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Pure Magic

April 11, 2014

“Are you going to time me?” Magic (Paul Distefano) asked me as we walked along Spring Street towards the New Museum of Contemporary Art to participate in the Draughtsman’s Congress on the fourth floor. For over two months now the public and groups assigned a time slot, like us, had been painting and drawing on the walls and floors of the fourth floor with any imagery that they wanted, newcomers essentially obliterating the work of previous participants. The project had originated in Berlin, the idea of an avant-garde and political Polish artist, Pavel Althamer, whose work is on display in the Museum.

“Sorry, I didn’t bring a timer. Do you mind timing your poses yourself?” I asked.

“Can I do anything I want? Any length of pose? Because I can try out lots of things that I couldn’t do if there is a time limit.”

I hadn’t told the Museum people that I was binging a model. Magic draws too, so he could participate as artist or model if there were any objection. “I didn’t bring the dance strap,” he said., “I’m going to pose in black under-shorts instead.”

Seventeen artists from Spring Studio met at the reception desk and checked jackets and bags. We were told that the person who was to greet us and take us upstairs was too busy, so we were on our own. Easy enough.

As we entered the room we were surrounded by color, layers of paint everywhere on the walls and the floor. Luca Mosca, Christa Pietrini, Harumi Osawa, Joseph Schwarz, Anne Simmons, Serge Strosberg and Catrin Treadwell put on paint-stained painters' coats and suits provided by the Museum.

The Fourth Floor. Photo: Audrey Ganz. The pea-green thing is the elevator.

I saw right away that there were very few materials to work with, although we had been promised “a great range of materials available to work with and these include: acrylic paint (range of colors), gouache, watercolor, charcoal, charcoal pencils, crayons, oil pastels, colored pencils, chalk, chalk pastels, many kinds of pens and markers” and we had been told not to bring any materials with us. All that was available were about twenty pint-size containers of tempera paint with thin worn brushes, mostly light colors. I grabbed the only container with black paint that I could see and a container of yellow. I have been a socialist all of my life, but I found myself thinking ‘Oh, so this is what socialism is really like. You are promised that you will be provided for and then you are left to fend for yourself and to make do, ill-equipped.’ But I cheered up as Magic stripped to shorts and began a continuous performance of acrobatic poses of varying lengths that lasted well over an hour. I painted on the floor a few feet away from him. Soon Chuck Connelly and Audrey Cohn-Ganz joined me on the floor and we were all transported to Degas' ‘magic circle’ that artists inhabit. (You are either in the circle or outside of it.)

Magic Posing. Photo: Gary Katz

Magic Posing. Photo: Gary Katz

Serge had brought a photo of Ai Weiwei to copy. He painted Ai Weiwei‘s face in black and white a little larger than life with his shoulders held up and out in a crucifixion pose. “Is this OK to do?” he asked me. ”Yes, it’s beautiful,” I answered. He was running out of black paint. There was no more black paint to be had because so many people had shown up in the morning, and the Museum enforced a daily quota on supplies. I gave him the small amount of black that I had left.

Luca used the light colors to good advantage making a Zen Batman.

Luca Mosca's Zen Batman. Photo: Gary Katz

Around 3:30, the head of Security for the Museum came on his rounds, and seeing Magic in shorts demanded that he get completely dressed. I talked with Security and politely asked how many complaints had been made, and if there was a written record of the complaints and if the Museum administrators had been alerted and if they had made the decision to stop Magic from posing. He was insistent that Magic get dressed. I said to Security that we were all very happy to have had at least an hour and a half in the presence of the most beautiful thing in the world: a young acrobat of pure heart in motion, full of love and compassion. (Think kouros and the murals in Knossos.) Then I said, “Put your clothes on, Magic, as the man insists.”

Photo: Gary Katz NOTE the scroll with lots of little black figures on the wall at top, seeming to touch the ladder is by Anne Simmons.

I sat down next to Magic. ‘But I had lots more to do. I didn't want to stop. I could have gone on much longer.’ A true and pure performer.

All along Charles Johnson was taking thousands of photos. I will send some of his masterpieces after we download them. Gordon Fitch is writing a piece about our adventure in Artezine. I will send you the link soon. We took group photos. Here is one:

Photo: Anne Simmons via a stranger.

Note: Artists participating but not shown nor mentioned in the text were Peter Allen, Joe DiNapoli, Kenny Ross, Phoenix, Elizabeth Hellman, and Sara Edkins.

copyright © 2015 Minerva Durham