Once in a great while, someone throws a party that lifts my spirits for days and restores my faith in frivolity. Last weekend's Arthouse Texas Prize party, with "Texas Excess" as its theme, was one.
For weeks, just for fun, I imagined all the ways you could go wrong with a theme like that, all the hokey, provincial, amateurish ways you could undermine the state's declaration of relevance to the art world. But no, the theme was perfectly executed — make that Tex-ecuted. Witty references to Texas culture punctuated the event without detracting from its lofty aim, which was to raise money and esteem for contemporary Texas artists.
At Arthouse, the first stop of the night, garishly made-up pageant queens served as greeters, tequila flowed furiously and a wall-sized quote from Dolly Parton reminded us that it takes a lot of money to look this trashy. The crowd, and I do mean crowd, was a sight. I'd been so eager to see how people would interpret the dress code. Did "Texas excess" mean oversized westernwear? Or (please please please) did it mean the loudest, most obnoxious and outdated cocktail frippery you could find? Would people tease their hair out to there? Would they flaunt their breast implants? Would it be costumey? Or, this being an art event, would people just wear black?
Carla McDonald, who co-chaired the event with Julie Thornton, told me she was planning to wear a backless, vintage Versace gown that was all black except for what she termed a "brown leather butt," which turned out to be quite an accurate description. (See photo.)
Fearless Texans reached deep into their closets and seized the opportunity to dust off dresses from the '80s, the heyday of Texas excess, that would have been at home on the set of "Dallas."
I meekly wore a black ensemble that was neither Texan nor excessive. But my shoes had metal studs and miniature handcuffs on them — a nod to Texas vigilantism. And I was pleased to note that the arty-black camp included Susan Dell, who wore a black dress with metal studs from her New York-based fashion concern, Phi. Her pal Mary Ozburn, one of the founders of the Texas Prize, wore an ivory Phi dress.
Houstonian Becca Cason Thrash wore Christian Lacroix haute couture pants loaded with jangly silver sparkles. They were the very pants that appeared on the Paris runway not long ago, she said. Cason Thrash shuns vintage clothes because of some belief she has about "old clothes" not being the best thing for "old people." An interesting point, but irrelevant in this case because she looks nowhere near her age. Nowhere.
More Texana: The University of Texas marching band lined up on Congress Avenue so the 400 revelers wouldn't lack for entertainment while they migrated from Arthouse to the Driskill Hotel for the prize presentation and dinner. UT cheerleaders lined the hotel stairs. In one ballroom, a ceiling-high flower arrangement contained pheasant feathers and hunting trophies, and in another, homecoming mums bloomed among a giant arrangement of real chrysanthemums. The menu featured chicken-fried steak and s'mores. "The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas" and "Written on The Wind" were silently projected on walls. The DJ worked the theme song from "Dallas" into heads for the remainder of the weekend.
Auction items were dubbed Texquisite, Textraordinary, Texemplary, and so on, and among them was some fabulous fashion. Austin's Anthony Nak donated diamond earrings. Decades, the internationally known Los Angeles vintage boutique, donated a wild, disco-era Loris Azzaro feather coat.
"The coat seems thematically very appropriate for the event," said Decades owner Cameron Silver. "And if anyone could pull off that coat, it's a Texan," he said.
The event raised more than $200,000 to support the Texas Prize and general operations of Arthouse. Oh, that reminds me, there was art. Former Gov. Ann Richards presented the $30,000 prize to Houston video artist Eileen Maxson. I didn't have a chance to familiarize myself with Maxson's work, but if it gives us an excuse to have a party like this, I'm all for it. Curators and artists came from all over the country to see what Austin knows about art. If nothing else, they saw that Austin knows how to host a party. And that's an art.