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ImprovArt
March 18, 2009 8:05 PM   Subscribe

ImprovEverywhere has a gallery opening in the New York Subway. "In the course of making the art labels, the mundane stuff of the platform really did become weirdly compelling and beautiful. I wasn’t sure if everyone else would have that experience, or if we would be busy consciously pretending that these random objects were art. In the course of the event, some other friends who came made brilliant observations about the pieces that helped bring my mindset firmly back into of-course-this-is-art, rather than viewing the subway as a collection of quick fixes over time. It’s wonderful how we can decide to create a collective reality, and how it can sometimes catch us up within itself. I’m glad other folks also got caught up in "Wow.. This might really be art!", and that some non-agents got such a kick out of it!"
posted by Kattullus (50 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Normally I find the ImprovEverywhere stuff funny but not all that fabulous, but this is magical.
posted by Kattullus at 8:07 PM on March 18, 2009


The placard on the trash can has a red dot. Nice touch.
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt at 8:21 PM on March 18, 2009


As someone who has been to that subway stop I would have appreciated hopping off during something like this. Although I am admittedly a fan of IE myself, but still.
posted by Del Far at 8:22 PM on March 18, 2009


This is very cool.
posted by rtha at 8:25 PM on March 18, 2009


Nifty.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:45 PM on March 18, 2009


I was wondering when I'd get a chance to see white people being quietly pleased with themselves in Manhattan! Thanks, ImprovEverywhere.
posted by Damn That Television at 8:50 PM on March 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


This is something after my own sense of humor. I have on numerous occasions told colleagues and museum visitors that non-art objects in galleries were art. I told people at the Walker that a drip bucket was a new Robert Gober piece (or alternately, Fischli and Weiss.) I gave a staff photographer in a de-installed gallery a lecture on Native American Minimalism. I have told people the interesting provenance of a wall mounted fire extinguisher (which bore the most extraordinary resemblance to the real thing.) Any florescent light becomes a Dan Flavin.

I approve of this, but I'm jealous I wasn't involved.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:58 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love the ending of the video, where they put a red dot on the periodic performance of someone running to catch the train.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:31 PM on March 18, 2009


I think my favorite piece of the evening was the performance art titled “Woman sitting on bench, ongoing.” It was great to watch the people not involved in the mission sitting on the bench watching us watch them. Where did life end, and art begin? Where did art end, and life begin? The people sitting were totally confused.

That's great.

As we were winding down and folks were starting to leave, a police officer showed up. I’m not sure if the MTA booth agent called him or if he just happened to walk by. He couldn’t really figure out who was in charge, so he stared asking questions of Agent Hall, the cellist.

So's that. Love the way they danced gently around all the rules. Not so great: the cop used the standard "you can't take photos of the subway" bullshit. Jesus, we should be allowed to fine police when they try that crap.

I was wondering when I'd get a chance to see white people being quietly pleased with themselves in Manhattan!

Stop killing Metafilter. Anyway, this one from the Flickr set is fun.
posted by mediareport at 9:32 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Stop killing Metafilter! It's dying!
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 10:07 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


That was beautiful.
posted by grouse at 10:18 PM on March 18, 2009


Cool.
posted by Curry at 10:22 PM on March 18, 2009


What does the red dot signify?
posted by Curry at 10:29 PM on March 18, 2009


Red dot = this piece has been Sold.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:30 PM on March 18, 2009


Most of the video is somewhat predictable, but I thought dubbing the arrival and departure of the trains as "art" was actually quite clever. The MTA certainly performs a larger work on a daily basis than any individual artist could pull off.
posted by shii at 10:36 PM on March 18, 2009


shii: Most of the video is somewhat predictable

The testimonies are what pushed this into the sublime for me.
posted by Kattullus at 10:42 PM on March 18, 2009


Anyone who spent an appreciable amount of time in Los Angeles in 2001 might remember the MOCA ad campaign that used museum labels as a method of labeling the city as works of art. For instance, an ad on a bus stop bench read:

People on a Bus, 2001
Metal, rubber, glass, diesel, people, on concrete
Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art,
Los Angeles

I can't find the text of the billboard over the strip club Cheetah's, but it started with "Nudes, 2001."

A lot of people hated those ads. I don't like to hang out with those people, believing them to be self-important nogoodniks.
posted by incessant at 11:28 PM on March 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is so cheese ball, and I'm sick of how nearly every corny ImprovEverywhere stunt is posted on this site. Their little corny games should all be done in California. My innate sense of what constitutes "real New York City" told me the leader of this group could not possibly be from around here, and sure enough he is a wanna-be actor from South Carolina who thought it might be funny to have some fun in a bar one night, and through the miracle of the internets is now able to annoy hundreds and even thousands of NYers who couldn't give a shit about this kind of stuff. Go home!!
posted by ChickenringNYC at 12:55 AM on March 19, 2009


And to preempt those who will enjoy telling me what a dick I am about being a NYer.. how is it "fun" to be coming back from a day of work.. where maybe you might have even been laid off, or maybe you are struggling to make ends meet, or you just had a plain shitty day, and you're tired, and you're resting on the bench in the subway waiting for the train to come, and a bunch of arrogantly weird white people are staring at you, putting signs on everything, drinking juice, making everyone feel awkward, and then making fun of the cops for telling them to pack up their little kindergarten games. Fuck that shit! How is it "great" to put random bystanders on the spot, and chuckle inside to think "wow they must think this is SO weird, look how uncomfortable they are! everyone who isn't in on the joke must think this is SOOOOOO strange! whee what fun!" Ugh.. ok, rant over. Have at me.
posted by ChickenringNYC at 1:01 AM on March 19, 2009


Somebody needs a hug.
posted by louche mustachio at 1:50 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Chickenring, I always enjoy things being made a little surreal around me. To me, and a lot of others, it brings a smile to our faces.
posted by flaterik at 3:48 AM on March 19, 2009


Isn't part of what makes it the "real New York City" all of the weirdness?
posted by orme at 4:22 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


if they don't make money off it, it's not art.
posted by billybobtoo at 4:44 AM on March 19, 2009


Love it. Only complaint : Stop Calling Them Agents! Reminds me of a guy in high school who was always turning any kind of plan into Fight Club references.
"Hey Rob, what kind of beer do you want us to get?"
"Second rule, you do not ask questions about project mayhem!!"
"Aight Rob, we'll just surprise you then."


Also, I love this pic with the caption 'Unsure what to make of the bar and coat rack'. Looks to me like the caption might be better off reading 'Is not happy having his picture taken without asking. May have knife'.
posted by mannequito at 5:07 AM on March 19, 2009


And to preempt those who will enjoy telling me what a dick I am

It didn't work, because I'm still going to tell you that you're a dick, and enjoy doing so.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:13 AM on March 19, 2009


Chickenring - I love this kind of thing.

I'd much rather live in a city where fun meta stuff happens regularly than in some dipshit town where everyone just minds their own business, keeps their heads down, and slumps off to measure coffee spoons quietly somewhere.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 5:52 AM on March 19, 2009


Stuff like this can and does happen everywhere, largely thanks to performers like IE who inspire everyone to take a risk and make the world a little weirder and more mysterious.

The text descriptions are really well written. My favorite IE actions have a point, and this one nails it--Many man-made items are actually art when you're filled with awareness of your surroundings. Every now and then getting off a train in DC I notice some amazing broken industrial fixture or lurid graffiti and am amazed at its beauty...they're just pointing this out.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:35 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


how is it "fun" to be coming back from a day of work..

Ah, you're one of those. Might I suggest that this discomfort and agitation you feel at the presence of things you don't immediately understand is something that you in fact carry with you and bring to the scene? Cause it's not there. It's just people having fun.

Someone always concerned with being the butt of the joke always will be. (and these people are actively trying to bring you in on it.)
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:13 AM on March 19, 2009


"...some dipshit town where everyone just minds their own business, keeps their heads down, and slumps off to measure coffee spoons quietly somewhere"

So you've been to Salt Lake City, I take it?
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 7:14 AM on March 19, 2009


Man, I think I just like seeing people really happy.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 7:25 AM on March 19, 2009


ChickenringNYC, I think perhaps the time has come for you to become ChickenringNOLA or ChickenringSeattle or ChickenringLA. Barring that, might I suggest drinking more?
posted by incessant at 8:20 AM on March 19, 2009


Chickenring, I think I kind of know where you're coming from. There's a certain group of people in San Francisco - it's really one group of people, though they go by different names for each prank - who are always pulling big stunts. Like, almost every weekend. One weekend, they're all dressed as zombies and spitting blood on the windows of the Apple Store. The next weekend, they're all dressed as Santa Claus. The next weekend, they're all Marilyn Monroe. The whole thing is very drunk and very us-vs-them.

But more than that, it's so, so sad. It actually crosses your mind, watching these thirty-something people dance around, that maybe none of them ever had initiation week or threw eggs at each other's cars during Homecoming. And the louder they proclaim how much fun they're having, the more obvious it is that they're not having fun and they don't have fun.

But to me, Improv Anywhere is of a different ilk. It's people trying to entertain strangers, not look better than them. It's gentle. And it also, in a subtle way, participates in a tradition of public art and happenings that is at least as New York as your indignation and/or bagel.
posted by roll truck roll at 8:24 AM on March 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


IA has jumped the shark ages ago; I loved the time loop in the cafe, the one where they convinced some guy they were there for his birthday, and some of the other early work. It was more surreal and not so cutesy and cloying.
posted by rottytooth at 8:51 AM on March 19, 2009


Er, I guess that's IE, not IA
posted by rottytooth at 8:52 AM on March 19, 2009


And to preempt those who will enjoy telling me what a dick I am about being a NYer.. how is it "fun" to be coming back from a day of work.. where maybe you might have even been laid off, or maybe you are struggling to make ends meet, or you just had a plain shitty day, and you're tired, and you're resting on the bench in the subway waiting for the train to come, and a bunch of arrogantly weird white people are staring at you, putting signs on everything, drinking juice, making everyone feel awkward, and then making fun of the cops for telling them to pack up their little kindergarten games. Fuck that shit! How is it "great" to put random bystanders on the spot, and chuckle inside to think "wow they must think this is SO weird, look how uncomfortable they are! everyone who isn't in on the joke must think this is SOOOOOO strange! whee what fun!" Ugh.. ok, rant over. Have at me.
posted by ChickenringNYC at 1:01 AM on March 19


Sounds like someone needs a high five, Mr. Grumpy.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:59 AM on March 19, 2009


Yeah, I have to say- I've seen some irritating public performance art, and this sort of thing isn't it. I think it's pretty clear that these guys aren't putting bystanders on the spot- they're trying to entertain them in a pretty hands-off way. This looks really cool.
posted by 235w103 at 9:11 AM on March 19, 2009


Hey, louche, Patrick Flavin is the name of the former Secretary of the Minn. State Senate. I know because his son was in my Webelos den so we got to go into the chambers on a Saturday and eat popcornat the Senators' desks.

Awesome choice of a name, though, for the Walker: anyone who gets it will immediately doubt their doubt. Mwa-ha-HA!
posted by wenestvedt at 9:22 AM on March 19, 2009


Cutesy.. cloying.. gentle.. safe.. all reasons this stuff is lame, and I know I'm not alone, just one of the only people who is stupid enough to waste his time hating on it. How I wish I could simply ignore this stuff and not say anything.. but it isn't to be!
posted by ChickenringNYC at 10:15 AM on March 19, 2009


How I wish I could simply ignore this stuff and not say anything.. but it isn't to be!

You're not the only one who wishes you could simply ignore this stuff and not say anything.
posted by phatkitten at 10:44 AM on March 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


Some of my favorite "art experiences" have turned out not to be.

I once spent a few minutes at a Hiroshi Sugimoto show looking at a door with a lock but no handle that perfectly matched the wall, wondering if I was just looking at a door. The janitor exiting it answered that for me.

Another time, I think just wandering the collection at the Tate Modern, their fire extinguishers were just kind of leaning in corners. I'm pretty sure they were just fire extinguishers, but I couldn't help but consider them along with the stuff that was definitely art.

It's not the setting, or the intention of the creator, or even the price tag. It's the state of mind of the viewer that can make anything into art. Or Art if you prefer.

And, Chickenring, it's more fun to be in this state of mind than it is to cultivate self-righteousness about it.
posted by cmoj at 11:05 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


...and slumps off to measure coffee spoons quietly somewhere.

It's not the size of your coff.. wait, what?
posted by odinsdream at 11:44 AM on March 19, 2009


I like the basic point of this -- art is all around you, look around, be aware, etc. -- even if it is a bit preachy. There is something insufferable about the execution, though, and I think people who are bothered by it aren't just being mopey dopey mccrankypantses. The way this is framed it's not just about art, it's about the classist trappings that we've come to associate with art -- the dude in the tuxedo serving "champagne," the cellist, everyone dressed up and talking in hushed tones, etc. Why do we need these things around to see art?

I can see walking into it and being sort of alienated by it if you're not a participant in that particular cultural tier. It's not a coincidence that the people who seem most bemused or nonplussed by these stunts seem to be working-class and/or non-white, and it's not that they don't "get it," it's probably that they feel like they don't belong.

I mean, the musical-in-a-food-court one had a token black character (who was a janitor!) but that's about as close as these things get to being inclusive, I guess.
posted by speicus at 12:36 PM on March 19, 2009


Why do we need these things around to see art?

They make pretty clear in the text that this was a bit of a send-up as well, since the station was one nearest to a lot of (actual, above-ground) galleries, on a night when galleries traditionally hold openings, etc. I understood the sparkling wine/tuxedo/coat-check thing to be tongue-in-cheek commentary.
posted by rtha at 1:02 PM on March 19, 2009


...Or maybe that this is just about people who want to do goofy shit for fun. Which we all do -- we just all have different definitions of "goofy shit" and "fun", is all.

Whatever it is you do for fun, Chickenring, I presume it'd be no skin of your nose if anyone belittled it. Nor do you do it to personally annoy anyone. This is the same thing. They just do different goofy shit and have a different kind of fun, is all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:13 PM on March 19, 2009


this people are amazing on bringing the hapiness poping out in seconds. Congrats!
posted by zorzini at 5:44 AM on March 20, 2009


As a Californian, I WISH this was happening here. Alas, the group nearest to me (SF) doesn't seem to do a whole lot.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:17 AM on March 20, 2009


ImprovEverywhere's newest caper: "For our latest mission, 30 Improv Everywhere agents found a random funeral in the obituary section of the newspaper and turned it into the best funeral ever. We picked a man who had very few surviving relatives and then showed up to his funeral to make it truly awesome. Enjoy the video first, and then continue reading for photos and our report."
posted by Kattullus at 3:42 PM on April 1, 2009


That's a rather good April Fools gag because it parodies themselves so well. The footage and story isn't all that convincing, but the conceit makes them out to be egotistical jerks who think everything they do is so clever. I hate April Fools pranks, but when a group like ImprovEverwhere is able to make fun of itself with enough bite to leave marks, I'm impressed.
posted by incessant at 4:58 PM on April 1, 2009


Yeah, that was great. Thanks for posting it, Kattullus.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:55 AM on April 2, 2009


A New York local TV station fell for the April fools.
posted by Kattullus at 11:42 AM on April 5, 2009


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