Artist Jennifer Rubell Wants to Teach People About Consent—By Letting Them Repeatedly Pie Her in the Face
The artist has made no less than 192 pies for this particular educational opportunity.
You’d be forgiven for mistaking New York’s new Meredith Rosen Gallery, which opened last week, for some sort of hybrid art space-meets-bakery. On the gallery’s opening night, the space was filled with 192 unbaked pie crusts, lined up in neat rows and piled high with thick white frosting.
But these pies aren’t for eating—they are for throwing. The display is part of an exhibition and performance by the artist Jennifer Rubell. Every day for six weeks, Rubell will stand atop a large white pedestal in the gallery at 5:30 p.m. while visitors line up to pie her in the face. She will be on the receiving end of eight pies every night the gallery is open.
The New York-based artist has created works that fuse food with audience participation for years. But her new piece, titled Consent, marks the first time she has put herself at the center of one.
Before they can lob a dessert at the artist, however, visitors must sign a detailed consent form. They must pledge to smash the pie, not throw it; not to throw more than one pie; not to take photos; and to follow other safety guidelines. One participant described the form to artnet News as “an artwork in itself… it was like three pages. I just signed it and agreed to whatever.”
The release form, paired with the work’s title, is obviously meant to bring to mind issues of gender, power, and sexual misconduct, which have been dominating the news cycle. In her performance, Rubell consents to the less-than-pleasurable activity of taking a cream pie to the face.
She has also made herself vulnerable in a series of “Partition Paintings” on view in the exhibition. The artist has scrawled her real cell phone number across the bottom of the works, inviting anyone who has viewed them to send her a message. Instead of acrylic, she’s used Cadmium red oil paint sticks originally produced by lipstick mold specialists. In lieu of canvas, she’s painted on almond-colored bathroom partition panels. The result feels less like a carefully rendered composition than a note left on the bathroom wall.
On opening night last Thursday, the crowd was less interested in texting Rubell than in squeezing into the small pie room. At 7:30 p.m., the artist entered the space. She was dressed head to toe in black, her hair perfectly coiffed. Five minutes later, with absolutely no fanfare, the first participant stepped up to the plate, pressing the creamy dessert firmly into Rubell’s face. The dense frosting barely moved, leaving only a smear on her nose, and the pie thrower placed the pie tin gently on the ground.
Things got a little messier from there. “Just smash?” asked the woman holding pie number four. Rubell smiled and nodded, and she released the pie as the crowded tittered nervously. “It was terrifying,” the woman, a curator and friend of Rubell’s who asked not to give her name, said later. “I was like ‘I’m sorry, I love you,’ and ran away.”
The fifth pie, released with considerably more force, did some damage, leaving a wave of icing smear across Rubell’s face and nose. The crowd gasped. The pie-in-the-face trope may be a slapstick favorite, but it wasn’t landing with gallery crowd, who seemed almost afraid to laugh. (Pieing also has ties to political protests—and post-game Yankees celebrations.)
The final participant of the evening was art critic Anthony Haden-Guest. He was particularly delicate, lightly bopping Rubell on the nose with the sweet confection. She broke out into a broad grin. A few minutes later, the artist gingerly stepped down from the podium, her work for the evening done.
But the performance continues outside the gallery space. Rubell’s dealer Meredith Rosen, who previously co-founded Sargent’s Daughters on the Lower East Side, told artnet News that the artist had received five phone calls and five texts in the first 24 hours after the opening.
“Did you enjoy your pie?” read one message. “Eight down, 184 to go,” Rubell replied. “Maybe I’ll know at the end.”
See more photos from the show below.
“Jennifer Rubell: Consent” is on view at Meredith Rosen Gallery, 330 West 34th Street, New York, February 8–March 17, 2018. Performances will take place Wednesday–Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
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