Fight For Your Right to Arty: When Art Ownership Gets Competitive

Staying motivated is important.
Staying motivated is important.

Stirling isn't all that excited about this art he's fighting for, but fuck it; he's having a great time. He's been standing with one hand on this wall for about two and a half hours now and figures "why stop?" Especially since his friend is fighting a similar battle two paintings down. And you know, they rode together.

This project housed at Oliver Francis Gallery is called Hands on an Art Body and the last person standing still attached to their favorite artwork at the end of the night -- or Sunday, depending on the amount of gumption applied, wins. Earlier, there were far more contestants. Hands were on everything: an arrangement of cacti (no echeveria in this plant pack, only its cantankerously spiny cousins), a crime scene body made out of hard candy, some plaster hands suspended in a row, just begging to be high-fived -- any piece of art with a corresponding racing number was fair game. But whether it was their artful lust or bladder elasticity that gave out first, we are now down to five people and it's going on 1 a.m.

Spirits are high. About a dozen guys dressed as referees are dancing through the gallery, some are blowing whistles others are doing push-ups. The one talking to me is compulsively jiggling a shake weight. "We're keeping [the contestants] protein levels up; we've got a lot of peanut butter," he says, nodding towards a girl dressed in step aerobics gear. She's dancing around with some sandwiches. "Eventually they'll all have to go to the bathroom so we're trying to make them drink," he admitted. "They're onto us and have pretty much stopped accepting our beers at this point."

Yes, this room is chaotic. Yes, this is a great party. And still, it's designed by a collaborative group called Homecoming to leave us considering the strange path towards ownership. What makes us want one thing over everything else? How does the item's identity shift when we can finally call it ours, take it home and squander it alone? Here participants were allowed an hour's worth of preview time to shop the works before selecting their totem piece, but nobody entered the gallery's door knowing what they'd find; these impassioned affairs are fresh. Each person still standing is doing so to keep the possibility of ownership alive. Well, except for Sterling.

The piece of art Sterling chose is a curious one, stranger than the stuffed animal mountain that sits to his right. His art is four words taped to a wall "Leap at the Touch," which if won, do not include the wall. He'll be taking tape home. "I just like the font," he says, "and I have a big wall in my living room that it could go on." It hadn't occurred to him that he could rearrange the letters, spell out a Mad-Lib or do anything else with his potential prize to make it uniquely his. He isn't a deviant. If allowed to take this art home, he wouldn't corrupt it through deconstruction.

Eventually we have to leave. The finalists are tenacious and well-behaved, so while each referee has a pocket full of violation cards nobody has cause to issue penalty. They're going to be here a while. A man dressed as a lifeguard blows a whistle and doles out shots of Goldschläger, another song pops ahead on the playlist and everyone dances. Especially those with one hand on art.

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