As hotelier André Balazs discovered, for the price of a movie ticket, even “democracy”—or at least a piece of it—can be bought. His purchase of 100 Votomatic voting booths on eBay at $10 each not only inspired this exhibition, but provided its material and theme. These portable aluminum machines, originally designed in 1964, were given to a variety of artists, designers, and architects, who have transformed the artifacts back into “vehicles for democratic expression.”
Or at least that’s the idea. Curated by design critic Chee Pearlman, the show is also meant to create a visual dialogue on design and democracy, though it is politics more than aesthetics that resonates here. The best works combine both. Michael Bierut and James Biber, for example, present a booth crushed flat by a steamroller, on top of which sits a tiny plastic elephant. The literal and metaphoric associations of being steamrolled, along with the use of a child’s toy to represent the Republican Party’s emblem, give it both a visual and conceptual punch. Similarly, Frank and Sam Gehry’s evocative sculpture of a mushroom cloud, made from chicken wire, resin, and plaster, and placed inside the booth, becomes a cipher of destruction, calling to mind the magnitude of the upcoming election and the consequences of political apathy.
More insidious still, Peter Girardi’s Frankenstein Rides Again features a video hidden behind a cardboard cover. The only way to see it is by defying gallery protocol, stepping over the divider meant to keep viewers from touching the work, and peering down a narrow gap. Those who do so will see a man with the face of Frankenstein’s monster, dressed in shirtsleeves and underpants, and pedaling a bike that in turn spins a flag. Who is the monster and who is his creator, Girardi’s work seems to ask, suggesting the answer lies with us. As her contribution to this project, Diane von Furstenberg designed an exclusive fabric to “make voting a fashion trend,” but Girardi warns us of the propaganda of such seductive appeals.