Ocularpation: Wall Street

Ocularpation: Wall Street

Inspired as much by the comic genius Andy Kaufman as he is with the philosophies of John Cage, Zefrey Throwell is no stranger to controversy, and has become an expert at getting people to pay attention. Whether through paint, film, or performance pieces, the New York-based artist has spent his career drumming up wildly ambitious projects that deliberately try to turn heads as a means of sparking up conversation. His work has been displayed at MoMA, the Whitney, and Lincoln Center, but he prefers the street to the confines of the gallery.

In the past year he’s “painted” with the garbage-riddled pavement of New York by dressing up in a white jumpsuit and dragging his belly across Union Square; in November he organized and participated in a seven day strip poker game as a means of exploring contrasting economic models, and, in an adventurous project titled “Midtown Games,” had 100 people take part in a 250 meter run through Times Square at morning rush hour. In another, titled “Why Not Take All Of Me New York?”, Throwell lived with complete strangers in a different borough of New Year each month for an entire year. The idea was conceived as an attempt to break his commuting habits—to break free from the constraints of routine—and it worked well. For him, there is nothing more uncomfortable than contentment.

But these days he’s best known for his work in the financial sector. This August, he and 50 volunteers acted out what he calls “a Freudian nightmare” and marched down to Wall Street dressed as businessmen, vendors, street sweepers, and prostitutes, took off their clothes, and proceeded to do their “jobs” for five minutes completely naked. Three people were arrested. Onlookers, many themselves on their way to work, were both amused and baffled. The press, meanwhile, went wild, and the event was covered by major media outlets around the world. The aim of Ocularpation: Wall Street was, in his words, to “bring a sense of transparency to one of the most mysterious streets in the world…and draw attention to the absurdity of the modern economic model.” The performance brought a much-needed media focus back to the financial district, two months before the Occupy movement took over Zuccotti Park and captured the world’s attention.

I spoke with Zefrey at his Ocularpation: Wall Street exhibit, which runs through February 11th at Gasser and Grunert on 19th Street. In addition to video footage from the performance, the exhibition features paintings and generic mass-market objects (phones, coffee cups and Yankee hats, to name a few) uniformly coated in artificial gold spray paint. After Ocularpation, Zefrey will head to California for his next project, Entropy Symphony: Movement III, a 1000 car horn performance that will take place on highways throughout the Los Angeles area during rush hour on February 15th.

Make sure you won’t miss Lane Koivu’s interview of Zefrey Throwell next week.

Lane Koivu – Images courtesy of Zefrey Throwell