Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Underwear: A Brief History opens at the Minneapolis Historical Society

THE 6TH-ANNUAL RetroRama celebration that took place last Thursday at the Minnesota Historical Society Museum in St. Paul was a raving success. According to museum staff, this year’s party broke attendance records with 600 tickets sold, and that’s not counting any tickets sold at the door the day of the event. Could the boost in attendance be a result of the promise of unmentionables? Coinciding with this year’s RetroRama is the opening of the historical society’s newest exhibition “Underwear: A Brief History,” which documents the history of Minnesota’s Munsingwear underwear factory -- at one time employing over 3,000 people.

When the 94-year-old factory shut down in 1980, thousands of the company’s underwear samples were dropped off at the historical society, where they stayed in archival storage, hidden from the public. Historical society employee, and local author and filmmaker, Susan Marks became entranced by the old underthings -- many of which include original patented designs that pioneered the underwear industry -- and eventually got permission to pen a history of the Minnesota company. The finished book entitled, In The Mood for Munsingwear: Minnesota’s Claim to Underwear Fame (which I reviewed for City Pages), is a fantastic read and a few of the samples Marks highlights in her book are on display in the exhibition. (Several weeks ago Susan read exerpts from her book at a reading that I co-hosted). “Underwear: A Brief History” is very brief. One small room has been filled with just a sampling of the 3,500 garments Munsingwear donated, but they are admittedly stellar examples of vintage design spanning several eras, presenting an intriguing look into underwear’s past that is not to be missed.

For those of us at the party who found ourselves wanting more peaks at fancy underwear, RetroRama hosted a fashion show -- as it does every year for the event -- but this year’s fashion show was special in that it had an underwear-theme as well. Susan Marks kicked off each fashion show -- one at 8pm and again at 9pm -- with a quick history and slide show of vintage underwear featured in her book, which lead nicely into the show itself, which began with a truly vintage cover-up: a union suit. A flapper-esque model with perfect bobbed hair strutted the runway clad in a classic Union Suit, one of those one-piece numbers with a drop-seat over the bum that is meant to be worn during cold weather. This style of underwear was an important piece of Munsingwear history, for a long time it’s patented design was the company’s claim to fame. Original pieces were showcased as well, by local designers Danielle Everine, Heather Luca, Sarah White, Samantha Rei, and Chrstopher Straub (you may know him from Season 6 of Project Runway).
The Historical Society building is a grand location for a party, with stories-high windows, marble steps, and grand views of Minnesota’s Capitol city, party-goers danced to live jazz performed by The Southside Aces, drank, and sampled hors d’oeuvres under an plane which hangs dramatically from one of the buildings rotundas. It was only fitting, then, that the signature cocktail of the evening was the Aviation, a classic made with gin, lemon juice, and a dash of maraschino cherry juice. Party-goers could shop in pop-up vintage clothing booths, watch cocktail and baking demos for the perfect party fare, and play around at the make-your-own-souvenir stations designing “retro specs” by embellishing old glasses with bright feathers and glitter. There was even a spot to decorate your own boxer shorts. It was a crowded affair, but not uncomfortably so. After all there are worse deaths to be had than being crushed amongst crinoline.
Visit Underwear: A Brief History, on display through September 11, 2011 at the Minnesota Historical Society. In The Mood for Munsingwear: Minnesota’s Claim to Underwear Fame is available in the museum’s gift shop as well as online.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Partying in my underwear and other kinds of chaos

Underwear: A Brief History at the Minnesota Historical Society
IT WAS A BUSY WEEK FILLED with those delightful doses of chaos I love so much. Crashed the City Pages Best-Of Party at Mancini's on Wednesday. Saw my City Pages editor and demanded she throw chocolate chip cookies at me, Bunny, and a couple of other party people we met. My editor complied for the photo op, but conservatively, only taking a couple of cookies and tossing them at us while a photographer tried to capture the action. Thinking better of being wasteful, I took the tray of cookies and served them to everyone in the place until they were gone. The cookies, I mean. Not the people.

Karrie, one of the party people, then PROMPTLY WHISKED BUNNY AND I OFF TO THE 7TH STREET ENTRY. "You have to promise to yell for one of the performers to take off his clothes," she demanded. Seemed like okay quid pro quo to me.

Phantom Tails
There were two bands performing and we got there in time to grab a drink and watch the first band, Phantom Tails. I bought the top hat-wearing drummer a Corona because I dug how he pounded on the stand of his Roland with drumsticks. The singer sang into a CB, and the drum beats were so loud I think my heart stopped, but the shear force of electronic beats and a guy pounding on a tom-tom drum managed to keep it going. 

Following Phantom Tails was the equally noisy two-person band, G-Biz. The lead singer had a bandana hanging out of his back pocket, which reminded me the movie Cruising, a movie about the gay underground in the '70s starring Al Pacino. Colored bandanas were key in this film, so I asked Karrie if the singer's bandana meant something. "I don't know," she shouted over the music. "I've only ever seen him in his underwear." And sure enough, within a few minutes he was in his underwear, spinning like a dervish on the dance floor while holding a small amp over his head, oblivious to his flailing audience.

It was a wildly entertaining show as he whirled about in his underwear and socks, occassionally hanging from a strong support pipe above the stage, or throwing himself into a huge stage monitor and following through with it as it fell off the stage and onto the dance floor. He landed hard and awkward on the floor, but there were no signs of recognition on his face. Tornado siren-like noises fill the club, but for a moment during this performance there was a lull in sound. A girl quickly filled the silence by shouting "Give me 27!" "We don't have 27!" was the reply. "Then give me 30!" She shouted. I have no idea what this meant, but at that moment the crowd started dancing again to a wall of beats and a tornado siren. A dancer in the audience ended up wrapping himself in an American flag and continued to undulate under the Stars and Stripes for a few songs.

So that was Wednesday.

THURSDAY WAS DEVOTED TO my first RetroRama appearance. This is the 6th year the Minnesota Historical Society has thrown this vintage-themed party, and I was having one hell of a time trying to figure out what to wear. As many of you know, my closet is filled with vintage clothing from just about every decade since the 1920s. In the end, I ended up wearing nothing at all. I simply couldn't make up my mind, so I went in my underwear. Really.

Purge by Tonja Torgerson at Cult Status Gallery
ON FRIDAY, BUNNY AND I made a mad dash to the Cult Status Gallery for the Cult Sisters exhibition and opening reception. The show is devoted to 12 women on the art scene, some of them graffiti artists. The glorious smell of spray paint had cleared by showtime -- I guess that's what happens when an artist actually has the time to create graffiti art and not have to worry about running away at a moment's notice. The show runs through June 14 -- there will be a party then, too.

David Hanbury/Mrs. Smith is a master on electric guitar
Afterward we caught MRS. SMITH'S SHOW AT BRYANT-LAKE BOWL for Mrs. Smith & The Sisters Boil in PUSSY PEN: Death-Row Dykes and Luscious Ladies in Lockup! As you can probably tell from the title, the show is absolute madness, so it was exactly right for Bunny and me. It's a drag-drug-glitter-garter-infused show that has more punchlines than it does wigs -- and that's saying something. Because there are a ton of wigs in this show. Once again, Mrs. Smith has found herself in a bit of trouble, this time in a women-in-prison parody. Oh, and she still hasn't found her cat Carlyle.

David Hanbury as Mrs. Smith
Every now and then I got the sense I accidentally stumbled upon boys playing pretend, as Mrs. Smith would step out of scenes every now and then to make sure the audience was following along. At one point, the lights went blue, and Mrs. Smith shouted, "Oh it's so dark!" Then she stepped forward, making eye contact with the audience to say, "When the lights go blue on stage, that means it's dark because obviously..." and then she would trail off, and the show would begin again. Like kids playing games and making rules up as they go -- in this instance it is quite funny. Catch the next shows this coming weekend: May 20 at 10:00pm; May 21 at 10:00pm; and May 22 at 2:00pm

And if that isn't enough chaos for you, go see the movie Hesher. Best pool scene ever.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Best & Worst of Frank Gaard

Moderated by art and news veteran Robyne Robinson, Gaard will talk about his career and share personal stories behind the work in his current exhibition, The Best & Worst of Frank Gaard. This is a free event and will take place beginning at 7pm on Wednesday, May 25 at CO Exhibitions, 1101 Stinson Blvd.

I BETTER BUST OUT with Coco Goes Out for this week because next week's is going to be a doozy. The parties start on Wednesday and there are no signs of stopping through the weekend.

THIS PAST WEEK I had a chance to meet and talk with local artist Frank Gaard and his wife Pam at a right good opening party for their art show, The Best & Worst of Frank Gaard. "You know how I can tell you're a writer?" Frank asked me. "You speak in complete sentences."

"That's funny," I replied. "I thought you could tell I'm a writer because I have a cocktail in my hand."

Large canvasses covered in florescent colors, busy images, and color combinations that cause eye palpitations surrounded us, along with painted CDs and LPs. Gaard clearly has an interest in Yves Klein, too. Some of the CDs were painted with a base of white and, hand-printed in bright paint, was the French artist's name (Gaard was sure not to miss the Walker's recent Klein exhibition). Because of the title of his show, I wasn't sure if these particular CDs were an homage or a sign of irreverence to Yves Klein. So I asked.

"I love Yves Klein," Gaard said. He spoke then, briefly, about Klein's distinctive colors. "Not just the blue," he said, referring to the famous International Klein Blue. "But the pink, the orange..." Perhaps this partly explains Gaard's own wildly bright palette.

Gaard spoke of his own paintings as well. "People like ponies and swans," he said. And surely, there are a few images of crude pony faces and swans -- however one of the giant florescent paintings is of a severed swan head hanging limp over a branch. Most of his paintings are portraits, though. Additionally, many of his paintings and illustrations are highly -- stratospherically -- sexual. "Everybody is interested in sex," he said. "It's exciting."

Many of his canvasses share gallery space with those his wife Pam painted. This is because, for some projects, Pam and Frank work together, painting portraits of the same person at the exact same time. Their canvasses mirror each other, but only in subject matter; their styles are quite different.

The title of the show is indicative of when Gaard puts brush to canvas. "I paint between those pulses of ups and downs," he said, illustrating his point by making a roller-coaster motion with his arm.

I may have to go back to the show with the mission of trying to figure out which paintings were created during the ups and which were painted during the downs in Gaard's life. The cheery nature of the bright colors he uses can be deceptive, but a severed swan head, well, that's a pretty clear indication of what mood he may have been in.

There was a delicious selection of hors d'oeuvres and cocktails at this party, too. Bunny and I ran into Breck, who was mixing savory cocktails, and happens to be our regular bartender at the Bradstreet Crafthouse. Let me tell you, once I got a looksee into what it might be like having my favorite bartender on hand wherever I may be, it's hard to snap out of it.
 Find out more about Frank Gaard.
See the exhibition at Co Exhibitions through May 28, 2011

BUNNY AND I HEADED TO St. Anthony Main for a movie after the art show, but before we arrived at the movie, we stopped at Surdyk's to purchase some whiskey. I threw a fit when Breck didn't show up to mix me a cocktail when the movie's opening credits started.

Good thing Bunny is real quick-like on opening whiskey bottles -- that snapping sound of the cap twisting open always calms me down. Barring that, a shaker of ice, gin, vermouth, and bitters works, too.  Speaking of which...

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Ultramods Celebrate the Release of Their New eBook

THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO made the jaunt over to Kieran's this past Saturday. I think we all agreed that it was a cozy place to be on such a gloomy mid-afternoon. Some time during the reading the clouds parted and the sun came out. Obviously that's no coincidence.

For those of you who weren't there, Bunny and I celebrated the release of our eBook "Bunny and Coco Get Smashed: Stories from Six Years in the Drinking Life" which is a compilation of essays from The Daily Lush, an online magazine we started when we lived in the French Quarter. Naturally, we continued our research when we moved back to Minnesota (which explains the six-years part of the title). We explored many facets of the history and culture of alcohol and dug up plenty of obscure facts we think you'll enjoy.

It's a helluva lot of fun to read and you can buy it this instant through and Smashwords for $4.99.

I'd also like to thank our special guests who also read at our party. Thank you to Susan Marks, who read from her latest book "In the Mood for Munsingwear: Minnesota's Claim to Underwear Fame" (I reviewed it for City Pages). And Steve McPherson, who shared an especially poignant piece of writing about a fight that breaks out over the ignorance of knowing what it takes to make a perfect martini. Personally, I felt like it could have been a page out of my own biography.

But that's a book for another time.