A Tale of Two Kitties

8282078912_bc8550f3dd_cAnthony Pappalardo Hello Kitty book launch at Openhouse Gallery.

While Art Basel has officially reached it’s saturation point with corporate sponsored parties eclipsing the actual art fair, I was able to pick up on three major art trends during my week there. There were an abundance of sculptures featuring shiny spheres at the fair–and also decorating many hotel lobbies — rap lyrics recreated on canvases are trending, but the biggest buzz was the emergence of memes and animated gifs as art.

When I spotted Blake Boston–the person who accidentally became the popular meme Scumbag Steve–smoking a cigarette playing the door man at the Hole gallery his latest track, my trend spotting suspecions were confirmed. Scumbag Steve was accompanied by his friend Christopher Torres, the creator of the 2012 Meme of the Year, Nyan Cat. Nyan Cat began as an animated gif based on Torres’ own cat, and eventually spawned a YouTube video that’s garnered over almost 90 million views.

Last Thursday night, New York Art Department launched four days of programming, headquartered at The Hole gallery, based on Torres’ gif titled #NYANCATCITY. #NYANCATCITY wasn’t just a celebration of Torres’ creation. The events ranged from panel discussions on cats and the internet, a zine fair, and actual kitten adoptions. The opening party featured a Nyan Cat pop-up shop as well as an interactive station featuring the latest Nyan Cat game, Space Party. Projected onto a white gallery wall, attendees were encouraged to play the game–an app available through iTunes and Google Play–by steering the character with Sphero, a glowing ball. As people sipped vodka and navigated Nyan Cat through space, another cat themed event was opening on Broome street.

8282075700_b12935d794_cSuzanne Rozdeba Sucklord at Hello Kitty book launch, Openhouse Gallery.

Several artists and designers including Betsey Johnson and Paul Frank teamed up with the Openhouse Gallery for the “Hello Kitty, Hello Art!” book launch. Compiled by Roger Gastman, the book features reinterpretations of the iconic Sanrio characters, with contributions by RISK, POSE, Adam Wallacavage, Paul Frank, and several other popular artists.

A life-size Hello Kitty character greeted the attendees that included Johnson, chef Geoffrey Zakarian, the artist Sucklord, and many of the book’s contributors. Hostesses passed out ornately decorated holiday themed cookies, as women dressed like anime characters flounced around with gift bags and artisanal cocktails.

The dizzying scene resembled a rave, Lady Gaga concert line, and PS1 exhibit swirling together. The Openhouse’s walls were stacked with the brightly colored artist renderings of the stoic cat, even the white spaces were filled in with a mural created by DABS MYLA. DABS MYLA, who created a special holiday ornament available at the pop up shop, explained the seemingly unlikely connection between Hello Kitty and graffiti, “What we do is quite similar (to Sanrio). We paint a lot of positive happy characters that all have their own stories…while we have been working on recreating the Sanrio characters, we have had fun learning their back stories too!”

Both launch parties were packed with sequins, saturated lights, lavish pop up shops, striking colors, top shelf liquor, and yes… cats. Art Basel may claim to be “the most prestigious art show in the Americas,” but two galleries in New York City seem to have made much more of a spectacle in one night.

Correction: Dec. 20, 2012 | The original version of this post was revised to reflect a correction. The #NYANCATCITY programming was presented by New York Art Department.