On Going Too Far for Art

For the past couple of decades or so quite a number of artists have been trying to push the limits of decency in art. It’s good business. Remember the piss Christ, the elephant-dung virgin, Mapplethorp’s special nasties? Feces and bodily functions have been a staple of reputation-building.

All that derives from the artistic career model that grew out of the avant-garde offending the sensibilities of the bourgeoisie, as happened in Paris in the late 19the century when Impressionism and its antecedents descendants outraged the art public. They took those things seriously in those days; columns were written and fights broke out in the galleries. Later on the Dadaists and Surrealists self-consciously set out to offend. The bodily orifices, organs and dead animals of recent years are born of the same idea: if you offend them, it must be good, and should make money.

Now comes Portland artist with an action that represents a new low in moral depravity. He is actually (can you believe this?) going to make an art piece from telemarketing. Is there no end to how low an artist will go? Christopher Michael Sullivan is going to make an art event out of cold-calling to sell art. This could get ugly, folks.

Full disclosure: I’ve been marginal participant in one of Sullivan’s art pieces. The pieces usually consist of a number of artifacts, a related event or two and extensive documentation on the actions and their results. I’m also one of a number of persons on an advisory board that is part of his firm, which is in itself a conceptual art artifact.

Sullivan’s satire has a queasy, stretched-wire sharpness to it, not quite laugh-out-loud funny and not quite comfortable, and difficult to apprehend at a casual glance. One doesn’t know whether to chuckle or avert one’s gaze.

The performance, part of Project 00013: Insider Trading, will take place at the University of Maine Lord Hall Art Gallery on Friday, September 5 from 9 to 5.  A caller will be making outgoing calls from a makeshift boiler to make some sales of Christopher Michael Sullivan artifacts. I wonder if there’s a call-per-hour quota?



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