debbie Harry, John Giorno,and others at William Burroughs’ old apartment; and the opportunity to see a re-enactment of the artist Richard Prince’s court deposition against the photographer Patrick Cariou, live at your very own home.

"I do a lot of charity auctions," said Mr. Swett, who was recently featured in an article about young auctioneers in the New York Times. "But there’s been more buzz in my art circles about this than any of the others."

When George Washington approached him with a bottle of Jameson, he declined, preferring to sip from his double espresso. "It’s my auction drink of choice," he said.

On stage, the highly-caffeinated Swett rapidly auctioned off a bottle of White Pike Whiskey for $160 to the fake William Powhida, who leered at women nearby over his aviators. Swett failed to sell a photograph of a school bus limousine by the Bruce High Quality Foundation, which came with an apparently uncoveted studio visit with the anonymous Bruces. He tried to ignite a bidding war over the relationship advice from P-Orridge, who is currently undergoing a sex change. "$950 is impotent!" he shouted. "Genesis is going to make sure you’re never impotent again! Do I hear $1,000?"

During the award ceremony, "Best Franco" went not to Andrew Andrew but to Bill Powers, a judge on the Bravo TV series "Work of Art." As the real Powhida launched into a diatribe about Powers’ general soullessness, the fake Powhida ripped the microphone from his hand. "I’m the only one here who knows James Franco!" he said. "I am the only piece of art in this room!"

Jerry Saltz himself (pictured at right) presented the award for "Best Jerry." He outlined the basic criteria: "You have to write all day long until you’re really old, and until your doctor tells you that you have no Vitamin D in your system because you never go outside."

The nominees included art critics Ben Davis, Martha Schwendener, and Hrag Vartanian, as well as Jayson Musson, who plays a clueless art advisor named Hennessy Youngman in a video series called "Art Thoughtz." The award went to Vartanian, who runs the ceaselessly updated art blogazine Hyperallergic. But instead of accepting the trophy, he handed it to two members of Occupy Wall Street.

"Occupy is not over!" one of them declared, before asking the crowd to join them for an occupation of Tompkins Square Park on Sunday afternoon. "There will be hundreds and hundreds of pieces of art there!"

As the crowd thinned, Vartanian reflected on the peculiar evening. "One thing I like about this is that it’s just a fucking mess," he said. "Is it meta? Is it meta-meta? Is it satire? Who knows?" He patted a flask in his pocket. "I’m just glad I brought my own vodka."