Life in the Fast Lane

Tonight I went with the NYC "Young Adults" Outdoor Activity group to what was supposed to be an intellectual evening of art gallery exhibit/reception hopping in SoHo (an artistic neighborhood of Manhattan, north of Greenwich Village). As with many NYC endeavors, it turned out to be more than I bargained for.

We started out at a gallery which had an exhibit called "Terra Bomba" (Exploding Earth) of 22 simultaneous performance artists, several of whom were in various stages of undress. One of the most conspicuous was Maryanna, who performed "Evil Cave Boy." Evil Cave Boy lived in... well, a cave, into which one could look if so inclined. However Maryanna/Evil Cave Boy spent most of the time running around the other exhibits clad only in a bit of body paint and a rather skimpy bikini bottom. Maryanna, just like her contemporaries there, didn't have much in the way of breasts; based on my observations today, I think a great name for a soap opera about struggling female performance artists in SoHo would be "The Young and the Chestless." Anyway, I digress...

Maryanna performed such mischievous Evil Cave Boy pieces as darting around in an electric wheelchair barking like a dog, playing a flute to exhibit #13 "Wishing Well" (a fellow who was reclining, fully dressed, in a big tub of water), and bouncing on the trampoline of exhibit #15, "The Story of Tsujumi" which I totally misinterpreted as being a scene from "Cats" done on a trampoline. I was fascinated because neither Evil Cave Boy's nor Marisa's ("Story of T") breasts bounced when they jumped on the trampoline, which was kind of interesting. I think most men would have jiggled more. (Maybe I'm being catty because they had no cellulite, not any! damn them).

There were your usual pieces where the artist became part of a sculpture (or whatever), such as "Together" in which the piece ("installation" they call it) showed a person dismembered by a car accident and the artist stuck her legs and a hand strategically through holes to represent the disassociated limbs. There was your coffin-shaped box hung from the ceiling for which you were supposed to stick your head in a hole in the bottom and see what was inside (I did and it didn't work for me- there was supposed to be a flash of light and a revelation of the artist eating, or so they told me). "Toe" was a piece where the artist's back formed the cushions on a couch. Of course. Another fellow performed a very provacative piece where his head and arms protruded through a bed and joined with the rest of a fake body reclining on the bed. At dinner later, we had a lively discussion about whether he intended to be Tatoo (from the TV program Fantasy Island) or Elvis. I suspect we'll never know, which is a sign of great interpretive art.

Another piece that evoked a lot of conversation at dinner was entitled "This is Where I Live." The artist had constructed a house which was lifted far enough from the floor so that he could walk around upright and one could see him from the hips down. Did I mention that he was naked? At dinner later in the evening we puzzled over such deep questions as "Why was his penis so much darker than the rest of his skin?" Others suggested paint but my own careful observations indicated that it was a dark condom. One of the other women claimed that he was in a state of excitement but my scrutiny indicated that he was rather relaxed. Someone else said that the artist was black but the legs I saw were definitely white, leading me to believe that there were two artists in residence in the house. Since we couldn't see his face, we'll never know that either.

After we had our fill of the show, we went down the street to another. The artist, a woman from France, was having a "mid-career exhibit." The gallery was a big garage-like room filled with net and yarn and pillow-words and characters hung from the ceiling to the floor. It was like walking through a forest of stuff, for want of a better word (she called it "rain"). I was particularly interested in the anatomically-correct heart and lungs pillows, complete with red arteries and blue veins, and spent the remaining time wandering through the forest looking for kidney pillows, in vein, er, vain. There were a lot of pillow arms and legs, too.

We left the yarn forest and then the fun began. We went to another address where there was an opening reception for a group of artists from LA. We entered the building and in the sparse lobby there was an elevator on the left which would take us to the third floor where the gallery was. It was a big freight elevator and the 13 of us piled in- it was full but not so that we were crushed together. The door closed, the elevator heaved and started up, only to stop between the 2nd and 3rd floors! Of course on the way up we noticed inside that the posted limit was 2,000 lb but what could we do at that point?

Anyway, there we were and no amount of button-pushing would stimulate the darn thing to move. The person nearest the buttons rang the alarm several times. No response. Pushed it some more. Nada. So before anyone could panic I asked our Fearless Leader and Tireless Organizer, David, if he had the phone number of the gallery, which he did. To the cheers of the crowd I whipped out my cellular phone and called the number. I told the woman who answered that we were stuck in the elevator and she, with a voice dripping with disinterest, said "We know... We've called the super." She asked how many people were on the elevator and I told her. "Thirteen!" she said, "Wasn't there someone down there telling you not to put any more than six people in the elevator?" "No," I said, thinking to myself, "if there had been someone we wouldn't have put more than six in you dip!"

I hung up. Before we could agree on the toppings for the pizza we were going to call out for to have delivered to the elevator, we smelled smoke. David decided that he didn't want to be headline-fodder for a slow news day ("Thirteen alleged Young Adults perish in burning elevator in SoHo art gallery!") and firmly requested that I call 911. I dialed and he talked to the emergency operator.

I have to give the NYC Fire Department a lot of credit- we could hear the sirens of three units within two minutes. The sirens also got the attention of the gallery owners who now sprung to life and yelled through the door "YOU CALLED THE FIRE DEPARTMENT???" Of course by that time, the smoke smell had completely disappeared.

Well the firemen, bless them, pried the elevator doors open in a jiffy. After they pulled a few of our group in the front out, one of them jumped down into the elevator, knelt with one knee up, and let us use his knee as a step to climb out. As more of us started out we noticed camera lights flashing. Soon I could see that we were not exiting into a hall, but right into the gallery itself and someone was photographing the rescue. What an opening-night entrance we made, briefly stealing the show from the artists!

Of course, this also meant that while we were stuck in there ringing the alarm etc. they all heard us... and didn't bother to tell us that they supposedly had called someone, until I called them. The owners/hosts/whatever had also convinced the other guests that there was a sign downstairs telling people not to put more than six on the elevator, so the other guests were muttering and telling us that they had seen one! The firemen did put the elevator out of service until it could be inspected.

We stayed a while, bought some wine, etc. When we left (and walked downstairs past the arriving guests who were trudging up three flights of stairs to get there) there was now a woman at the bottom directing people up the stairs. She told us that the person who was supposed to tell guests not to put more than six on the elevator never showed up. Since we wouldn't have wanted to miss that experience for anything, we didn't ask why they didn't just put a sign up to that effect!

We went to one last show, where the art was more mundane but the people at the show were much more... interesting. And they had free cookies. We glanced at the exhibit, talked with each other, and left in about 20 min. On the way out I picked up a free copy of a little art journal published by Feature and Instituting Contemporary Idea Farm, entitled "Prick." I will study it carefully for artistic edification and revelation.

I estimated that right about that time, the super was putting his coat on and getting ready to go to the gallery and let us out of the elevator. Alternatively, he was under the influence of some mind-altering substance and was at that moment asking his imaginary friend if knew what the ringing noise was.

The rest of the evening was pretty low-keyed. One of the remaining group decided that she didn't want to go to the Zen vegetarian restaurant we had planned on, but after our traumatic experience was in desperate need of Italian food. After wandering around for 40 min like Moses in the tundra, going from one full restaurant to another in sub-freezing weather, we finally ended up at a nice Italian place. I had Black and White Pasta in spicy tomato sauce, which was good, though you couldn't taste the squid ink in the black pasta. A trip to the rest room did provide a final bit of entertainment... why was the seat up on the toilet in the ladies' room? "Well this *is* Greenwich Village," someone reminded me. Ah, yes, silly me... what was I thinking of???

So that was my Saturday night. Who says this isn't a great city?

Updated: January 20, 1997
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