By now you all know the drill: You can't judge a Boise Weekly by its cover. If there's, say, a painting of a mustachioed hipster soaking his skivvies in a sprinkler on the front of the paper, our main feature will not look into ironic appropriations of childhood watersports or urban tastemakers' turning their noses at water-wasting, non-native landscaping.
Our covers are original works of art completely unrelated to our content. Every fall, we hoist the framed masterpieces from our office walls and cart them to the Idaho State Historical Museum so the public can fight for the chance to wake up every morning and smile at Sir Sprinkler Crotch.
Though we could ramble on about how the proceeds from the Cover Auction go to support Boise Weekly arts grants--we handed out $14,067 in 2010 to groups like BOSCO, Go Listen Boise and TRICA--this year, we decided to give you newbies (and any seasoned vets who haven't already started queuing up outside the historical museum) a rundown of goings on the night of. This is the official, unabashedly indulgent, BW Cover Auction Insiders' Guide. You can thank us on Wednesday, Nov. 17, at 5 p.m. with a stiff drink.
Don't be a Dud
First things first, just because you can show up almost anywhere in town in a pair of Levi's and a North Face fleece doesn't mean you should. Though there's no official dress code at the BW Cover Auction, you won't feel out of place in a swank cocktail dress or a nice pair of slacks. Even the disheveled BW editorial staff scrub the bar stamps off our hands and pump a couple sprays of Binaca in our mouths for the cover auction. We recommend you bust out your fancy pants for this one--it'll give you a debonair swagger on your third trip to the snack table.
What it is
The structure of the evening goes roughly like this: Starting at 5 p.m., you can saunter up to the second story of the museum, grab your bidder's card and beeline to the token table, where we'll help you turn dollars into drunkenness. You'll have one hour to make the rounds, nibbling on free snacks and checking out the artwork. For long-time Cover Auction attendee Ryan Smith, this in-person preview is crucial to assessing which pieces to bid on.
"When you see a piece on the cover of the Boise Weekly, you don't know the size," said Smith. "Sometimes you get there and you're like, 'That's nothing like what I thought it was going to be.'"
All cover art is displayed and auctioned off in chronological order from when it appeared in print. That means if you have your eye on a cover that ran in September 2010--like Sarah Hovren's sexy Stick 'em up Sunny--it would be wise to pace yourself on Sassy Sallys (our publisher's namesake cocktail) or you might be passed out next to Deja Moo by the time your piece comes up for auction.
Every year there are artists who consistently bring in the big bucks. Pieces from well-known names like Bill Carman, Ben Wilson and Erin Cunningham tend to hover in the $250-$500 range. But there are always surprises. Last year, Enjoy the Moment, an unsigned painting of President Barack Obama, went for $1,200. And in 2008, Thomas Lewis' Giclee print, Spontaneous Aqueous Phosphorescent Phenomenon No. 4, brought in $650, which was donated in his late wife's honor to St. Luke's Mountain States Tumor Institute.
For painter Molly Hill, whose first BW cover Tree Huggers brought in the second-highest bid at last year's auction, it was far too nerve-racking to be present when her piece went up for bidding.
"I had never been standing during a live auction of one of my works ... It occurred to me that, 'Boy, this is going to be uncomfortable. People are going to look at me for some kind of reaction,'" said Hill. "So I left the building."
But not every artist reacts that way. Some, as Hill observed last year, use pals to bid up the price of their pieces. Though the thought of using a shill should be so mortifying that it keeps anyone from doing it, here's our official stance on the matter: don't be a dummy.
Sometimes our most contentious covers generate the most excitement. From Timothy Shawn Burnicle's Gunfight at Brokeback Outhouse (2007), which depicted a gay cowboy Larry Craig, to Alejandro Lempkin's The Political World as Seen from Boise, Idaho (2008), which included the words "Barack Oboner," risque sells. This year's most outrageous covers--Peter Barnes' devil-horned painting of Sarah Palin, Mother Palin, and E.J. Pettinger's sprinkler squatter, Stay Cool, are bound to get bid cards flying. Though Pettinger's piece elicited a scathing letter to the editor from a local mom, he doesn't understand the controversy.
"To me, it was kind of like a cross between 1960s David Hockney and 1980s America's Funniest Home Videos," said Pettinger. "I thought it was comic. I didn't consider it in any way edgy or inappropriate."
Wheelin' and Dealin'
While regular auction attendees have learned all the ins and outs of the game--how to score free tequila shots and how to stare down their bidding nemeses--most return for one reason: Sweet deals on original art. For Smith, who has carted home more than 15 covers over the years, the BW Cover Art Auction is the most affordable way to deck his walls while supporting the local arts community.
"Just the cost of the frame alone is worth the $80 that I paid for this piece of artwork that is beautiful and brilliant," said Ryan.