In the summer of 2002 I heard a story on NPR about artist Anissa Mack’s project “Pie for a Passerby”.
This piece of performance art has heavily influenced the way I think about public art, public art funding and what constitutes “art”.
She began by setting up a miniature cottage on steps of The Brooklyn Library. Her concept was to create a situation in which the public would interact with her in an ethically ambiguous way – by stealing the pies she made inside the little cottage and set out on the blue-shuttered window sill to cool.
There was an explanation written up on the side of the cottage (she didn’t speak to the crowd – she played the part of the country woman in her kitchen, apron-clad and baking non-stop). She put out about one pie per hour for 4 hours for the 4 days she performed the piece. All of which was funded by New York’s Public art Fund.
While many may not have been familiar with the iconic small-town scene of the “pie-steal” (as seen on the Little Rascals, for example), the thrill of the pie-steal attracts us all. Stealing a hot, steaming pie from a sill because you just can’t stand how wonderful the flaky crust and berry filling smells, wafting towards you as you pass, is a certain kind of flattery for the baker. She made you into a criminal, she’s so good.
Getting random passersby to participate wholeheartedly in performance art is difficult. There’s the embarrassment factor, the suspicion factor, the annoyance factor….. Getting them to participate wholeheartedly without them even realizing what’s going on is genius.
Only then can real people be exposed, voluntarily, to one another in public. Only then can people start to make and realize existing connections between themselves and strangers, which is the real point of public art.
See more of Anissa Mack's projects at her site here.