quarta-feira, 14 de janeiro de 2009

Fact mirrors fiction

An exhibit had the word “assassination” removed from its title in the window after the artist was questioned by the Secret Service. (Photo: Earl Wilson/The New York Times)

The Daily News bought it. So did The Miami Herald. Michael Musto of The Village Voice fell for ittwice. The New York Sun expressed skepticism, but also uncertainty.

On Wednesday, Yazmany Arboleda, a 27-year-old artist, created a bit of an uproar when he tried to set up an art show with the title, “The Assassination of Hillary Clinton/The Assassination of Barack Obama,” inside a vacant Midtown storefront. It turns out that Mr. Arboleda has created an elaborate online existence, claiming that the joint shows were exhibited in Chelsea this year, until they were taken down for being too politically sensitive.

Indeed, any “censorship” of that earlier work was fiction. So were the shows, and even the galleries themselves.

One Web site, “The Assassination of Barack Obama,” says the show was exhibited at the “Naomi Gates Gallery,” at 594 West 22nd Street. The other Web site, “The Assassination of Hillary Clinton,” says the show was exhibited at the “Leah Keller Gallery,” at 576 West 24th Street.

In fact, neither gallery exists. The addresses are made up, as a visit to Chelsea this morning confirmed. Other Web sites contain subtle jokes that make clear the galleries are fictitious. The “Leah Keller Gallery” has on its artists’ roster Byron de la Beckwith, the white supremacist convicted of murdering Medgar Evers. The “Naomi Gates Gallery” lists among its artists John W. Hinckley Jr., who shot President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

“The whole thing was fabricated,” Mr. Arboleda acknowledged in a phone interview. He said he had taken photos of real galleries in Chelsea under the guise of the being an N.Y.U. master’s student doing research on artistic space in New York City. Then, using Adobe Photoshop, he manipulated the images to depict his own works on the walls.

Mr. Arboleda, who was questioned by the Secret Service on Wednesday after he started to put up his show, did open an actual exhibition today in the storefront, at 264 West 40th Street, but he had removed the word “assassination” from the window, leaving odd gaps between words.

Until 6 p.m. today, the public can visit the show, which indeed displays seven works about the Democratic candidates. One is the cover of Mr. Obama’s most recent book, “The Audacity of Hope,” but manipulated to read “The Audacity of Black Hope.” Another is a face of Mrs. Clinton with the caption, “The Face of Experience.” (Some of the other pieces cannot be described on a family-friendly blog.)

Mr. Arboleda described his work as a critique of the media — and of reality itself. “What is virtual and what is real?” he asked in an interview at the storefront. “We depend so much on the world online, it essentially is real.”

He added: “This is not a hoax. The word ‘hoax’ does not apply to the art project. That’s part of the art.”

The attention on law enforcement’s reaction to his show provoked hundreds of comments — which Mr. Arboleda said was part of his goal. “The engagement and the conversation — that’s the dialogue,” he said. “That’s my art. The art world is lacking that. That’s what I’m bringing forth.”

Mr. Arboleda appeared to delight in fooling news outlets. He said the news of the “censorship” of his shows was reported by 75 different Spanish-language newspapers around the world (he spent much of his childhood in Colombia). One television station even did a broadcast from Chelsea on the subject.

Today’s exhibition, for which he took out a loan to pay for the $5,000 two-day lease, was the fifth of the sixth stages, he said.

What is the sixth stage? a reporter from City Room asked.

He didn’t want to say. Nor would he elaborate on the first five.

So, was being hauled off by the Secret Service part of the performance art?

“No,” he said, that was completely unanticipated.

Sometimes fact can follow fiction.

Sewell Chan and Rebecca White contributed reporting.

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