Art Exhibit as Swap Meet: “Have a Painting? Leave a Painting. Need a Painting? Take a Painting”

Space is at a premium in New York and for that reason the idea of an art swap meet appealed to me. A longtime fan of alternatives to the art world’s boom or bust economics, when I encountered a listing for Erik Sanner and Anna Ogier-Bloomer‘s utopian-sounding Have a Painting? Leave a Painting. Need a Painting? Take a Painting exhibition at the Chashama Performance Window near Penn Station, I knew I had to partake.

I used to live in a loft building in Brooklyn where all the tenants spontaneously created a “giving shelf” where we would leave things for one another (art, books, appliances) so the idea of art barter spoke to me immediately.

My boyfriend and I had been arguing over a few paintings in our collection that either of us disliked. I found the one we disliked the most—it was coincidentally from that aforementioned giving shelf—and I headed to the show painting in hand.

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Tucked under scaffolding in an street dominated by small wholesalers and office buildings, Have a Painting… was immediately inviting if somewhat unexpected. Erik Sanner greeted me and seemed genuinely happy to see that I had brought in a painting. He explained that the one stipulation they have is that everyone who drops off or picks up an artwork has to provide their name. Those who picked up an artwork were asked to contact the person who donated it. It seemed like a reasonable thing to ask.

“Some guy came in and sketched this thing,” he said pointing to a small hurried drawing. “He put it up here and then took another drawing that was also done on the spot—it seemed appropriate.”

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I was allowed to choose where to hang my donation and I chose a prominent spot. I guess I still harbored some feelings for the canvas. “I may know this artist if it’s a self-portrait,” Erik said examining the image. “Does he live in Jersey City?”

“No, I don’t think so. I got it in Bushwick,” I said.

We chatted about the show’s concept. “It’s like a single art work that is constantly changing,” he explained.

During our conversation a young woman, Alisa Ochoa, walked in with a bubble-wrapped panel. She offered the work up to the show but didn’t ask for one in return. She was jovial and posed for my photo after I explained I was blogging the experience. After she left I asked Erik, “Do a lot of people you don’t know just stop by to leave things?”

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“Sure, or simply to pick something up,” he said.

At the time of my visit last Saturday, Erik calculated that 35 artworks had either joined or left the show. I decided if I was to experience the whole exhibit then I would have to take something home. “Can I choose one?” I asked. “Sure, of course,” he gestured towards the walls.

I chose the panel by Ochoa, titled Study for X it is a striking collage of earthworms on a hazy pink background. I knew it would be a hit in my household, and I was right.

The following day and over email I prodded Erik’s co-curator Anna about the nature of the “art” in Have a Painting… “Is it a performance piece?” I asked.

“Well, I have stage fright, so I would say no for me, but truly, it is in many ways because our engagement as curators (and all our other curatorial volunteers) with the public is crucial to making this show happen, to making it a success,” she said. “Almost as much time is spent physically removing works, handing them off, and hanging new work as is spent just watching the work lie on the wall, so I think it is fair to call it a performance. The curator is active, as is the viewer—no one is simply a ‘looker,’ as in the typical gallery experience. Most galleries are a place where most people go to see, not have and hold something, and our exhibition breaks down those constructions,” she explained

As promised I emailed the artist whose work I now owned. “We met at Take a Painting… and I ended up with your painting,” I started my email notifying her that I was the proud new owner of her work. She sounded pleased. “Why did you want to participate in Have a Painting…?” I asked her over email.

“I like participation, reciprocity, and generosity in art,” she responded. And I, for one, appreciated her artistic generosity.

Tomorrow: Speaking with artist Chris Martin about his group show “Party at Phong’s House”


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