You may recall that last November I took another trip to San Francisco. During that trip I visited The Art of Participation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). As part of the exhibit, Felix and I participated in a work called The Gift by German-born conceptual artist Jochen Gerz. As part of the installation, thousands of museum goers were photographed during the first month and half of the exhibit. Both Felix and I had our pictures taken. All those pictures were printed, framed, and hung in rotation on a wall at SFMOMA. As a thank you for our willingness to participate, we were invited to the closing reception on Sunday, February 8, 2009.
At the reception, thousands of other participants joined us to receive a gift from Mr. Gerz. Each person received one of the photographs from the exhibit. Felix and I too received our “gifts.” The artist made it clear, that he didn’t want anyone receiving his or her own photograph.
Duanne, the person in front of me almost received a picture of one of his friends, until the artist realized the situation and chose to give him another photo. I received a picture of his friend Mary. Later, Duanne asked me if I would trade. But I couldn’t do it. I told him that I felt it wouldn’t be in keeping with the wishes of the artist. And after all, this was a gift from Mr. Gerz—how could I simply trade it away. I don’t think Duanne was necessarily happy but he seemed to understand. And I told him I’d e-mail him with pictures of the photo in its final location.
Before leaving the museum, Felix and I decided to document the travels of our photos with a few snapshots in and around the museum. We even took pictures of the two as they watched over our hotel room.
We were worried the photos were too big to carry on the plane and we didn’t want to check them so we decided to ship them. We entrusted them to FedEx. After a hectic afternoon trying to figure out how to package them, we finally packed them up in a rather sketchy box. And then hoped they would make it safely to Salt Lake City.
I’m proud to report that the photos arrived in perfect condition just two days later. I haven’t installed mine in a final location because I still want to take a few photos around town before I put it on my wall. SFMOMA has created a Flickr site where recipients of The Gift can post their photos.
Thanks Jochen Gerz. I like to complain that artists, in their scramble to romance the galleries, the collectors, and the auction houses forget about the ordinary viewer. This is one time when I felt like the artist was more interested in me as a viewer than anyone else. And the sentiment was appreciated.
This won’t be my last post about The Gift. I’ll keep you updated on Mary’s travels and where she lands.