Rob Pruitt Master of Ceremonies


One important thing to know about Rob Pruitt’s first Annual Art Awards at the Guggenheim this Thursday, is that the artist likes award shows–so the ceremony isn’t meant as any kind of affliction for an art world given over to popular insincerity. Asked to narrow award shows down to his favorite, he says, “I like the Teen Choice Awards, and the MTV Music Awards and MTV Movie Awards and the Oscars and the Grammys, and the Tonys.”

Pruitt has enlisted the Delusional Downtown Divas—Lena Dunham, Joana D’Avillez and Isabel Halley, who play three young women seduced by the glitter and doom of the art world—to host; the artist will co-host and his “presence and imprint will be all over it,” he says. The night will closely mimic the Academy Awards, complete with planned performances and dance routines. (LEFT: PHOTO BY KAI REGEN)

The supper itself will sample the many forms of artistry and the liveliness of Brooklyn, including offerings from Bushwick pizzeria Roberta’s, among other restaurants. The menu was selected by T Magazine food editor Christine Muhlke. “It’s about all these great new, young restaurants in Bushwick that are organic farming and raising their own animals,” says Pruitt, making it sound very Los Angeles, indeed.

Categories follow the Academy Awards’ lead, and include awards for Best New Artist and Lifetime Achievement. There are four categories for best show. Like the Academy Awards, the nominees are biased in their representation of American participants, although Pruitt says that results from the show’s immaturity: “And, if it’s a success and we do another one, that won’t be the case.” Nominees were selected by committee; winners by a very loose Academy. Rob Pruitt also gets to give out his own award; before we spoke, he had just consulted the chosen artist. Pruitt reports that the winner is excited.

Winners receive a trophy designed by Pruitt, a champagne bucket with a bottle that functions as a lamp with an operable chain. The light bulb symbolizes an idea, and references Jasper Johns’s own use of the form; the ice bucket is a celebratory symbol. And drinking champagne, is that just the mark of an art dinner? “Well that, and maybe using chemicals to fuel ideas,” says the artist.

Artforum publisher Knight Landesman, high-profile artists Cecily Brown and Nate Lowman, Sofia Coppola and Mary-Kate Olsen will all present awards. Pruitt is particularly excited that Kylie Minogue and Julianne Moore will present, although he reports it was event sponsor Calvin Klein that got both involved, rather than any pull of his own, or the art.

Pruitt considers the Art Awards a group show, although no exhibition will follow. He traces the event to his “Flea Market” (2007), installed at the Frieze Art Fair, where he invited artists to sell banal objects at low prices. Pruitt speaks of both as engendering a community of different, like-minded professionals, because, “The participants could be selected very democratically. It’s a group show that has my name on it because I conceived it. But none of the participants are selected by me; they’re selected by a vote.”

The event has been highly publicized for an art show (this article is, alas, but a cog in the machine), including spots by the Delusional Downtown Divas in the back seat of taxis citywide. Indeed, Pruitt’s work is marked by an interest in publicity, including but not limited to the monumental line he presented for “Cocaine Buffet” (1998) at an artist’s studio in New York. Pruitt traces the interest in notoriety to “traction” in a relatively democratic press that sullies art’s purity: “One fun thing about [the award show] is that it would amass a big long list of detractors because art is somehow supposed to be above being qualified by ‘Best of’ and ‘Winner’ and terms like that.” (LEFT: PHOTO BY THOMAS MUELLER. COURTESY THE GUGGENHEIM)

Of course, whether the Art Awards will democratize the circulation of art won’t be known until after the event has  closed. Some presenters have complained that even they cannot bring a plus-one to the dinner, and it’s questionable how many people will really be aware of the winners, or connect those names to any form of achievement. Pruitt reasons that the Awards will serve as one step of opening art to a benevolent mass culture: “Anything that gets more people to pay attention to what is going on in Chelsea, and other art centers throughout the world is a good thing.”

Pruitt also points out that artists have enjoyed celebrity status since Dali, if not before. He says he isn’t particularly interested in artists who become stars as part of their work. He also seems to call for a re-consideration of the meaning of celebrity: “You know, the way my mind works, if I meet a young kid who has been in a few group shows, I’m awed and I feel like I’m meeting a celebrity.”