Art et (Cottage) Industrie

Christine Hill Leads Tours of the Everyday

She had, of course, priced everything so she'd make a profit. But when the Serpentine Gallery sent her the money, they first deducted their £300, "saying that it wasn't the idea to be commercial." But Hill's work is less "commercial" than radical. In the post-Duchampian tradition, she challenges the whole idea of the unique object. Gilbert & George, for example, will not be returning their £300 if they sell their painting. This goes to the very foundation of art-world economics. Artists are supposed to take ordinary materials—wood, canvas, stone—and transform them into something valuable by their touch.

Just so the walking tour. One usually visits the oldest, the tallest, the battlements, the boyhood homes. Instead, we walked into the New York City Rescue Mission on lower Lafayette. We'd already perused the Canal Street bins and Hill's favorite 99-cent store.

"What can I do for you folks?" asked an old man seated behind the desk at the Mission.

"We're just interested in the way your establishment runs and how it looks," said Hill. "It's beautiful."

"You've never been in a rescue mission?" The old man seemed incredulous. He explained that they'd been founded in 1872, the first rescue mission in the country. A man named Jerry McAuley discovered God while he was in prison and decided he had to help other men in trouble. The old man showed us McAuley's pardon hanging on the wall, dated 1864.

"We take care of 300 to 400 homeless men a day and feed everyone who comes to the door. Are you hungry?" he asked. We weren't, but he said he would give us a present, and pulled xeroxes of a prayer he'd written from a file folder.

That was a poignant moment, and just a block away was a surreal one. We entered the Manhattan Detention Center, passing what looked like mesh towers in front. Sculpture? Just inside was a door on the west side labeled "sandbox area only one officer at a time." Hmmm. Inside the north door, an officer sat inside a little cage. He came out and asked what we wanted.

"Is that art work out there?" Hill inquired.

"I have no idea," said the officer.

A quote from Dostoyevsky hung near the door: "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."

Apparently, we are a civilization that doesn't know art from a pile of mesh on the patio. Or an artist from an entrepreneur.

Tourguide? runs through September 30. For reservations, call 212-802-7383.

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