Last year, when the student art group Center Space Project needed to fundraise, it came up with an innovative twist on the traditional bake sale. Instead of peddling brownies in the West Mall, it asked students, faculty and staff to submit “food-inspired” artwork. With the donated art it received, the group put on Bake Sale, an art exhibition held in the lobby of the Visual Arts Center where the price of admission, only $10, bought guests both an entrance to the exhibit and a piece of donated art.
By all accounts, the event succeeded. It brought in a diverse crowd of both students and non-students and garnered more than 50 pieces of donated art. Maia Schall, current president of the Center Space Project, said that the event succeeded in part because the “bake sale theme” was a “tangible thing that people can make art about.” Schall remembered one piece particularly fondly: a miniscule set of teeth cast from the artist’s mouth in which a tiny piece of spinach had been glued. “It was just a beautiful little object,” Schall said.
This year, Center Space Project had a different spin on the art sale concept. Instead of bake sale, which had an intentional, food-centric feel, it chose to hold a bike sale, in which bicycles, one of Austin’s favorite modes of transportation, inspired the submitted art. The call for submissions allowed artists to interpret “bicycle-inspired” however they wanted, but requested that artists make pieces smaller than a bike helmet, less than two pounds and able to be hung on a wall. The exhibition opened Friday in the lobby of the VAC. Unlike last year’s sale, guests were admitted for free and could elect to pay $20 for a piece of their choice.
This year, the event drew a smaller crowd, possibly because Center Space Project chose to hold the sale two weeks earlier than last year’s, giving students less time to work on submissions. Also unlike last year’s event, Bike Sale did not coincide with the opening reception for the Visual Arts Center’s fall 2012 season, which this year will be held Sept. 21. The total number of submissions also fell short of last year’s numbers, with the tally of submitted pieces coming in just under 30. At the event, most guests lingered in the courtyard outside the tiny exhibition space, listening to music floating from the speakers and drinking the provided Topo Chico. Inside the exhibition space, a few guests lingered along the hallway where the artwork was hung, considering which pieces to buy or not buy and critiquing the submissions. Many of the artists themselves attended, leading to at least one meeting between an artist and an excited patron.
The pieces themselves ranged in quality and content from impressive and interesting to dull and poorly executed, with the majority of pieces falling somewhere above the midline. Among the stand-out pieces was a painting featuring a bright blue bicycle on a whimsical multicolored background. Another memorable piece, a charmingly creepy charcoal drawing, depicted a revolutionary solider standing in a dark alleyway with his rifle in his hands and his bicycle at his feet. In another piece, a fantastical black-and-white print displayed a buxom lass with a bicycle over her breasts. The wheel rims coyly cupped her chest, while black text to the side of the figure read “She gets around.”
Also popular were 3-D pieces smaller than a postcard. The pieces were simple bicycle parts, such as bells and streamers, hung carefully on the wall, while others consisted of small pieces of interlaced wood reaching curiously out of paper — not all pieces contained obvious references to bicycles.
For all the interesting art at the exhibit, the show had some disappointing pieces as well. One large canvas combined pink paint, sparkles and broken bicycle pieces in a messy mix that demonstrated a lack of technical skill. Some blurry photo submissions felt half-baked, as if the artist had taken a series of shots and chosen one at random without a greater reason.
Ultimately however, Bike Sale deserves praise for inspiring student artists and providing art to students at an affordable price. As one contributing artist, PhaseZero, said, having her art displayed “feels like a thank you.” No doubt the students who walked away with a new piece of art felt like saying thank you as well.