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New London — Artists, art-lovers and revelers began to stream into the city Saturday night, drawn by the promise of Hygienic Art’s annual art show, the venerable spectacle that remains the centerpiece of a host of ancillary events.
If the out-of-doors conditions were glacial, so, too, was the pace at first, a circumstance that changed soon enough.
By 8 p.m., Salon des Indépendants XXXIV — Hygienic art shows, like Super Bowls, carry Roman numerals — showed signs of fulfilling its promise, as patrons crowded into Hygienic’s Bank Street gallery, where 326 pieces of art had been arranged on two floors throughout the day.
For the record, the number of entries in the non-juried show was “a little low,” according to Sherry Stidfole, one of the show’s organizers.
“It was actually quiet at one point this afternoon, and I don’t remember that ever happening before,” Stidfole said, describing the daylong dropping-off of the art. “It could be the weather.”
Temperatures were heading into the teens, plunging the city in a deep freeze.
Up Union Street, though, the bands performing at The Rock Fix in the Crocker House Ballroom were heating things up amid “weird, trippy” lighting, in the words of one performer.
Rich Martin, Hygienic Art’s managing director, sought a relatively quiet corner to lend some perspective.
“The goal is to expose people to all of the arts, all modes of expression,” he said of the Hygienic show, which from humble origins has morphed into a two-week festival. “It used to be a one-day thing; now, since we’ve become a professional gallery, it’s a little different.
“It’s as much a good time as anything. If people are smiling, showing pictures on Facebook, then it’s a success.”
Over the years, the Hygienic art show had become known for the outlandishness of some of the art it displayed, but irreverence and poor taste seemed little in evidence Saturday. And then the motley fife-and-drum corps marched past the gallery, accompanied by pallbearers hoisting an empty casket and waving pink flamingo-tipped poles.
The mood was not exactly tame. And the Ice Carnival hadn’t even opened yet in Hygienic Art Park.
“That was the press,” Vincent Scarano, president of Hygienic Art, said, referring to the show’s racy reputation. “To me, it’s always been about great artists doing experimental work that you wouldn’t ordinarily see around here. In the ’80s, it was the days of Warhol and the emerging scene in SoHo, and then it got bigger and bigger.”
How would he judge the success of this year’s show, or any year’s show, for that matter?
“We don’t judge success,” Scarano said. “We don’t judge anything here.”