« "Working Up a Head of Steam" | Iconoduel | "Homer of the Transmundane" »

March 24, 2005

Call It Initiative

With Banksy's New York museum pranksterism getting serious play all over the place (and to think that I've been totally down with the guy since way back when) I was immediately reminded of an interview with prankster artist Jeffrey Vallance from RE/Search Publications' Pranks! (an excerpt of which can be found here).

Vallance seems like a decent fella.

For a junior college art history assignment he once wrote every U.S. Senator requesting "a drawing or sketch of something you like." He heard back from 33, including Barry Goldwater (who offered a sketch of a cactus in the sun), Strom Thurmond (who drew an American flag) and Alan Cranston (who included a print of a painting he'd previously done of the Washington Monument).

Following this, Vallance sent a necktie to every head of state in the world with a letter proposing a cross-cultural tie exchange.

I got about thirty letters back, with ties. I got Anwar Sadat's tie, one from the head of Poland, and the Pope sent me this little Catholic medal (he doesn't have a tie).

Austria's President Rudolf Kirchlager obliged as well, writing:

In spite of the fact that I am not convinced that the exchange of neckties will really strengthen the links between the American and the Austrian nations or our cultures, I will send you enclosed a necktie I used rather often, to be included in your collection.
I reciprocate your good wishes.

What brought Vallance to mind, though, as Banksy's latest exploits ricocheted around the internets and onto page B1 of the New York Times Arts section (with a photo on A1, below the fold), and as the museums remain totally hush-hush about it all, was the story of a small, unsanctioned show Vallance managed to mount at LACMA back in 1977:

I wanted to have a show at the Los Angeles County Art Museum, so I wrote them dozens of letters, but of course I couldn't get a show. One day I walked around the Museum looking at paintings and noticed that underneath them were all these wall sockets. So I bought a number of wall sockets and painted stupid little scientific scenes on them, like microscopes and dinosaurs and cows and slabs of butter.
I showed up at the Museum in a janitor's outfit, with a nametag and a toolbox, and started replacing the old wall sockets with my new ones. I had friends in the hallway who would whistle everytime a guard came near—then I'd go somewhere else. Sometimes I had to move furniture out of the way, and if ladies would be sitting down I'd have to say, "Can you please move? I have to fix this wall socket."
Nobody caught me. I sent out a bunch of invitations, just like it was a real show, and people came down. I made up some nicely illustrated programs, and sent one to the Museum to tell them about my project.
I thought I'd get some sort of reaction—maybe they'd be pissed off, or maybe they'd think it was really neat—but I never heard from them. Then about a year later, I was talking to some lady who used to work for the Museum and she told me she was the one who had opened my letter, and the reason she didn't answer it was because everybody thought they would get into trouble if people found our you could just walk in and move furniture and install these. So they hushed the whole thing up, and the wall sockets remained there for about two years.
They never got removed, but I think some janitors eventually came and totally repainted the rooms. One day I'd like to retrieve them: take them to an art restorer and have the layer of paint removed, then mount them on some really nice boards. I gave them a clear coat of lacquer, and they probably used latex paint, so it would just peel off . . .

Don't look now, but Vallance has inspired a curatorial copycat.

I hope he did eventually retrieve the socket covers. Based on their mundane subject matter, naive aesthetic and use of unconventional material, I think they could fetch a mint somewhere out in Chelsea or Williamsburg.

[Update, via Fresh Paint: Wooster Collective is coming to Chicago next week, site TBA]

"Call It Initiative"
Posted by Dan at 09:44 PM


Didn't Vallance curate that show of Thomas Kinkade in California?

Posted by: Martin on March 24, 2005 at 10:50 PM

> Didn't Vallance curate that show of Thomas Kinkade in California?

Yes. See the comments to the abLA post linked to above.

Posted by: Dan on March 25, 2005 at 02:05 AM

Referenced in this post:

Art.Blogging.LA: Pardon Moi?
Artnet: Jeffrey Vallance Art Images
Artnotes: ...stop me before I paint again
Fresh Paint: Wooster Collective Update
Jeffrey Callance
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Modern Art Notes: Transparent Denials
Ned Ludd, Jr. Enterprises: Ned Ludd, Jr.'s BLASH
New York Times: Need Talent to Exhibit in Museums? Not This Prankster—Randy Kennedy
RE/Search Publications: Pranks!—Jeffrey Vallance
Re/Search #11: Pranks—V. Vale
Wooster Collective: A Wooster Exclusive: Banksy Hits New York's Most Famous Museums (All of them)
Wooster Collective: Wooster Hits Chicago - Next Week