I was an ‘Art To Dine For’ Virgin …

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Tonight I unexpectedly had the opportunity to go to the event called “The King on Key,” hosted by Mr. & Mrs. Castleman & Walters Art Museum Director Gary Vikan.

I had no idea what to expect, but did get an email from the Creative Alliance that said: “Thank you for being an Art to Dine For 2008 guest! Your support helps the Creative Alliance continue its mission to present and promote the arts and humanities in Baltimore. You ordered ticket(s) for The King on Key. What a great pick! Your host has a great evening planned for you.” The location was disclosed to be a penthouse in Harborview, the looming pink building on Key Highway.

Marcia Castleman and a friend in front of her Stella print. I really enjoyed the Castleman’s extensive art collection, which ranged from contemporary sculpture to Pop paintings to photography. Below, Megan Hamilton checks out a large color photograph.

This Duane Hanson-esque sculpture greeted us at the door brandishing candy. Scary!

For those who don’t know, every year the Creative Alliance does a great fund-raiser called Art To Dine For. It is hosted at thirty or so different locations, by artists and art enthusiasts, who serve dinner and provide art-inspired entertainment. The proceeds are donated to the Creative Alliance. It’s a great chance to see unique homes and meet new faces.

There was an amazing background to the food and wine, which were both excellent. I don’t know if I would be able to stand this close to the edge and tend bar, though. We were on the twenty-fourth floor and I could see all the way to Dundalk.

The food was on the other balcony, on the Inner Harbor side.

This is me playing checkers with a gorilla.

This is a photo of guests touring the bathroom. There was art there, too.

And then the sales pitch… this photo looks like we are all being sold time-shares. Actually, this was just the thank you and warm-up for the Gary Vikan show.

So where does Elvis fit into this? The event was called “King on Key.” My guess is that they asked Gary Vikan what he wanted to talk about and he chose to indulge in his Elvis obsession…

… for an hour! I think that everyone knows that Elvis holds a cult status and that this kitch desire to turn him into a God is an American mainstay. If you have ever taken an art history class, you may have noted the similarities between Elvis’s depictions and those of early Gothic saints. They’re frontal, simplified, idealized. I think this would be true of most cultural icons – JFK, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean – pretty much anyone who has made it to a postage stamp. They all stare straight ahead at you – their eyes meet yours in that Mona Lisa way – and healing, enlightenment, and other miraculous effects are often attributed to them. We Americans regard our celebrities like the Pantheon of Ancient Greece – they embody our deepest longings and vanities, and we have no desire to know the boring truth about them, so we make it up.

I smart at times to the assumption that people living in Baltimore are obsessed with tacky kitch. Vikan mentioned his Harvard pedigree more than once during his talk and, in mock humor, asked the members of the audience, rhetorically of course, if we were stupid. I am all for making art history entertaining but I don’t like being talked down to and I especially don’t like it when a speaker needs to tell me every detail. Editing, please! I do appreciate brevity, especially after a delicious meal and a second glass of wine.

Don’t get me wrong. Vikan is a confident entertainer and his Elvis enthusiasm is contagious, but for Elvis’ sake – less is more! Haven’t we learned anything from The King’s demise? Or maybe you believe that he’s not dead?

I don’t need to get too over-critical here. It was a fundraiser and for a good cause. I had a fabulous time and would encourage anyone to attend an Art to Dine For event. I am happy that I learned something new tonight, even if it was only that Elvis loved grilled PB and Banana Sandwiches.

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