Thursday, 29 March 2018

Hidden Art and the Ultimate Passing as a Local in NY Advice

New York City, USA, February 23rd–27th 2018

I have a friend in New York. Well, not a friend, but the friend. Having that kind of friend is crucial to my mental health and happiness, but there are other benefits, too.

No, not that kind of benefits.

A generic NY pic

Without this particular friend I wouldn't have known about one of the greatest ideas in contemporary public art for a while. And she knew, because the project involved her friend. Learning about it through the grapevine only is kind of weird, since the art project takes place in Times Square, the most known and possibly visited place in NY. It's a treasure hidden in plain sight, par excellence.

The thing is called Midnight Moment: every midnight some of the billboards in Times Square steal three minutes from the commercials and show media art instead, starting 23:57:00. The artist changes monthly, I saw Save the Presidents by Tali Keren and Alex Strada. Previous artists include household names such as Laurie Anderson, Pipilotti Rist and Yoko Ono, but also up and coming artists are exhibited.

Pipilotti Rist: Open My Glade (Flatten).
Photo: Ka-Man Tse for @TSqArts

Times Square is surprisingly empty by midnight, at least on February weekdays. There were a bunch of youngsters, some tourists, a few drunks, all taking selfies. And me, staring around, waiting for the art to begin, prolonging my take away coffee. I was probably the most dubious person there, which really tells how boring Times Square has become. It also reveals that this project hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. There should have been crowds!

And then it started. Images of stone carved US presidents from a forgotten sculpture park slid in to a few billboards around the square, in different sizes an constellations. Amongst the banal commercials the historical characters appeared all calm and dignified, like quiet commentators. The art work was interesting to start with, and bringing it this environment really brought it to another level. 

In addition to being artistically impressive, the whole happening was stone sober hallucinatory: Don't these (few) other people in the square see what I see? And of course they didn't. It's pretty difficult to beat the surrounding commercials, optimized to catch our interest, with this delicate, subtle fine art, appearing without a warning and lasting only a moment. To notice it, you really have to look for it. Then again, I felt like all this was done just for me, which was a nice ego boost.

Another benefit: my friend has a dog. And not just a dog but the dog. He's the best dog ever.

The Dog, photo by the aforementioned friend,
with his pals pig, hedgehog and Karl Marx.

I'm pretty unfortunate at passing as a local, but I'm really happy when I do, for some Freudian reason or another. New York is one of the few places this is theoretically possible in. 

Whitening your teeth is one way, but that might be common in most US, so instead of being taken as a tourist from Europe, I would be taken as a tourist from New Jersey. Not a lot to win there. But, there's a way more successful method: walking a dog. Or a cat. Or a zebra, you get the point. Not that many tourists bring an animal with them, so anyone with a non-human companion is automatically taken as a local. So, go on, get a friend with a dog, offer to take it for a walk and blend in!

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