On Wednesday, two young artists took the movement known as Relational Esthetics for a joyride. The artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, whom I’ve discussed before, has long explored the rich terrain of giving things away for free, of making interactions with art and other people possible, and of sharing. In his current show, he has upped the ante. Setting up a soup kitchen that provides soup for a dollar a bowl, he’s removed all the walls and windows of Gavin Brown’s gallery, thus doing something Relational Estheticians have been carrying on about for decades: he’s rendered indoors and outdoors the same thing -- in this case leaving the gallery open to anyone who wants to do anything, anytime.
That’s where artists Patricia Silva and Eric Clinton Anderson come in. When they visited, while perusing the soup kitchen and open walls, they spied Brown’s own 2009 Volvo parked inside the gallery -- with the keys in the ignition. Anderson explains that “We didn’t know much about the show beyond the usual ‘do as you please’ side.” Silva adds, “The absence of authority made it feel so fresh.” How fresh? They spontaneously decided to go for a drive. “We were really impressed at the boldness of the artist and gallery for having such an anarchic level of interactivity. So we jumped in, pulled out, and took the Volvo up the West Side Highway. Hell yeah!”
At about that time, Gavin Brown walked into a meeting upstairs from his gallery and announced to his artist Rob Pruitt and the Public Art Fund director, Nicholas Baume, “My car was just stolen.” (In classic artist concern-for-the-work-first fashion, Pruitt asked, “This is not going to interfere with our meeting, is it?” Brown looked around, said, “I guess not,” and sat down.) Meanwhile, on the West Side Highway, Silva was “blasting tweets to the world, announcing our glorious participation in the Tiravanija.” She then posted a picture on my Facebook page. All of this was happening in real time! While they were driving she looked around the car. “It seemed so real,” she said. “I mean, the parking tickets stuffed in the dash. Wow!”
After driving for around 20 minutes, the performer-larcenists came back to the gallery but found another car blocking the entry. So they took off again, heading down to Varick Street for coffee. Eventually, they drove back to the gallery and parked the Volvo across the street, and went in to tell any viewer “who wanted to use the car next that it was back.” That’s when they ran into a bearded man with a look that said What the fuck are you doing with my car? "He seemed really taken aback," says Silva. "Not mad.” That’s when they realized it was not only the owner but Brown himself. Silva queried, “Isn’t it part of the show?” Brown answered, “I suppose it is.”
I talked to Brown about the event the next day. "I suppose in some sense I set up the situation. So I’ve nothing to complain about,” he says, adding that he was surprised all the same. “But,” he added, “if someone really wanted to do something like this, they should have taken the car for a week, or driven it off the pier." Or "drive their own car into the gallery and leave it here -- I’ll steal their cars!”
JERRY SALTZ is art critic for New York magazine, where this essay first appeared. He can be reached at email@example.com.