Hello, you will paint me now.

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Student or performance artist?

The kid laid out a tarp and scattered bottles of paint across it. He positioned a chair in the middle while several friends readied three different cameras around him. Then he took off his pants.

It’s the time of the term again when some smug art teacher unleashes hundreds of amateur performance artists into the streets. These students might be seeking to create a beautiful experience or elicit an interesting reaction… or they might be searching for an easy A. It’s just so hard to tell.

Take this kid, who was positioned near the EMU. After plugging in some earphones, he unfurled a sign inviting people to paint him. A crowd instantly formed around him, and before long he had a smiley face on his chest, “OCCUPY” on his back, and a glistening golden bracelet on his wrist (the latter courtesy of me).

I hate to say it, but it’s a pretty standard performance art gimmick. “Create me!” says the artist. He’s dressed all in white and facing the strange blend of indulgent attention and public humiliation he’s brought upon himself with a certain stony ethos.

I’ve seen it in so many slight variations over the last few years. There was the girl (also dressed in white) with duct tape over her mouth and a cup full of sharpies at her feet. Once a group of art students dressed as circus performers gave me a little red ticket as they twirled all around me. Another time, a kid on 13th holding an Easter basket stuffed candy into my hands. On second thought, that last one might have just been one of those creepy strangers my parents always warned me about.

Why do all of these concepts slightly irritate me? I think it’s because the artist doesn’t seem to have any real hand or stake in the work. I get it that you’re trying to pull me out of my comfort zone and see how I might react, but why is there always such a wall between artist and observer? Why the tape and ear buds?

Maybe I was just spoiled by my brief obsession with Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present, which showed at the MoMA last spring. Abramovic sat for a total of 736.5 hours facing a long parade of museum goers who would wait in line to sit in a chair across from her for a couple minutes. She was also silent, but she stared directly into the participants’ eyes. The result is a series of brilliant portraits by Marco Anelli. At first participants smile, but later they look grave or sad. Sometimes tears fill their eyes.

Abramovic’s performance art was simple and brilliant, personal and intensely psychological, silent but full of potent dialogue. Bring it, UO art students. I know you can do better!

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2 comments
  1. Sarah Refvem said:

    Yoko Ono explored this concept almost 50 years ago with Cut Piece. OLD NEWS.

    • Okay, but did you click that last link? “Marina Abramovic made me cry” is an end in itself 😛

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