Alyssa Davis was a small gallery. So small, in fact, that it used to run out of Davis’ West Village apartment. That is, before a private investigator hired by her building gathered enough evidence to shut the room down in April for violating zoning laws.
The gallery, founded in 2016, was well known to connoisseurs, as the large number of visitors proves Merde! the Alyssa Davis Gala, held last night to bid farewell to what was and celebrate what is (hopefully) to come.
Put simply, everyone was there. It was like an art ball.
Outside the line for the self-proclaimed “funeral service‘ meandered around the block, expensive tickets already in hand. Strolling around in 99 Scott a massive venue in East Williamsburg, were hundreds of guests including gallery owners, curators, artists, fashionistas, nightlife legends, models, dancers and everyone in between. The party was so big that people not only met friends from before the pandemic, but acquaintances from five or six years ago.
It’s not surprising that the gala drew so many people considering how many events the organizers have put together.
28 performers sang, danced and read on the open-air stage, including an opera singer. A complete video program featuring works by Rachel Rossin and Karen Schmidt played behind a velvet rope. Five portrait artists roamed the party, sitting at picnic tables and making quick live sketches of guests. A red carpet was set up for people to take photos in their floor-length dresses.
Deep inside the venue, smoke machines and pulsing lights make for more nightclub than gala. Musicians EarthEater, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal and Um Fang were the headlines inside, followed by a long list of local musicians.
A VIP room was cordoned off to the side for those guests who had paid a $250 ticket or were just cool enough to get those perks for free. Regular tickets to the event started at $40 and escalated from there.
In the center of the room was a large tiered structure containing the 64 pieces up for auction, 26 of which sold for an as yet undisclosed price. Included in the auction were New Talents artists André Magaña and Diana Sofia Lozano, among many other talented people. Each of the pieces was photographed in the weeks leading up in collaboration with No Agency, who have ensured that the modeled photos are available. The models accepted bids at the event until midnight.
Many of the performers and artists involved were in attendance with the support of downtown gallery partners such as Lubov, Anonymous, Carriage Trade, Kings Leap, Entrance and others.
An event like this is not easy to pull off. “This is incredibly ambitious,” artist Rachel Rossin said 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. Having not previously been in contact with Davis, she agreed to contribute a short video work to the film selection.
“We had so many mutual friends that saying yes was easy,” Rossin said.
None of the artists knew what the proceeds from the tickets or the auction would go to ARTnews spoke that evening, but event organizers Alyssa Davis, Genevieve Goffman and Rachel Rosheger confirmed it was used to fund the party itself. An ouroboros of the art world.
The artists seemed happy to contribute anyway.
“I assumed the money would be used to get a new space or maybe organize this party to get the energy or momentum to get people excited about a new space,” he said Zoe Brezsny, co-founder 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 happy to be involved for whatever cause.
Some disgruntled guests, who asked not to be named, said the event was a bit misleading as they assumed the proceeds from the ticket prices and auctions would support some artistic cause or the launch of a new Alyssa Davis Gallery. They thought that at least the local artists and not just the headliners should be paid.
Davis, Goffman and Rosheger admit the structure of the event made things a bit unclear.
“People hear Gala and assume it’s a fundraiser,” Davis said. “Our industry is inherently bound by the financial need for donations, which come in the form of gala parties.” She pauses, “But it should be a little confusing…”
“The art world is in a place where galleries make money in two ways,” Goffman said. “There are the blue-chip galleries that are for-profit and there are the smaller galleries that often follow a not-for-profit model, and if you’re a small gallery people assume it’s a non-profit project . But there are many community-driven areas that don’t fit either model.”
For the organizers Merde! was an opportunity to experiment with another way of bringing communities together, exhibiting art and also selling it, as artists would receive 50% of the hammer price in the auction.
“Ultimately, it was an event that we designed for the community,” Davis said. And the community showed up.