Fashionably Famous: The 13th Annual Transformer Silent Art Auction & Benefits Party
By Politiquette’s Marissa Mitrovich: Politiquette is a place to be inspired by the art of fashion. Readers gain an understanding of the politics of why to wear–and the etiquette of when to wear–specific styles. Marissa Mitrovich founded Politiquette with the goal of bringing further substance to the dialogue surrounding style in DC.
This past weekend the 13th Annual Transformer Silent Art Auction & Benefit Party took place at the Katzen Arts Center. This is always one of the most fashionable parties in DC, always featuring fabulous art and guests that radiate the most vibrant energy. This year guests were able to see and bid on over 150 pieces of beautiful art pieces, many of them by DC-based artists.
I had the opportunity to learn more about the Transformer organization through their Board Vice President, Kate Damon. Kate is a talented graphic designer, who is passionate about the arts and also the fashion she wears (she is definitely one of my personal fashion muses). Kate has been involved with the Transformer organization since it was founded and was kind enough to share more about the group, the annual auction and of course fashion.
How did Transformer get its name?
Transformer’s co-founder Victoria Reis moved to DC in 1991 to work at the National Association of Artists’ Organizations (NAAO). While being a part of a national network of artist-run and artist-centered spaces through NAAO, she was part of a vibrant punk music scene here in DC fueled by Dischord Records, Teen Beat, Simple Machines, DeSoto Records, and Exotic Fever, among others. She and Transformer co-Founder Jayme McLellan saw that there was a lot of support in DC for emerging musicians, but there really wasn’t any consistent support for emerging visual artists so she wanted to create a visual arts program in DC for emerging artists that would “transform” the city’s cultural landscape through a consistent platform that would connect and promote local, national and international emerging visual artists. “Transformer” was founded to be a conduit for both audience and artists to engage with new and best emerging visual art practices. The name Transformer was also a nod to Fusebox, a commercial gallery that established the 14th street NW corridor as a new arts hub in the District. Jayme McLellan was very close to the directors of Fusebox, who helped Transformer secure its storefront exhibition space where it has been headquartered for 15 years now.
How long have you been involved with the Transformer?
I’ve been involved since the beginning– 2002. I was originally brought in to consult on the first iteration of the website through my business kaze design by my dear friend James Huckenpahler. I loved everything that Victoria and Jayme were doing and I wanted to support them in every way possible. This is the 15th season and the13th auction!
How did the art auction begin and how has it changed over the years?
The Auction began in 2004. It was a small event, hosted by Fusebox gallery. The Fusebox founders & directors Sarah Finlay and Patrick Murcia were influential in helping Transformer present the first Auction. In addition to hosting the event for the first two years in their stunning gallery space on 14th Street, NW, they also included many artists from their program in the Auction to help raise funds for Transformer. Additional artists in the first Auction were part of the 2004 “Transformers” exhibition which featured artists from Transformer’s Advisory Council, as well as artists that participated in Transformer’s first two years of exhibitions. Lots of folks pitched in, we did all the collateral– invitations, signage, the catalogs etc, DJs Yellow Fever curated the music and Lizzy Evelyn, who is now the owner and chef of Paisley Fig (who also continues to donate to Transformer every year) catered the event.
Every year we get a little better and smarter about how we do it, whether it’s the flow of the room or the wackiness of the lots closing. About 8 years ago we added diplomatic chairs, where we partner with an embassy. The Italian Ambassador and his wife were our diplomatic chairs this year – highlighting a year long collaboration with the Italian Embassy in DC, and artistic exchange with artists and art spaces in Rome and DC. We took three artists to Rome in April 2016 and had 25 Italian artist represented in this year’s auction.
What is the process an artist must follow to be included in the auction?
We have a nominating committee every year made up of mostly artists, some curators, who nominate artists for inclusion. Staff (full time & Auction Artwork Coordinator – this year Dawne Langford) also nominate artists. Nominated artists are invited to submit work for consideration. Staff then select work to include in the Auction.
In addition to painting and photographs you have had items in the auction that were unique in their medium, for example beautifully decorated boxing gloves. Do you have specific guidelines for items that are featured?
Transformer exists to support all different mediums that emerging artists are pursuing, and we try to reflect that in our Auction as much as possible. We include performance artists – either selling limited edition performance art pieces or having performance artists participate in the “Closing of the Lots” – we include sculpture, and video work, and for the past 3 Auctions have also included site-specific installation work as part of the Auction experience, you may have noticed the front entrance, that installation was by Matt Hollis. As a non-profit organization whose mission is really education based, our Auction is the one moment of the year that we are as sales focused as we can be, so the majority of the work in the Auction tends to be 2-D work in more traditional mediums, but we try to mix it up and be as reflective of the many different visual art mediums artists are pursuing as we can.
Some of the best fashion in DC happens at the Transformer Auction. What do you think inspires people to push fashion boundaries at this event?
I think it’s because we’re a little punk rock and we bring EVERYONE together and people feel comfortable to go all out. It might sound silly, but I think this is a testament to how important we are to this community. We need organizations like Transformer so people can express themselves, so artists can experiment and have a safe place to explore.
Your personal fashion sense is whimsical and colorful. What inspired your look for the auction this year?
The Italians! I love color and bold patterns. This dress reminded me of Italy and the vibrancy of the art and culture. I also secretly coordinate my colors with the auction color theme of the year and this year it was green for the Italians, the base of my dress was the same green.
You have a wonderful woman in your life who has been “fashioning forward” many of her clothing items to you over the years. Will you please tell me about your fashion fairy godmother?
Mrs. Nettles! I was seated next to her years ago at a luncheon that Izette Folger hosted. At the time I was in Izette’s profile picture on Facebook in a yellow vintage Paganne dress. Mrs. Nettles leaned in and said, “You know, I have that same dress…” we became fast friends. By the end of lunch I said, “Let me know if you ever want to trade clothes.” She called me the next week! We have a blast, she’s like my vintage soul sister, we both love color and amazing patterns! They are like pieces of art to us.