From the Street with Alfie: Nova 535 Grand Opening

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"I'm partial to the abstract nudes," I told St. Pete scenester Brent Bruns Saturday at Nova 535 Art Lounge.

"They're also the most pornographic," Brent said. "You think there's a correlation"

I'd be lying if I said I just liked artist Lisa Scholder's use of color. But that's the beauty of a place like Nova. People who know what they're looking at can give qualified opinions about the works in the gallery while people like me can disguise our artistic-handicaps while munching hors d'oeuvres, bouncing between one of several bars and rubbing elbows with Bay Area trend setters.

The 7,000-square-foot warehouse space hosted more than a thousand people Saturday for its red carpet opening. Inside, unfinished floors accentuated the loud art hung over brick walls. San Francisco’s DJ Zeph spun, somehow making hip-hop tracks swanky. Patrons elbowed for room as they roamed between the bars and tables loaded with sweets and the crumbled remains of cheese and crackers. It was overwhelming, even for my camera, which literally fried its archaic circuits trying to capture the madness.

The crowd was so large I kept losing Trini, though this may have been her intent. She had taken a particular interest in the inordinate proportion of attractive men in attendance. Not only was most everyone more attractive than me, they all dressed like they were in a fashion show. The women, most of whom were also taller than me, wore provocative dresses, which I learned could be as short as they wanted and still be considered classy so long as they cost more than my monthly rent. Guys wore suits, but not business-class black and gray, but suits built to accommodate color. I felt like I had stepped into Eyes Wide Shut or a New York warehouse party.

"My art is expressionist-abstract-figurativism," explained Melia White, or so I heard.

I was lost. There were too many -isms and -ists being thrown around for me to keep up. I asked Melia if her art involved nudity. Nudity, I could comprehend.   Everyone was an artist. Even the people who didn’t consider themselves so were social artists, hyping events they were hosting and asking if CL was making an appearance. I traded business cards like baseball cards. Even the people who seemed reserved were artists; like Markus Aurailieus, who limited his wilder side to his gritty cityscapes. Or like Bean Spence, who was disguised behind a formidable beard while gauging people’s reaction to his psychedelic, cartoonish paintings, some of which came off the canvas and stood on the floor like stucco Tiki-gods. 

If the party wasn’t hip enough, a soloist began singing opera and models posed on blocks while a stylist, or maybe a masochist, pushed a comb the wrong way through their hair, ratting it until their head’s looked like beavers’ nests. That was the first time I felt bad for models, aside from the fact that they can’t eat. Then a belly dancer entertained the crowd to Bolero, revealing the seductive secrets of the ancient art. And just when I thought I’d seen everything, G.I. Joe’s Sgt. Slaughter (or maybe Sgt. Slaughter’s cousin, with a flair for flexibility and acrobatics) performed cirque du soleil-worthy feats on a strand of stretchy material tied to the rafters.

“St. Pete needed an art gallery like this with room to move around and have a good time,” Nova’s event manager Kate said.

I couldn’t agree more. It is about time that gallery owners take a hint from the trends in modern art and make a space like Nova that is as explosive and alive as the works it contains.

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