One mild December day, Erik Kiesewetter thought he'd hang out on his front steps and sell his surplus art, design books and movies. "It was a really nice day," he recalls. "A friend came over and DJed and people came from off the street. I made tea and coffee; we had beer out. I was like, 'Hey, if anyone wants to sell anything, come over.'"
That was the first Avant Garden. Fast forward two years: The handful of friends has grown to more than 60 vendors and the biannual event has relocated from Kiesewetter's yard to the Joan Mitchell Center. "It's doubled in size every time I've done it, which is kind of awkward," Kiesewetter says.
As a graphic designer and creator of arts organization Constance, Kiesewetter counterbalances Avant Garden's laid-back vibe with a sharply curated collection of goods. "By being able to say yes or no (to potential vendors), it brings a certain level of quality," Kiesewetter says. "(Avant Garden) could easily turn into a junk sale or one of the millions of other art markets we have with candles and that kind of thing — and that's stuff we all love, but there's a lot of it going around."
This year, participants include Bob Tannen, Dave Greber and Bunny Matthews. "Printmakers, small publications writers, people who have beautiful vintage clothes, jewelry makers — it's all over the place," Kiesewetter says. "Last spring, a friend brought his huge collection of turn-of-the-century German funerary plaques. It's like giant pop-up for people who don't have storefronts or who want to showcase new things."
Prices range from $3-$250, but Kiesewetter is quick to emphasize that the Avant Garden experience is a lot more slow-paced than a hectic jaunt to Lakeside Mall. DJ Joey Buttons will provide tunes, and some artists will do interactive drawing sessions. "The best way to describe it is it's a garden party — there's cocktails, beers, people hanging out," he says. "People come who are new to town and don't know a lot of people, and this is a chance for people to connect and find out who's doing what. But it's not like a mixer. Nothing like that."
Avant Garden takes place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17 at the Joan Mitchell Center (2275 Bayou Road). For more information, go here.