On Saturday morning, Art in General, an alternative art space at 79 Walker Street in Tribeca, opened a new exhibition called “I’ll Raise You One…” in which a group of people sit in the gallery’s storefront window space and play strip poker for all to see. The exhibition is now three days into its seven-day run, and the fascination has not begun to dwindle.
At 1 p.m. this afternoon, a crowd of more than 30 had amassed in front of the windows, spilling out into the streets as everyone tried to take pictures of the events unfolding (and undressing) inside. The space itself is a small orange room with a round table in the center. Around it sat six people — two women, four men. One of the men was the artist, Zefrey Throwell, who has participated in the game each day; the other five were total strangers who were just there for the day.
According to Art in General curator Courtenay Finn, Throwell had to turn people away because his call for participants received such a large response. There are a total of 50 participants, both men and women, with care taken to make sure there are at least two women each day. “Yesterday was a very comfortable-with-themselves crowd. They were waving to the audience. They’re all pretty used to being on camera or being in front of an audience. A lot of them are other artists or performers or some people from the New York Naturalist Society — so some nudists. It’s a diverse group. But in general, they’re not shy and are pretty excited to be participating in the project,” said Finn.
Outside, the crowd continued to grow as people spent their lunch hours gawking at the men and women on the other side of the glass. The participants themselves handled the attention well — some ignored the audience and joked with each other, some chose to interact with the outside world. Shortly after removing her last article of clothing, one of the women turned the tables on the audience and held up a camera of her own. The mostly male crowd stopped their running commentary, which varied from play-by-plays of the events to pornographic remarks, and immediately began snapping pictures with reinvigorated fervor.
“It’s getting a diverse crowd,” explained Finn, who was outside trying to gauge people’s reactions. We started on Saturday so there were a lot more tourists and people shopping; today there are a lot more people who are working in this area. It was kind of quiet this morning and now it’s lunchtime. Also, the crowd gathers the more the players start to lose.”
The idea of the exhibit is that clothing is money — who loses how much is up to luck, but people who start out with more have an advantage over people who start out with less. While some people stopped to read the information about the exhibit posted on the wall, most were content to stand on the sidewalk or in the street and observe from afar, though one middle-aged man attempted to climb a pole in order to get a better view. When another man failed for a third time to drag his friend away from the window, he angrily shouted, “That’s what peep shows are for!”
“They got balls. Look at them — to sit there, buck naked, and play cards. Good for them,” said Gordon, who wouldn’t give his last name for fear of it being passed on to the FBI but stood with his nose pressed to the glass for over 15 minutes. “I don’t know why they’re doing it. I just passed by yesterday and saw it,” he responded when asked about the symbolism of the piece.
Finn acknowledged that the sensational and surprising aspects of the exhibition are what draw people in, but she was confident that people were appreciating the message as well. “There have been a lot of people commenting that they get it, that all we have left are the clothes on our back and that people are living paycheck to paycheck. I think it’s resonating. You have to be interested in something other than seeing someone naked, but there are a lot of really interesting conversations starting on the street, so we’re excited.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 14, 2011