Wednesday, July 4, 2007

We're All Doomed

I have always thought that there's no better way to commemorate the liberty and prosperity provided to us by our founding fathers than with a little performance art. There was an article in The New Yorker about two months ago that discussed a fascinating piece performed by Chris Burden (right) in 1975, called "Doomed," which critic Peter Schjeldahl calls Burden's "most trenchantly significant work." In this piece, according to Schjeldahl, which was performed in Chicago, America's greatest city, Burden "set a clock on a wall at midnight, and lay down on the floor under a leaning sheet of glass." And he stayed there. And stayed there. Then, in the finest sentence I have ever seen in The New Yorker: "Inevitably, he soiled his pants."

At some point, it became apparent that Burden wasn't going anywhere, probably about the time of the poopy-pants incident, although Schjeldahl doesn't explain whether Burden had made that clear before he lay down on the floor. Burden lay on the floor for nearly two full days, immobile and entirely visible, until "a young museum employee named Dennis O’Shea took it upon himself to place a container of water within Burden’s reach. The artist got up, smashed the clock with a hammer, and left." Man, that's art.

I apologize for not attending to this New Yorker article earlier, but then again, art is eternal. Except for performance art. There's an artistic purity to stunts like this, which unlike painting or film or sculpture cannot be commoditized, cannot by mass-produced, indeed cannot be reproduced at all. Either you're there to see it, or it's like it never happened. Performance art exists for a brief moment, then it's gone forever, like the popularity of Rick Astley or the pitching career of Denny McLain.

Nobody gets into performance art for the money, or to be immortalized in a museum. They do it for the art, and maybe the poop. You've gotta respect that.


Will Dana said...

Two Points:

1) There have been better sentences in the New Yorker than "inevitably he soiled his pants."

2) The idea that Chicago is America's greatest city is a nice and I would love to be able to buy into it. But the America whose greatest city would be Chicago no longer exists.

T. Nawrocki said...

I actually haven't been to Chicago for a couple of years now, so your point may hold. But as of about 1989 it certainly was.