October 10, 2021
One in a series of 25 first-person narratives of offense, outrage, innocent transgression or principled affront, in attire, display, speech or spectacle.
I came home angry from an exclusive/exclusionary self-congratulating art event where to me, the hypocritical self-consciousness of the attendees was palpable. The feeling of reckless abandon I had hoped to find at this event was nowhere to be found. Creativity in the air was specifically controlled and monitored. I will not describe the event further, mostly because there were recognizable names involved (nothing to do with Marina Abramovic though). I went to sleep. In the morning I woke up with a performance art idea that was the perfect expression of my feelings from the night before. I called subversive gallerist Christopher Stout. When I got off the phone, I knew in a few weeks I would be sitting naked on a toilet in the Stout Projects Gallery in Bushwick for my 3-day durational performance, “The Artist is Humbly Present.”
I was referencing Marina Abramovic’s seminal piece “The Artist Is Present” performed in 2010 at MoMA. I love Abramovic’s early work, but her sitting silently, motionless in a robe in the grand atrium of MoMA while people waited in line for hours to sit across from her, was the epitome of “the emperor has no clothes” in the artworld. It bothers me how contemporary art could be adding so much more to people’s lives if the art system was more interested in work that communicated to the public. Contemporary art, for my taste, is too oblique — it seemingly tries to elevate itself by being obtuse to the public in a self-important way.
In “The Artist is Humbly Present,” I would be sitting naked, on a toilet, silent, as gallery visitors would be invited to sit on another toilet opposite me. People would be welcome to interact with me in any way, except for touching.
My husband, artist and photographer Phil Buehler, wasn’t crazy about this endeavor, but nevertheless was all in on making it happen. We purchased two Home Depot toilets. Phil took some great photos of the setup to announce the idea and we were ready to go.
It was an exciting 3 days. So many people showed up — strangers, friends. Humans of all sizes, styles, and ages — even a peacock! It was like being a fly on the wall. Completely exposed, but in a way invisible at the same time, silently observing people responding to me. A lot of people, sitting in silence, connected with me. Many saw it as a forum to express themselves as well. I remember a beautiful black woman sharing her experience with her young child. There were a few people who relished the opportunity to take their clothes off in public. A group formed watching the others sit with me. One of them started drawing portraits of me and my sitters. It was an invaluable experience to me in so many ways.
There was international press, and I was able to get my message out loud and clear. The Daily News headlined, “Artist Lisa Levy mocks pretentiousness by sitting naked on a toilet at a Brooklyn gallery”. Franceinfo concurred (you get the idea), “Lisa Levy se dit exaspérée par la ‘connerie’ du monde de l’art, grangréné selon elle ‘par l’ego et la prétention”. Cracked recently included me in their list of “15 Extreme Pieces of Performance Art”.
Ironically enough I found out later that the number one question Abramovic got about her performance was: “How did you pee?”
PROJECT:OBJECTIONABLE: INTRODUCTION by Adam McGovern | Adrienne Crew on MAKIN’ BACON | Lynn Peril on BABY’S FIRST ASHTRAY | Lisa Levy on TOILETTE-À-TÊTE | Maria Swisher on STEALING GENIUS | Oliver Baer on CTHULHU SEX MAGAZINE | Yelena Tylkina on A DRINK TO DEATH | Elke Claus on URINAL SHRINE | Jeff Lewonczyk on SUSPENDERS OF DISBELIEF | Jenn Mehm on TWIN SKIN | Marlon Stern Lopez on SOUVENIR OF THE LAPD | Lauren Curtis on NAILED IT! | Josh Glenn on K-TEL TRUCKER TAPE | Fran Pado on THE BRIEF LIFE OF FRANCES POTTER | Nikhil Singh on HASHTAG FASHIONPOLICEPROBLEMS | Adam McGovern on PERSONA NON GRATA | Crystal Durant on LICENSE TO SHOCK | Dean Haspiel on DIRTY DOORKNOB | Justin J Bowen on UNKLE KRAMPUS | Annie Nocenti on STICKY FINGERS | Michele Carlo on THE MANY HATS OF CARMEN MOFONGO | Alice Meichi Li on BEDTIME FOR CATWOMAN.
MOVIE OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Ramona Lyons on EYE OF THE SERPENT (CONAN THE BARBARIAN) | Faythe Levine on BEDKNOB (BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS) | Gerald Peary on CUP OF COFFEE (THE BIG HEAT) | Christopher Orr on TOM’S HAT (MILLER’S CROSSING) | Lynn Peril on TRANSISTOR RADIO (DR. STRANGELOVE) | & 20 MORE.
LOST OBJECTS (vol. 2): INTRODUCTION | Joe Yonan on MACRAMÉ ART (ill. Theo Ellsworth) | Ben Katchor on LUCITE CARRYING CASE | Debbie Millman on GLASS POODLE | Lydia Millet on ROCKY HORROR NOVEL (ill. Berta Valló) | Ben Greenman on WARHOL CAN (ill. Clara Selina Bach) | & 20 MORE.
FETISHES: INTRODUCTION | Josh Foer on DEATH MASK | Beth Lisick on MURDERED-OUT KFC BUCKET | Christina Couch on LEECH ACTION FIGURE | Kenneth Goldsmith on THEWLIS SOCK | Abby Rapoport on MAGNATILES | & 20 MORE.
FOSSILS: INTRODUCTION | Allegra Huston on SKATAWAY JACKET | Kevin Obsatz on HOMEMADE NUNCHUKS | Ian Bogost on DESKTOP TELEPHONE | Jeff Lewonczyk on CHA-CHA JACKET SCRAP | Kelly Horan on VOLVO KEY | & 20 MORE.
FLAIR: INTRODUCTION | Cliff Kuang on ROLEX DATEJUST | Ethan Zuckerman on LAPTOP STICKERS | Ann Shoket on LEATHER JACKET | Kembrew McLeod on KEMBREW MERCH | Paola Antonelli on MERMAID TEARS | & 20 MORE.
LOST OBJECTS (vol. 1): INTRODUCTION | Kate Bernheimer on MULLET WIG (ill. Amy Evans) | Dan Piepenbring on COLOGNE (ill. Josh Neufeld) | Doug Dorst on STRATOCASTER (ill. John Holbo) | Paul Lukas on VANILLA BEAN (ill. Allison Bamcat) | Mimi Lipson on DODGE DART (ill. Mister Reusch) | & 20 MORE.
ILLICIT OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Kio Stark on PEEPSHOW TOKEN | Sari Wilson on TOMBSTONE PARTS | Annalee Newitz on CAR-BOMB REMNANT | Tito Bottitta on MOONINITE DEVICE | Eric Bennett on DIRTY MAGAZINE | & 20 MORE.
TALISMANIC OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Veda Hille on CROCHET SHEEP | Gary Panter on DINOSAUR BONES | Jami Attenberg on SELENITE CRYSTAL | Annie Nocenti on MINIATURE DICE | Wayne Curtis on CLOCK WINDING KEY | & 20 MORE.
POLITICAL OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Luc Sante on CAMPAIGN PAMPHLETS | Lydia Millet on PVC POLAR BEAR | Ben Greenman on MATCHBOX CAR | Rob Baedeker on PRESIDENTS PLACEMAT | L.A. Kauffman on WHEATPASTE POSTER | & 20 MORE.
SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS at HILOBROW: PROJECT:OBJECT homepage | PROJECT:OBJECT newsletter | PROJECT:OBJECT objects (Threadless shop — all profits donated to the ACLU) | POLITICAL OBJECTS series (1Q2017) | TALISMANIC OBJECTS series (2Q2017) | ILLICIT OBJECTS series (3Q2017) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 1 series (4Q2017) | FLAIR series (2Q2018) | FOSSIL series (4Q2018) | FETISHES series (2Q2019) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 2 series (4Q2019) | MOVIE OBJECTS series (2Q2020) | SEMIO OBJECTS series (2Q2021). ALSO SEE: SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS website | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS collection, ed. Rob Walker and Josh Glenn (Fantagraphics, 2012) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY, ed. Josh Glenn (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY excerpts.