The Artist’s Medium was Baloney

I’ll bet you’re thinking the post title is a metaphor for bad art. It can be taken both metaphorically and literally. From this year’s Whitney Biennial, I give you Pope.L’s Claim (Whitney Version). Or, more accurately, The Baloney Room.

The Biennial is always ripe with hyper-modern art begging to be ridiculed. This year’s show was actually quite accessible and there were many pieces I enjoyed. But where’s the fun in discussing those?

There were 2,755 slices of bologna pinned to the interior and exterior of freestanding walls. The slices were carefully arranged in a grid. The number of slices represents 0.25% of the total number of Jewish citizens living in New York City.

Each slice has a small, black and white image of a (supposedly) Jewish person pasted in the center.

As time passed, the slices dried and the portraits distorted. The exhibit was quite smelly. There was some ARTNews-worthy mumbo-jumbo explaining the MEANING of a slice of baloney with a portrait on it but I wasn’t buying what they were selling.

Pope.L is also known as William Pope.L. A pretentious name to go along with his pretentious art.


On the other hand, we have Robert Rauschenberg. There’s a fine retrospective currently at MoMA. I’ve always been a fan of his work but this exhibit gave me a deeper appreciation. It restored my faith after the Biennial circus.

In Hiccups (1978), Rauschenberg gathered images from magazines and transferred them to 97 sheets of handmade paper using a lithographic press. The sheets are connected with zippers.

The sheets can be disassembled and reordered. You can change the flow and texture of the piece. I didn’t get the sense this was participatory, so I didn’t try to rearrange the sections. When he was young, Rauschenberg briefly worked as a zipper inspector for a bathing suit company.

Hiccups wasn’t participatory, bur Black Market was. When first exhibited in 1961, Rauschenberg placed objects in the suitcase. Viewers were invited to take an item out and leave one of theirs in return. They were instructed to draw their item on a clipboard attached to the canvas.

He closed the exhibit when he discovered items were being taken but nothing left in return. You can always count on humanity to let you down.

This is Canyon, one of his Combines. These were works made from found objects. The stuffed eagle was given to him by fellow artist Sari Dienes. She found it in a hallway of the Carnegie Hall studio building in 1959.

Bald eagles are a protected species, so selling this would be a felony. Consequently, when the owner passed away and bequeathed it to her children, the appraisers valued it at $0. The IRS disagreed and said it’s worth $65 million and wanted $29.2 million in inheritance taxes. To get the IRS off their backs, they agreed to donate it to MoMA and MoMA agreed to always have it on display for the public to enjoy. Thank you, IRS!



May 18, 1993

Bonnie has viral meningitis. She calls it fire on the brain. She got it from kissing the guy who owns the company she’s doing work for. How about that Bonnie? Always sleeping with the help. I paid a visit and brought some groceries. She wanted hummus, beef bouillon cubes, Georgia peach juice, macaroons and some other stuff. Why can’t she just get milk and bread like everyone else?

She didn’t look too good but was in high spirits. I gave her a back rub and that made her feel better. She always loved my back rubs. She said they have a medicinal, healing quality. I picked up a bacon cheeseburger deluxe from the Greek diner for myself. We sat at her glass kitchen table and talked. I ate my delicious burger and she picked at my fries and drank water.

She has a book idea. “How to Commit Sexual Harassment.” She’d show two photos. One photo, captioned “Correct,” would be a man and a woman in business attire, holding brief cases standing with their hands extended to shake. The other photo, captioned “Incorrect,” would be the same woman with her hand extended and the man would have both hands on her breasts. The humor seems kind of broad and obvious to me. She wanted to know if I’d pose for the photos and I said sure.

We talked a lot about Laura. She seems genuinely happy for me and told me to be careful not to smother her. I got home around 10:00 and Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai was on PBS. I went to bed. At 1:30, my doorbell rang. It was Laura. I let her up. I opened the door and watched her walk off the elevator. She was wearing a red tee-shirt, a black/white jacket and blue jeans. She’d spent the day in the sun and was glowing. She was a vision. I’d never seen her look more ravishing and told her so. She stepped into my apartment and closed the door behind her. She put her arms around my neck and said she couldn’t sleep. She kissed me.

64 thoughts on “The Artist’s Medium was Baloney

  1. Oh…. so Laura wasn”t a flash in the pan then?!
    Anyhow, where was I…. oh yes, puzzling why a Northern Italian City was cut up into slices…. and then the penny dropped.

  2. I’d to know where the IRS got the $65m figure from. Did the children donate it because they’re public spirited, or did they just want to spite the IRS?

    Was Laura using you like a stud?

    • I don’t know how the IRS arrived at that figure but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were accurate. And I’m CERTAIN the family’s motivations had more top do with dodging there tax man than they did altruism.

      Laura and I had genuine feelings for one another. I was not just servicing her.

  3. When you’re at the deli, how is it spelled? Baloney or bologna? I can’t picture either.
    I thought of you and art the other day. I figured I could take all the cat and dog hair we sweep up every day around the house and throw it into the air at the side of our porch into the wild fern and weed garden we have growing there. That’s got to be worth something. Like maybe a visit from the municipal inspector.

  4. Very amusing story about the bald eagle! I even repeated it to a colleague just now as we’ve been studying inheritance tax recently. (Not by choice obvs)

    I think I’m in love with Laura too, the way you write about her!

    • Thanks! Just imagine. If it hadn’t been for the IRS, that would be hanging on someone’s dining room wall at a country or summer home instead of a museum. Power to the people!

      Laura was the real deal. She had a LOT going for her. You would’ve been knocked over, too.

  5. I hope you haven’t given up on publishing based on your experience last summer. Your voice and stories are unique and wonderful.

    • That’s very generous of you, thanks. But, yeah, I kind of did give up. I put something together and send it out to about a dozen literary agents and got crickets in return. Honestly, it only works in small bites. There’s no story arc. Plus, I have the usual afflictions: apathy, laziness and, the one that sucks all the air out of the room, fear.

      • Well you’re a few beats away from me and I’m about to do the same, later this year. Crickets, giddy-up. I love reading your work so there is that; I’ve sometimes thought for myself maybe that’s enough. Thanks for doing it!

  6. All I was thinking was how insulting having anyone’s face pasted onto dried “baloney” would be but pointedly singling out Jewish people seems even more insulting given that it is typically made with pork. WTF? I was going to ask how long Laura was involved with you but saw the answer in other comments. Now I want to know how/ who/why it ended…

    • I’m glad I wasn’t there only one questioning the ethnicity of the piece. Further, Pope.L is black. Okay if Jewish artist did this but I wonder about the appropriateness?

      It ended because I was stupid and lost my mind over her. I ruined it.

  7. I love the zipped sheets. Always been a fan…

    I like mixed media art. It’s interesting.

    You can’t fault Bonnie. Sleeping with the help can result in heavy discounts or future ins.However, having read her grocery list she sounds like a self-obsessed diva – not that I’d know anything about those.

    I can’t believe you let her steal your fries after you’d already bought her fancy fodder. I hope you stole some of her Georgia peach juice in retaliation.

    So, in the end, it was you who got smothered by Laura. Win.

    • A fan of zippers? Or sheets? But mixed media IS pretty great. I’m with you there.

      I don’t fault her at all! Heck, I did some work for her and we ended up having a fine affair. Her idea.

      Who doesn’t love getting a good smothering?

  8. I’d have rated the Whitney a click above showing some smelly old lunchmeat. What do I know.
    Your Tales From a Young Man’s Fancy always make me smile.Or, sometimes, weep.
    If the taxman hit me for millions he’d have to whistle.Oh, wait! Perhaps I could ask My Man to stuff something …

    • As I mentioned, the rest of the exhibit was quite good. This was the big laugh, so that’s what I wrote about! The Whitney goes off the deep end once in a while.

      My tales from a young man’s fancy is dredging up some powerfully sad memories for me. I’m not sure how much more I can take. I’m not kidding.

      If you were hit up for millions, that would mean you HAD millions to pay. There’s that to consider.

  9. Yeah, I am also unclear what was the artist’s message – look at how just 0.25% of Jews stink the place up?
    Or that this is a perfect piece of art to hang in your kitchen and dining room if you want to lose weight?
    Or the author wanted to put pictures of Muslims on the slices of pork sausage, but got a ton of death threats so he went with the Jews instead?

    • I don’t know if the *stink* was an intended outcome. I question the connection to Jews living in New York. What the hell is that all about?

      Yeah, good point. Putting Mohammad’s image on lunchmeat would get you a slit throat, I’m guessing.

      • I was here once before but I saw a dirty sock on the floor and I’ve been nurturing a crop of full-fledged cleaning OCD, didn’t want to jinx it.

        I do like your writing. Might hang a bit to stimulate actual writing on my part.

      • I’ll try to keep a neater house but you know what they say about geniuses, right? We’re too busy being smart to put our socks away. Thank you for the compliment. I used to have a tough time taking compliments but now I’m learning to be gracious.

  10. I read about the Whitney Biennial in Artsy and almost sent it to you, BUT then I figured you already KNEW about it! 😉

    Sometimes when I read your TFTPB, I feel as if I missed a few experiences when I was in my 20s! The feeling passes when I realize my krewe are on their own and so am I! (you know my story already!) xoxox

    • I don’t know how it’s pronounced but I do know there is no space. It’s jammed. It doesn’t make me like his art any better. In another piece, he crawled on the sidewalks of New York city in a Superman costume. That’s art?!

  11. Oh sweet divine baby jesus but there’s a lot of pure shite parading as art.
    Me, on the other hand, I’m a living, walking instalment of artistic orgasm.

    Enjoy the weekend my friend, drop by for a drink and a sandwich.

  12. “You can always count on humanity to let you down”, sad but true… and i see we’re practicing the art of the cliffhanger, what happened after the door closed? and don’t give me that gentleman bullshit, sex sells!!! Like the Rauschenberg stuff, the leader of Guided By Voices is big into making collages, ever seen them? and the thinking of the baloney smell makes me wretch, what a bunch of shite!!

  13. More Art that I never new existed, thanks. The baloney one is pure racist. There is something similar to HICCUPS out in Utah. Old ammo boxes scattered around the state with objects inside. You take an object and replace it with one. Also leave your e-mail address to be a pen-pal with other scenic wanderers. The IRS is so phony. How did Laura make it to your place in the wee hours of the morning without being mugged or molested?

    • That art that you didn’t know existed should probably never exist in the first place. Do Utah exhibit actually sounds kind of cool. Is it still up? Or is that something that was in the past?

      You’re the first and only one that mentioned it but Laura coming to my neighborhood at 1:30 in the morning was a death-defying feat. The neighborhood was awful at that time. I believe she took a cab but I don’t remember clearly. I can’t imagine she rode the subway.

  14. The old (well midde-aged) romantic in me very much enjoyed the tenderness with which you describe being with Laura. Women like that come along once, maybe twice in a lifetime and I’m glad that you got a least 1.5/2 years out of it — and in a way, a lifetime, because I bet you’ve never forgotten a single detail of her or your time together.

    • Nice to see you. One never knows if the last time you were here is the last time.

      On the contrary. I’ve forgotten great swaths of my time with her, intentionally so. It was a very painful end, one that reverberated for quite some time after. I put a lot of energy into forgetting she ever happened. Opening these journals so many years later has brought to mind many things I made a great effort to forget. Some of it comes roaring back to life so effectively that I have to stop reading. There are parts of this story that I’ll never post about. I don’t want to relive it. I’m not going to thrash myself for the sake of a good blog post.

      • I’m not going anywhere soon — I hope! It was just my housing situation concentrated my mind on other things.

        Sorry that you had to deliberately expunge many of your memories of Laura, but the pain of breaking up is a universal, yet particular experience. I’ve just transcribed all the remaining texts from Trish from our very brief but intense affair last year. No-one’s ever said things to me like she did, before or since, and I want to hold on to them.

  15. So if I’m reading correctly, you spent your day rubbing a girl’s back who moments later asked you to grab her breasts for some sexual harassment photos. Then later that night a sun soaked hottie came over for a roll in the hey? The 1990s was a good decade for you, my man.

  16. Puts me in mind of the IRA who decorated their prison walls with excrement during ‘the Troubles’.
    I know what you mean about not being altogether comfortable reliving and writing about the past.
    I’ve been to Bologna and remember it as quite a foodie place. They’d be delighted. Not.

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