Chapter 5: EXCLUSIVE ASSASSINATION: Laura Gilbert, Artist, Counterfeiter, and Former Wall Street Dealer
Evidence of Laura Gilbert passing out “The Zero Dollar” on Wall Street on October 7, 2008 (qi peng’s birthday), surrounded by bankers and the press. Courtesy of Ken Sandler. Copyright 2008-2009 by Ken Sandler.
I had a chance to chat with Laura Gilbert regarding the appearance and distribution of “The Zero Dollar,” which is a large edition print of the American dollar with the necessary elements edited to reflect the worthlessness of the currency. Gilbert, who is considered a breakout artist by The New York Times, executed her performance of an artist’s version of an ethical bailout to the public located at Wall Street during my birthday last year. This symbolic gesture attempted to focus attention on the inner links between art and commerce, the conflict between an artist’s duty to idea and duty to making a living, as well as the subject of monetary politics by the federal government in relation to the corrupt practices of lending institutions. Her brilliant idea was successful in generating interest in protest art and reviving the experimental spirit of conceptual and performance art during the Vietnam era. Kudos to Gilbert for her ability to challenge the conformity of the market system, and thus the traditional gallery system.
As an aside, that was October 7. Okay, that’s the birthday of THE ART ASSASSIN on a good Chinese zodiac year. I handle a temper like a bull market in a china shop. But is this all about her artistic counterfeiting strategy to emphasize the devalued dollar? Too bad that my attempts to purchase antiques in Chinatown with her print completely failed. Such strategies have been not known to pay off or pay out. I will admit that “The Zero Dollar” was the best birthday present of my life. It served to prove my worthless status as a conceptual artist who could not cater to the populist market of collectors. And who knows whether she can pull off the stunt next year when the economy does not suck as badly. Today is another tomorrow according to some artists and no gallery owners. Our compensation is simple: give us the art and we provide you with the contraband. Zero sum game of dollar trades. Redacted cash flow. Cook the books. And the robbers made off or Madoff in all those art auctions.
She is not represented currently by a commercial gallery as far as the dealers can tell us. So if you have any questions about Gilbert’s artwork or counterfeit zero dollars, feel free to contact her privately at email@example.com.
qi peng: To start off on a lighter note, what are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, and other cultural artifacts that you wish to share with your fans of your work here? Do you have any recent galleries or exhibitions that you have seen and would to recommend to us? What things in those shows inspired your artistic eye and tastes?
Laura Gilbert: First, let me say thank you for inviting me to participate in your art project.
qi peng: What is your opinion of art world journalism? Do you read periodicals such as ArtForum or ARTnews to get an up to date understanding of what goes on within the art world? Do you have any favorite artistic blogs or websites that you enjoy looking at on a regular basis? Do you feel that smaller, regional art markets like San Francisco or Salt Lake City will have a chance to expand their horizons into becoming essential and vibrant art hot spots just like Los Angeles or New York City? What do you think is the current state of contemporary art within the New York City area where you are located? Is it difficult to sell conceptual art and challenging paintings which have an economic and political thrust to the public, particularly during this slow economy?
Laura Gilbert: Your idea of deconstructing the art world is intriguing.
qi peng: How do you feel that the current economic recession impacted the contemporary art market and way that it functions in the larger national economy? Do you feel that artists will be pursuing more personal and intimate projects than the overly commercial work, typically geared for the art fairs, during the upcoming years? How do you think that galleries and non-profits will be coping with the dramatic shifts within the political and corporate culture, particularly in America? Do you have any thoughts about the current state of the stock market and its concomitant corruption? Any thoughts on the Obama administration in relation to your viewpoint on history, social identity, and the art economic scene? What are your thoughts on the Madoff investment scandal?
Laura Gilbert: I hope you uncover unanticipated connections among the people you include. For example, Ed Winkleman sometimes gets cranky on his blog, and I sometimes get cranky too.
qi peng: Are there any restaurants or hangouts such as bookstores around New York City or anywhere else that you wish to recommend us? What are the qualities that you enjoy best about the places that you have chosen?
Laura Gilbert: And James Wagner and I both wear glasses.
qi peng: As a graduate of the of the School of Visual Arts, Columbia University, and University of California in Berkeley, what were those school years like? How was life in the studio like back then? Did you have any influential professors or students during that time and what was their impact on you and your work? How did you develop your current style of challenging conceptual pieces which deconstruct the economic institution, particularly the banking corporations like Citigroup, and investigate the role of these dominant and mostly evil organizations within our society, both private and public? What schooling influenced your interest with the economic and social turmoil of our postmodern times?
Laura Gilbert: Actually, I didn’t graduate from SVA, but William Powhida and I were both at his recent opening at Schroeder Romero.
qi peng: Do you have any favorite hobbies which you enjoy in your spare time? How do these activities inform the studio work and public performance artworks?
Laura Gilbert: I also hope that everyone you ask to participate does indeed participate or at least responds to your inquiry.
qi peng: What is interesting is that you managed to have a strong impact within the public community and the arts scene all without involvement with the visual art market which has acted often in the same way as these banking and financial institutions that they criticized or colluded with, particularly with the auction houses. Why do you think that prominent press such as The New York Times, CNN, and The Washington Post have been fascinated with your artwork without the usual path of a gallery submitting a press release to the art critics? Considering that an everyday person can relate to your “The Zero Dollar” and “The Bailout Bill,” what are the emotional connotations of your multiples?
Laura Gilbert: I once emailed someone you have interviewed, and I am still waiting for a response. It can be very frustrating.
qi peng: Have you read Naomi Klein’s books “No Logo” and/or “The Shock Doctrine?” If so, how can your artwork be read within the context of these powerful sociological texts? Do you think that this economic recession could have been a deliberate conspiracy by the government and wealthy to clamp down on the everyman and everywoman to retain power and also distraction from the real problem of the Iraq War sucking out our resources under both the Bush and Obama administrations?
Laura Gilbert: I am rooting for this project’s success in disproving certain myths about the artist-gallery relationship.
qi peng: What is the premise for a real revolution by the people? How does art help to promote a raising of political and financial conscience during a time when individual are indifferent often to the problems of the general populace? Also by giving away your prints, and thus artworks, for free, what does this premise say about the dynamics of the art market and the necessary ethics of an artist? What do you think about those who may try to resell these free multiples?
Laura Gilbert: For example, I once had an appointment to show a gallery director my art, and she never showed and never answered my subsequent request to reschedule. I hope it is proved that her totally blowing me off is in fact a myth.
qi peng: You also have executed a few series of paintings called “Who Says You Can’t Choose Your Own Family” and “Men in Suits.” How does your “Men in Suits” differ in concept and technique from the series of yuppies that Robert Longo executed during the middle of the 1980’s? Do you think that our era now has an eerie parallel to the freewheeling stock market crash era of 1987? What was it like working with Jon Coffelt on your 2008 solo show “Men, Money, and Mischief” of your family portrait series? What was the public response to this provocative series of works?
Laura Gilbert: This is not a myth: Jon Coffelt is a wonderful curator. In particular, his installation of my imaginary portrait series, “Who Says You Can’t Choose Your Own Family,” made me see my art in a new way.
qi peng: Your money-related works include succinct titles such as “Zero,” “Drift,” “Archaeology,” “Laminations,” and “The Zero Dollar.” Like a field sociologist, what the the zeitgeist that you hope to capture within these artifacts that you create? What is the underlying philosophy behind your distribution of these works through public performance? Do you consider yourself to be a feminist artist?
Laura Gilbert: I’m really pulling for your success in uncovering the real personalities behind the names in the art world. I, for one, would like to discover that the gallery director who totally blew me off is not a you-know-what.
qi peng: What are some of your future dreams and upcoming exhibitions that you will be undergoing? What are some potential challenges or past hardships that you have overcome and that you are proud of?
Gilbert: And I’m tired of all the opacity.
qi peng: Do you have anything else which you would like to share with fans of your artwork, “The Zero Dollar”, your paintings, and other conceptual projects here?