Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


October 12, 2007 - 7:02am -- Carol Diehl
Yesterday I inadvertently went to an art performance. I had plans with a friend for lunch, and he suggested meeting uptown where someone he knew was doing a performance in the lobby of a corporate office building. On the way, I passed another lobby where they were presenting a new car. The car was roped off and next to it, in tight pants and high heels, was a lovely blond woman whose job was to stand there, and by her silent presence, bring attention to the vehicle. I don’t know what kind of bubble I’ve been in, but I didn’t realize these things were still being done in 2007, at least in aware places like New York, and I wondered how she felt being decoration for a car and what she thought about while she stood there. Moving along I found the lobby where the performance was supposed to be, and not seeing anything going on, approached a young, beautiful Asian woman, standing alone behind a counter, who turned out to be the artist. She told me her theme was money laundering, and asked if I wanted her to wipe the bills from my wallet with scented disposable wipes she’d had specially packaged for the occasion. I demurred and instead watched a brief video that featured a bacteriologist talking about the concentration of germs on money. Then my friend arrived and she asked him if he had any money she could clean. He produced a twenty and after wiping it, she waved it in the air to dry. She told us she’d “laundered” over $13,000 so far, and produced a questionnaire, which my friend filled out, about his money habits, if he was afraid of germs, etc. My friend was obviously enjoying himself, which was hardly surprising—her wide smile, dark eyes and flirtatious manner were impossible to resist—and I began to ask myself how different the “performance” would be if the person behind the counter were some grizzled old guy, if anyone would even bother investigating it to see what was going on, and then I wondered, what would it be like if it were some grizzled old guy and he wasn’t set up behind a counter in a pristine office building but behind a cardboard box on the corner of 57th and Sixth. I thought, too, about Kara Walker’s images based on racism and sexism, and how a grizzled old guy—especially a grizzled old white guy—would have a hard time getting away with that as well. Then we raced through the rain to Mangia, where I had roast lamb and beet salad, and realized that, if I’m to continue to increase my understanding of art, I have to spend a lot more time in the city.


I saw the same kind of "performance" at Grand Central on Oct. 13. That is, a hot mama behind a rope with a Mazarati. She looked bored. No one dared approach her. How lonely, I thought. The parked car was actually alienating her from onlookers. It was too awkward a site in the middle of the terminal. However, she served her purpose - to be a living, breathing symbol of DESIRE -
I mean, the car was hot, but nothing compares to the heat of live flesh. Objects can't sell themselves. So too with the money laundering. Your friend was more intrigued by her than by her "performance", like you said, but that seems to be part of the work. You can't separate the dance from the dancer, right?
If the grizzled old guy were at all appealing, he might get some cash. The law of attration works on a gut level.
Would Kara Walker's work still affect us if her silouettes weren't exquisitely made? I don't believe we'd see their power if they we cut out all sloppy and w/o detail.

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