Great Balls of Fire

Art Basel's almost here, so it's time to check in with those crazy art kids again. Clubbed crosses not just to the other side of the causeway but the other side of the tracks to the Vulcan's Lair Gallery, all for the cause of culture. At 9:00 p.m. there isn't much activity going on around the unassuming building on the corner of NW 22nd Street and 7th Avenue. The invitation reads "7 p.m. Until," which means we will probably be camping out here for a while, pushing more toward the latter. Nine is peak time for most of these functions, but the fireworks won't get going until there is a thicker congregation of wined-up art connoisseurs and those skilled at pleasing the aesthetic faculties.

The ten-dollar "donation" at the door entitles us to a mixed-media presentation of art, fashion, and music. There's an open bar and a modest spread of sushi, BBQ sandwiches, and cornbread. Food and liquor. You could get it at home, but what fun would that be? There would be no one to ogle or make fun of.

Just past the metallic arches people gather to watch artists Dustin Orlando, Francesco LoCastro, and Rocky Grimes demonstrate a live painting show that's inspired by graffiti. Deep inside the Lair is a playground of metal fresh-picked for Edward Scissorhands. It looks like an old junkyard or garage: pieces of steel welded to form an old car, wrought-iron strips and huge metal containers filled with 3-D animation, photography, and painted canvases. An intellectual beguine begins as women with shaved heads mind-dance around boys sporting Mike Score's Flock Of Seagulls waterfall 'do and other "artees."

About 11:00 p.m. the crowd gathers around a free-standing bathtub, where a writhing Vanessa Dubin drenches herself in paints to hoots and barks of appreciation. The moblike crowd urges teddy-clad Vanessa on to "fierceness." Her violent yet seductive rubatub is oh-so-tribal. A chick in a tub beats a rubber ducky any day, but the colors mixed on her body don't look quite right. Maybe the wine hasn't taken hold. Maybe Clubbed doesn't know from art.

But then who needs wine when there's Frank Joseph Welde's welding. This Fred Sanford of the art world shoots sparks into the sky to the groove of DJ Nicky Scanni's house music mix. Heavy metal takes on a whole new meaning.

And where there's house music, there's fashion. Models wearing swimwear from the Yummiest clothing line and designs from F22 Studio try their best to look impassive while fireballs fly just above their heavily sprayed hair. Is that a pout or panic? No matter, the connoisseurs cheer the stricken metalheads down the runway.

Suddenly the torch is snuffed out and a blond dreadlocked woman in a tattered denim skirt announces the second round of the fashion show on, of all things, a didjeridoo. Guess somebody confused the underground with the down under. Fashion aborigines take the stage: boys in dresses and women coiffed with twigs and branches.

Back in the metal yard, one lucky raffle winner displays a work by Francesco LoCastro, called The Altar Boy's Revelation. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the unholy scene of a priest and a young altar boy communing in sort of a horizontal mambo. "We're going to hell," the winner laughs.

Close enough.

Clubbed has had enough art for the night.

We're going to Level!

It's 2:00 a.m. and we elbow our way into the (Studio) 54 party. In the main room Mr. Trance himself, George Acosta, lords over the underworld of flashing lights, sirens, and a beat as subtle as blitzkrieg. There may be no fire and brimstone here, but there's something much, much worse: causeway kids flailing those annoying glow sticks, partying like it's 1996. Hell-o. Break dancing and punk might be making a comeback, but glow sticks haven't been out long enough to cut it as retro cool. Take it to a Star Wars convention, kiddies. Everybody who's anybody nowadays is waving a blowtorch instead.

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Lee Williams