Saturday, August 15, 2009

At Sea in Queens

Today's Times reports an extravaganza staged by New York City museums that seems like the ideal solution to dwindling museum attendance: a maritime battle in the reflecting pool at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. In the best spirit of contemporary museum practice, the event was public, participatory and historical.

Libby Nelson's delightful report captures the full lunacy of this event, which was organized by the artist Duke Riley and staged under the name of "Those Who Are About to Die Salute You." Conceived in the tradition of the sea battles staged in the Coliseum in Ancient Rome, the evening's event took the form of combat between "ships" cobbled together by the Queens Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and El Museo del Barrio.

The melee had everything going for it: guests in togas and armor, a rock band, and tomatoes microwaved for maximum splat when participants hurled them at each other. And participants they were, because this was one exhibition where people didn't stay on the sidelines.

The microwaved tomatoes, piled in boxes by the pool, were meant to be thrown during the mock battle, but they proved too much of a temptation. Soon people were flinging them across the pool at one another. A few unfurled umbrellas to protect themselves.

Then the audience began jumping into the thigh-deep pool as the first boat, the one from the Queens Museum of Art, emerged. An announcer grabbed the microphone: “Let’s get it started!” he said.

But that ship, as they say, had sailed.

“Get out of the pool!” the announcer yelled, trying to restore order and using several expletives. “Get out of the water! We’re not starting till you’re out of the pool!”

The audience complied, and the ensuing battle resulted in the disintegration of most of the boats within 20 minutes. Audience members refused to stay corralled and jumped back into the water and climbed onto the boats. The Queens boat collapsed, as did the Brooklyn one, meant to be a battleship. Only a giant pig-shaped boat made of wood, representing Manhattan, emerged mostly unscathed.

Eventually the combat ended, but the excitement stayed with people.

Afterward the spectators appeared exhilarated but slightly shell shocked. Some praised the participatory nature of the art; others were still recovering.

“It was radical, super radical,” said Catherine Harine Connell of Brooklyn. “The fact that it was in a public park in Queens.

“It was free form, but still organized,” she added.

Ms. Connell was euphoric; others were alarmed.

“That was wilder than I ever would have expected,” said Dorothy Trojanowski, who described the event as “out of control.”

“The danger factor was —— ” she paused. “Stimulating.”

I'm having a great time on vacation, but this sounds like something worth going home for. I hope this is one sea battle that is repeated next year

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Waaw great to read this...amazing experience..

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