By James Bradley
With the sandwich board pressed up against her naked body1 on both sides, she felt exposed and contained at the same time. First, thirty or forty droplets of nascent atomic iodine under the tongue were called for before she’d venture to set foot inside the spiral pile of radioactive waste2 standing before her. Punk Minimalism, Painting’s Afterlife, Gesture De-Gestured.3 She’d had enough. On a brisk autumn late afternoon, she’d finally decided to go to it alone.
Saturday evenings from 5:45 to 7:45 were “pay what you wish” hours, a bone of culture thrown under the table for the dogs to fight over. This was the only time she’d condescend to dirty her bare feet on those white floors, on the master’s dime, tossing two scuffed pennies onto the admissions counter while attempting to penetrate the elusive psychology of the well-groomed lad behind that counter dolling out the computer-generated and perforated tickets. The sandwich board was covered, in black stenciled letters on a white ground, in the dissatisfactions of a lifetime of open wound-re-aggravating museum-going. The front board, compressing her usually-pointed breasts and falling coldly over her trembling thighs, read
She really was a sight for the tourists and casual, two-or-three times-a-year museum crowd standing outside in a line, which wound around the clean Upper East Side block waiting for the hour of the institution’s generosity to commence. Another big city novelty, they chuckle with their quickly-dispensed respect for all things they don’t understand. In this politically correct world, one can never be too careful when employing one’s judgement indiscriminately, after all. Opinions, they reason, are a privilege, not a right. We’re lucky to have it as good as we do.
She told herself not to be nervous. What was there to be nervous about? She had the moral high ground, did she not? These passive consumers of stylized transgression and neutralized threats need to hear this. It is the only way they’ll grow. The back board, angling from her shoulder blades, highlighting the curve of her spine and resting upon her clenched buttocks, read
The message was clear enough. All that was left was her presence in the museum itself, the shock of her living body walking up and down the spiraled path together with the unmistakable message. The wolves in sheep’s clothing, the barbarians at the gates of the imagination, taking tickets in exchange for free mini-catalogs which tell you all you need to know about the current exhibitions—we’re in for a big surprise today!
Eyeing the security guards with their ear-pieces and maroon blazers, arms folded behind their backs, dotting the ascending spiral like ripe bunches of grapes on a vine, she was suddenly seized by a wave of panic, but the line had been moving steadily for the past fifteen minutes, and she was now at the entrance, momentarily to be entranced. Better to just go ahead with it than to turn back now. She scanned her stack of half-sheet, photocopied pamphlets one last time for typos, and was directed by the nearest guard to proceed through the revolving door. In her sandwich board it proved to be a somewhat awkward task to angle her way through the four-or-so glass doors hanging on their central shaft, rotating around that vertical axis within the cylindrical enclosure, a kind of mill of souls,4 like the larger museum structure in miniature. Some sort of precursory subliminal?
Now inside, she looked up to the top of the massive, white rotunda, to the huge skylight at the apex. The whole thing was like an ant farm, little bodies scurrying in both directions along the path, past the Punk-Minimalist, Post-Nihilist (which actually means “doubly-nihilist”) shiny surfaces of the works in black, white and gray. She noticed several of the guards eyeing each other as they spoke inaudibly into their walkie-talkies and shuffled positions like chess pieces in a timed match. She had expected some sort of confrontation; instead they had let her in without a word. She had to pee. She wasn’t quite sure what to do next. She knew this would be her last performance, and she wanted to make sure that it was one to remember.
1. Perhaps our doomed protagonist considers herself inspired by recent FEMEN protests in Ukraine and the Middle East in which women expose their breasts as political weapons. The final frontier of feminist agitprop shock tactics? Doubtful, as, like a fractal, any territory explored by the human mind invariably reveals itself to be in possession of an infinite yield of secrets.
2. The famous Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, “temple of the spirit,” designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and funded by the philanthropist Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.
3. At the time of this writing the current exhibition is “Christopher Wool,” currently-favored “bad boy” come back to the nest to lay his eggs in the form of a survey of his works from the 1980s to the present, which runs from October 25, 2013-January 22, 2014.
4. William Blake, “Jerusalem” (1804):
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.
James Bradley is an artist and writer living in San Francisco, California. His work, which takes the form of painting, drawing, poetry, and installation, as well as other media, deals primarily with the problem of Revelation, or apocálypsis, or “unveiling,” as the guiding paradigm in both the practice of western painting, as well as the dominant spectacular culture. His work has been exhibited at the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, Verge Art Fair in Miami Florida, Angel Island Visitor’s Center, Robert Berman Gallery, Maniac Gallery, and many other venues. His poetry and prose have been published in various online and print journals including Caliban and Anamesa, and he is currently co-editor of the literary journal HAARP, and co-founder of Hexagon Press. He received his MFA from the California College of the Arts in 2009.