What is the “AVANT GARDEN”? A conversation with its founder, Erik Kiesewetter
APRIL 14, 2011
I interviewed Erik Kiesewetter in his expansive backyard on Esplanade Ave.(2216 Esplanade Ave., to be exact): the site for this Saturday’s Avant Garden – a arts, fashion, and food sale, from 11am-5pm.
Erik was fretting about a car in the parking lot that stretched into his backyard. He taped a very neatly written note on the car’s windshield earlier, and, by the clear underneath of the sedan in a parking lot dressed with leaves, he didn’t think its owners were around to clear the space where the Brazilian barbecue booth was supposed to go. This dilemma was added to the dilemma of yellow-brown water in the fountain, the dilemma of fallen palm branches along the gates, and the dilemma of the leaves, leaves everywhere – everywhere leaves!
…I didn’t really see a cause for alarm, but the strewn debris made Erik nervous…
Since the release of his first art and literary publication, ‘Constance,’ Erik’s attention to detail has gone into his own aesthetic, watched and imitated by a global fan base.
In a few short years, Erik has adapted the Georgia font-type, graying color tones and occasional geometric obstructions that identify the Constance-look into a aesthetic language, maintaining the commonality of websites, books jackets, and t-shirts.
This Saturday, for the second time, Constance’s language moves from its 2D vernacular into a conversation with real-world creations, as Constance sculpts a shopping experience, aptly dubbed: the Avant Garden.
Erik explains Avant Garden’s beginnings:
It started with me selling books – random objects – sitting out and drinking beer on my steps, enjoying a Saturday. Then I decided to invite friends over, telling them, ‘bring something you want to sell.’ They would come sell their stuff, and we would all be sitting outside and playing records and having a nice time – a social club of sorts for us. …I didn’t think it would be anything more than that. Avant Garden really formalized after Katherine Bray’s nudging, through the Art Home New Orleans program that she and Jeanne Nathan created with CANO [the Creative Alliance of New Orleans]. She wanted me to do something with that program, and I only had a few weeks to have it together; so it became a matter of calling friends – mostly people whom I knew or had worked with Constance in the past – and then it just all came together at our last event.
The last Avant Garden seemed like a success, with every vendor making some money – so I saw the potential for another Avant Garden, better promoted and with more people involved than the first one.
The first Avant Garden definitely carried the youth-culture, vintage aesthetic that Constance seems to tout. Will you try to keep the next Avant Garden within the same aesthetic?
Yes and no. Most people were brought onto the project because they said, ‘Hey I have a really amazing thing that I want to sell.’ But some were specifically asked to come. J.Yuenger, for instance, I approached for this sale knowing he had an amazing collection of random things from all over the world. But for others, like Shanna Griffin, with Re-Styling, I had never really seen her vintage bags before she participated last time – though, I wasn’t surprised when she brought the amazing luggage collection.
I’ve tried to continue to bring in more people with an aesthetic similar to the artists and vendors of our first Avant Garden – Erin Flashner has a lot of vintage clothing and designs that have never been shown really, and Jonah Langenbeck’s Department of Changes, debuted last sale with vintage gentlemen’s clothing, all from New Orleans brands. I know this time around he has some fresh products to bring to the table.
Plus most people involved are my friends or friends of friends, and I feel that we all have similar levels of aesthetics and attention to detail.
You sound like the guiding force behind Avant Garden.
I think it would be ridiculous to say that my hand isn’t completely in it. Since Avant Garden is an extension of Constance programming, it has its own feel and aesthetic and expectations. But Theo Eliezer is also instrumental in putting together. She creates custom head pieces, designs jewelry and is involved with conceptual costuming. She is also trying to repair the tarnished KK Projects (which we don’t have to talk about now). But, going back to your question, ‘are my tastes in Avant Garden?,’ I think they are. …It is a curated shopping experience, but I still want it to be open and varied – a place for people to hangout and enjoy themselves.
Are you basing Avant Garden on any other ‘curated shopping experiences’?
I feel this is a reaction to the normal arts markets. Not to name names of any arts markets – they know who they are – but it’s usually the same thing: same people participating, same kind of products, same style of products over and over again, and the environment isn’t an intimate place you would want to hang out in. So I think there’s definitely a void that we’re trying to fill. We are definitely trying to create a community experience where people can meet one another as well.
Kind of like the Brooklyn Flea Market does?
The Brooklyn Market is definitely one of the nicest things I’ve ever seen, and it was definitely an inspiration for Avant Garden. When I first saw it, I asked myself, ‘why can’t this be in New Orleans?’ Still, I know taht Brooklyn is a different kind of environment. But everything there is of a certain level of quality – we really want to keep Avant Garden’s level of quality high as well.
There’s a video that shows your last Avant Garden, created by Christopher Stoudt of NewOrleansStyle.com. …From the video, Avant Garden didn’t really seem too New Orleansy. Are you consciously trying to break with a New Orleans aesthetic? Is that part of keeping quality high?
Well Avant Garden is definitely built by a New Orleans community, and we’re all interacting together in this intimate environment – that is definitely the New Orleans way. But I don’t really want to make it feel or look ‘New Orleansy.’ I suppose I’m not really trying to make it look like anything. Like I said, it’s just a good hang out space and share ideas.
You keep driving the point that Avant Garden is a place to ‘hang out,’ in addition to being a sale of merchandise…
Yes! Why do pop up markets have to be a row of white tents, all in a line, with a jam band ? Why does it have to be that? …It should be, and can be, something better. There is so much happening in the community, with new work and new talent and a lot of people poised to be doing something great.
Leo McGovern with Anti Gravity took the lead on making a better experience years ago with the Alternative Media Expo. So it’s not like I’m bringing some completely new idea to the table. I think that any opportunities for people to share their work is great. If there are more venues like this, all the better.
Before we end, can you tell me a bit about the people coming to sell at Avant Garden Saturday?
We will have Lauren Beshel and Thiri DeVoe of Branch Out with sustainable clothing, Defend New Orleans / Standard Service & Supply Co. showcasing new wares, and of course Dirty Coast will be there too.
But aside from the clothing we will have prints and works from many members of Good Children Gallery, including Stephen Collier and Dan Tague. Screen prints from poster artist Scott Campbell, letter pressed prints from Jeremy Thompson and prints from designer Lisa Cohn of Birdie-Birdie. I think Bunny Matthews will be making an appearance as well.
Something that is also important to me is the amount of publications available at this event. New books from Neighborhood Story Project and InvadeNOLA, as well as a new partnership with Constance and Gnome that’ll showcase harder to find contemporary art and culture periodicals from around the world.
And then there’s a guy from the other night and invited. He’s one of the first three graduates of NOCCA in 1975. He’s an experimental gardener of sorts that does things beyond my comprehension – mixing bio-composting and string theory and such… He’s working with Eiffel Society, handling their garden, and he’s going to be creating some sort of experimental thing I’m sure.
A friend, Arianna Petrich, is even flying in from New York the day of to showcase her new line of jewelry.
In addition to all the merchandise, this time there will be all sorts of food and drink(last Avant Garden we only had alcohol). They’ll be a coffee maker who is brewing coffee with Moroccan spices and cardamom with a Vietnamese flare, a few Brazilians barbecuing with sugar cane glazes, Pretty Peas will offer a vegan soul food option, and Chris Hannah from French75 will be making drinks. Chris is considered one of the top bartenders in the country, so that is pretty awesome that he was into participating.
But, even with the food, it wont have the feeling of a farmers market. That’s not the aim..
…A garden party…
Yeah, it’s light. It should be simple, and easy, and fun.
Next: parasols and a dress code?
Avant Garden will be open from 11AM to 5PM, Saturday, April 15, at 2216 Esplanade Ave. For more on Avant Garden, visit weareconstance.org/avantgarden/. You can also discover Constance magazine at weareconstance.org.