The art at the Frieze Art Fair in NYC this past weekend varied from good to bad, concerned to oblivious, thoughtful to deranged. I was personally gratified to see that more than one or two artists were making art out of garbage. It is, after all, the resource of our era.
It was hot on Randall’s Island that day. Everybody was hot. There were no water fountains outside the bathroom areas. The fair was punctuated with “cafes” and “refreshment areas”, but there were no water fountains in sight. I did not ask if the tap water in the bathrooms was potable. My friend and I had made an effort to travel lightly as we had walked from Manhattan and then up the west side of Randall’s Island. I was already battling a stiff neck and sore shoulder and therefore left my stainless steel water bottle behind. We made our way to the VIP lounge and asked for water. It was $5 a bottle. This is a standard asking price now at venues in the city. We paid and renewed our assault on the art viewing. I wondered to myself what a person would do who was maybe, say, nursing a baby in the heat and didn’t have $5 and didn’t have a credit card. There were probably not too many people fitting that description at the art fair, but there could have been one or two. Why was water not just available for everyone? Kind of like air. There was no charge on the air aside from the exorbitant entry fee but that was more to see the art, rather than to breath the air.
Back at home, a day or so later, happily drinking glass after glass of water for free from my tap (we live in the country currently and drink our own spring water) I thought about some of the performance art pieces that were going on at the fair. They mostly generated such long waiting lines that I did not get involved. I wondered if one of them might have been an offer of free water, though I saw no mention of that. One was something about coffee or tea. I wondered about whether an artist like myself or maybe a group of artists needs to make a real “splash” in every sense of the word. Why shouldn’t visitors to a huge art fair like that be treated to as much water as they can drink? Wouldn’t that say something wonderful about NYC to all the foreign guests? Wouldn’t it be a huge garbage reducer to eliminate those thousands and thousands of plastic bottles that got sold for the duration of that 3-4 day fair? Wouldn’t it point the way for other venues to follow suite? Who would lose? Would the profiteering of the concession stands be so reduced? Is New York’s drinking water as good as it was supposed to be twenty years ago when I lived there and drank it all the time? It comes from upstate doesn’t it? So why are we encouraging the production and consumption of all that plastic bottled water???? Hasn’t drinking water out of warm plastic bottles bottles been linked to cancer? Do we know that these bottles have not sat in the sun during their long journey from wherever they came from to the art fair???? Shouldn’t an art fair that is ostensibly focused on creativity be a great place to invent a new relationship to potable water?
How many people could be employed to wash out small metal or ceramic cups like they used to do in India when I visited there twenty years ago? That was undoubtedly a function of the boundless availability of cheap labor, but might there not be some viability in paying a small group of minimum wage workers to wash cups all weekend? Some of the art cost a lot of money to produce. Might an artist not rather pay workers to wash cups so that thousands of visitors can have access to free water?
Sometimes it is difficult to put on blinders and get back to painting in isolation in the studio.