Saturday, April 08, 2006
On Friday I (or rather, the crack team of wunderkids at the airport) installed the piece in terminal F at the Philadelphia airport. It's called Exotic Narrative, and it will be up until September.
It turns out that it is great to show work at an airport: a HUGE number of people see your work. I knew this, but I didn't know it. It was overwhelming: it was a river of people. You don't notice it when you're in it, rushing to catch a plane or waiting with other people for your flight. The Director of exhibitions told me that 330,000 people come through the airport every month. When you are standing still in a busy corridor of terminal F and you unroll a large painting on the floor behind a line of stanchions, people talk to you about it. Constantly. They talk to each other about it, they make faces they think no one can see, they mutter behind their breath, they stop and watch you hang like you are an animal in the zoo. It's cool. We installed all day: from about 9 to about 4, and I'd say someone stopped and talked to us every ten minutes.
"Is that airbrush?"
"Did you make that? Really? You made that. That's good."
"How did you make that? That's nice. I like that. "
"Look honey, that's pretty- I like that."
"Oooh, that's beaoooteeful."
"Will you do my kid's room? My little girl would like that. She likes pink."
"Can I take a picture?"
"Is that a story?"
"What is that? That's good, it looks nice."
"Miss, miss, miss." (This from the professional harasser who was hawking Frequent Flyer Miles at a mostly oblivious crowd.)
"You the artist?"
"You have the most artistic hands I've ever seen."
He went back to harassing people: "I got frequent flyer miles, I'm giving em away, ten minutes only, oops, too late, you missed em, you sir! Do you have frequent flyer miles? I do, and I want to give them to you....Miss!"
" You have a lot of talent."
"I wasted mine a long time ago."
Now, I'd been watching this guy keep his spirits up for a good six hour shift of yelling at people who were ignoring him in a hallway, and I'd been listening to his patter, which was pretty stinking funny, all day long. So I was sure he was not without talent, but I couldn't figure out how to say that to him, so I just shoved out another cliche: "Never too late."
"You're right", he said, apparently satisfied, "Never too late, that's true. Never too late."
A red headed lady asked me if I was the artist. "So you made this?"
"Where else do you make these?"
"Anywhere anyone wants me to show them. I make them in my studio, but people put them up wherever."
"So you just make them?"
"Do you ever sell them?"
"Not really- they're pretty big. Sometimes I sell the small ones."
"So you just make them?"
"Huh." She wandered off, completely mystified.
Two very nice ladies wanted to know if they could take pictures. Several billion guys in airport jackets (baggage handlers?) said nice things, and almost all of them were funny. A guy on a cart drove up beside us. "This is very nice. Very good, don't you think?" We all nodded.
"I especially like that monkey I did." He said, then drove away as we all laughed.
Ursula, a lovely woman who is one of the installation team, told me that they always get a lot of comments about the art that they put up. The worst, she said was when they were taking down an exhibition about the Phillies and putting up a collection of antique ladies' hats. Everyone was sad about the Phillies going down, but one man said he liked the hats."Those are nice. I like those. I like those a lot."
"Really?" She said. He didn't seem the type.
"Oh yeah. Those must have been some fine women wearing those hats."
I'm really hoping to get some neat email responses to the piece. It meant a lot to me that people who aren't the typical contemporary art audience like the work. It was also great to talk to Leah, the director of the program, and Ursula, who had interesting things to say about the way I've translated my theories about beauty into this piece about fights between squirrels and monkeys and badgers. I left the airport feeling like I might be like a good pop artist: there are people who can't see what I'm doing with the content because they dismiss the pop forms, but the vast majority of viewers in a truly public space do see at least part of what I'm up to, and they like looking at it.
I don't think I'm a snob, but I think I had it in me to be one at some point years ago when I decided to make art using visual forms that scared me. There should have been no good reason that I was afraid to use bright colors, big scary snakes, and cartoons, but there was a time when I was afraid of alienating the kind of viewers who liked their art at a distance from the kinds of images that everyone understands. Deciding to attack those forms, to attack the side of myself that had learned what to avoid in order to make smart looking art, was the best decision I've ever made. It felt good right away to make work that I would have liked before I learned what I was supposed to like, and to try to push my intellectual content into forms that were visually rich and accessible. So now, ten years later, when I've been living with that for a while, it's gratifying to see that it's worked, to some extent, and it makes me extra grateful to the fine art people who are ballsy enough to get behind my work without patronizing it.
Tonight I'm going to watch, on Leah Douglas and Clint Takeda's recommendation, Pompoko, a movie with a cast that is almost entirely raccoons.