Vitaminwater’s Faustian Party Spot

By Jonathan L. Fischer - Arts Desk
|  Monday, May 23, 2011  |  Updated 12:20 PM EDT
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Vitaminwater’s Faustian Party Spot

It's possible I'm too compromised to write about uncapped LIVE, the vitaminwater-sponsored, Brightest Young Things-curated temporary arts space on 14th Street N.W. At the invitation of some Brightest Young Things contributors, I'm participating in a couple of events at the venue over the next few weeks: a panel discussion, and what I take to be some sort of DJ battle among professional music nerds.

I won't be compensated for participating in either event, except in the way that everyone is compensated after stepping into uncapped LIVE: with swag.

At last night's Fader-sponsored soft opening, I compromised myself time and again. With this free Heineken, for example:

And with this free vitaminwater:

And with this free Heineken bottle opener:

I'll say this for uncapped LIVE: It is really cool. The space has four labyrinthine floors -- two mostly filled with art from Art Whino's "G40" mega-exhibit, one for performances and hanging out, and a basement which wasn't open last night but which BYT volunteers are casually referring to as the "rave cave." There's WiFi, and a diverse, impressive lineup of events put on by BYT and its friends. I'm fairly sure it'll be my playground for the first month of summer.

But just like anyone who walks through doors, uncapped LIVE feels pretty compromised itself. The G40 exhibit specializes in what Art Whino director Shane Pomajambo last year called "new brow" -- shorthand, basically, for street art and its derivatives.

The uncapped LIVE space at 14th and W Streets NW is a longtime underground graffiti spot, and the space's organizers have covered every once-blank piece of wall with graffiti, paint, wheatepastes...and logos. There is vitaminwater's logo rendered as street art (see right). And Living Social's (which is offering uncapped LIVE drink specials).

The logos even creep upstairs to the sections of the space reserved for G40. Rush through it all, and it's hard to tell where the advertising ends and the art begins. (One artist, whose ideas I'll leave to actual critics to pick apart, even incorporated vitaminwater into a work.)

Brightest Young Things may have had its way with programming -- and they've done a good job with it -- but uncapped LIVE shouldn't be mistaken for anything other than an advertisement. And it's not just advertising its beverages to the people who hang out in the space. It's transforming its attendees into advertisements themselves.

Check out this notice (above) posted on a wall in the space. It explains that by entering that area of uncapped LIVE, you agree to being photographed or filmed, and that vitaminwater can then use that content however it likes. The brand is wedding its product to a lifestyle, and then using that lifestyle to sell more product.

And maybe that's fine: Certainly, Brightest Young Things couldn't organize something on this scale, whose events are all free or cheap, without a benefactor. As I've written before, the corporation-as-arts-patron isn't necessarily a bad thing for artists and consumers. Just something to be mindful of.

The fun times continue through June 17. The official opening is tonight with Fatback DJs , and it's free. Much more info on upcoming events here. uncapped Live is at 2213-2217 14th St. N.W.

By the way: vitaminwater's flaks just emailed out some shots of last night (I caught sets from X.O. and Fat Trel. They both slayed). Maybe you're in one! Via vitaminwater:

Vitaminwater’s Faustian Party Spot was originally published by Washington City Paper on May 20, 2011.

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