How Can an Activist Smear Food on Art Consequence-Free? –

With a world in crisis and an art market spinning out of control, ace art-world consultants Chen & Lampert deliver hard truths in response to questions sent by Art in America readers from far and wide.

I’m inspired by the messaging and guerilla tactics of the climate change activists who’ve been smearing food on paintings. I want to do this same thing and already know what museum and artwork I want to attack, but to be honest, I’m scared. How much trouble could I really get in?

Activists are truly turning up the heat on museums with their push to get the public to chill the Earth before mass extinction. What’s the point of hoarding masterpieces when there won’t be anybody left to see them? That’s how much trouble we are actually in. Stop worrying about your personal safety and start perpetrating climate-action art spectacles that make a definitive difference. Perhaps you will find yourself: throwing warm sauerkraut at a Jordan Wolfson robot, Gorilla-Gluing your taint to a painting by Dana Schutz, splotching a cream cronut on a Chuck Close, or pointedly urinating on an Andres Serrano photograph. Keep your manifesto on-hand to shout at befuddled bystanders, or better yet: write it on your chest because you are about to be the main attraction at the museum.

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An illustration of a well-attired art collector holding a big check and pointing at his adviser to guide her into a fire.

I attended an East Coast graduate school and lived in Brooklyn for almost a decade before moving to the Midwest to teach. Juggling work and a family means that I rarely have time or money to travel to see shows or old friends. My grad school alumni email list lets me keep tabs on my peers, but it also causes significant stress and insecurity, which is why I never post and rarely reply. The list occasionally falls prey to a handful of antagonistic people who love to stir the pot. I was especially bothered by a recent thread where an artist friend was attacked for having a show at a museum that has not been sufficiently decolonized. It was so accusatory and exasperating—exactly the sort of negative energy I don’t need to absorb. I want to unsubscribe from the list, but I fear that doing so will further cut me off from any sense of community and the art world in general. What would you do?

A recent pie chart published in MFA Life SkyMall Magazine shows that some 83 percent of art school alumni want to self-immolate when posting to email lists filled with heavy hitters, tired teachers, forgotten classmates, and total strangers. As for the rest, 10 percent love bragging about their accomplishments; 5 percent absolutely must ask inane research questions; and 2 percent are looking for a lift to Trader Joe’s next Tuesday. The good news here is that your feelings of resentment and shame solidly place you in the majority. The bad news is that, demographically speaking, jagoffs fall into every category and cannot be avoided, in the real world or in your inbox.

Alumni email lists provide space for colleagues to make announcements, celebrate accomplishments, and share relevant information. Most subscribers don’t post or reply because they have busy lives and careers. They stay on the list because, like you, they hope to learn about current exhibitions, get notices about grants, brownnose old connections, and track frenemies. Nevertheless, it is their silence that ultimately gives latent permission to blowhards, dimwits, and the attention-deprived to self-promote, brain-pick, finger-point, ass-kiss, and whine. Think about it: what would happen if you and the rest of the rankled lurkers on the list checked in to say STFU a little more often?

FOMO is justified given your level of remove, but letting a handful of domineering putzes keep you from getting a notice about a group show in Croatia that a rando has a collage in is plain ludicrous. Email lists typically have digests, so try changing your subscription to lessen the stream of messages. You can block the offenders who piss you off the most, but it’s just as easy to have listserv emails automatically go into a special folder that only gets checked when the urge strikes. And like everyone else, you can rush to delete the thousands of unread alumni messages when that warning pops up about needing to buy more storage space. Fuck Google.

Your queries for Chen & Lampert can be sent to [email protected]

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