October 2007


Surprising Ignorance

P.S.1. MOMAMy last day in America, I slept in—and it felt good. After breakfast at a nearby restaurant I headed to MOMA’s P.S.1., a contemporary art museum located in Queens, quite close to where I was staying.

The museum is located inside an old public school—from a generation where boy and girls had separate entrances and stairwells were divided into up and down, separated by fancy metal fencing. It is a spectacular venue with lots of space for art. Unfortunately I was there while exhibits were being changed, so I was unable to see the entire museum.

One of the first exhibits I wandered into was “Organizing Chaos” (which closes on Monday, so if you’re reading this and want to see it, my advice: hurry). It was here I found a video installation called “Guitar Drag.” My first thought was that it was going to be somehow related to drag, as in men wearing dresses.

It wasn’t.

Instead a guitar was tied up and dragged behind a truck with Texas license plates for about ten minutes.

Fully electrified, the guitar protested as it went over asphalt, through grasses, and bounced around behind the truck.

An African-American security guard tried to talk to me while I was watching, but he was hard to hear over the protesting guitar, and he displayed a shocking amount of ignorance about history. After I left, he found me in another gallery and informed me that this is what they did to black men in the 1960s.

“More recently than that,” I retorted. “Late 1990s, Texas.”

He apparently was unaware of James Byrd. Jr.

3 comments to Surprising Ignorance

  • J

    Funny you should mention your thought about drag. I had the opposite experience in 1997.

    I was travelling with a few Aussies and we went from Miami to Key West. After checking into the hostel, we rented bikes and cycled around the island for a while before stopping for a beer. While we were sitting there, we noticed a flyer about a drag race down the main street (is it called Duval?) and we decided that it’d be cool to see fast cars zooming down the street.

    After it started and we didn’t hear loud engines roaring, we realized that it was a drag queen race. We watched and it was quite funny, but were disappointed because we had been expecting cars.

  • Here is something my cousin did back in the mid to late 1980’s. I wonder if it will generate a similar description as that you had for Guitar Drag.

    Amusingly, it actually made it onto the PBS station in San Francisco. Granted, it was on at about 4:30 in the morning, but still!

  • j: it’s amazing how we are all products of our surroundings and experiences. I expected something gay because I used to live with a drag queen.

    cq: I don’t know what to think of that 🙂