An artist paints in the lobby of the New Museum. Not unusual — except that this artist is Karen Finley and she is secretly engaging in “sexting” with willing participants who are sequestered in a secretive basement closet-like room, where they have been given permission to “sext” her.
A fan of Finley’s, I was intrigued by the idea and decided to participate as a “sexter.” As part of the museum’s NEA 4 in Residence project, Finley’s “Sext Me if You Can” performance and installation promised to be an “erotic exchange with the artist—bound by rules of commerce” resulting in a lasting and collectible work of art. Meaning, my “sext” would become the inspiration for a one-of-a kind, limited edition Karen Finley painting.
A very friendly museum guide steered me down stairs to a small dressing room space complete with mirror. I even had my own guard standing outside the door. I was given a secret phone number and told to begin “sexting.” My heart was racing from nerves I must admit–or from the permission to be lewd, one or the other. After all, I was going to “sext” with Karen Finley, the celebrity artist and famed NEA 4 “Chocolate-Smeared Woman” who took her case for artistic freedom of speech all the way to the Supreme Court.
Trying not to forget that this was art –-Finley was upstairs in plain view, intensely painting her inspired interpretations of the “sexts” she was receiving on post-card sized miniature canvases –I tried my best to be “sexty.” I was not really sure what the artist was going to make from our exchange. I started with a few “hellos” and then we “sexted” a few comments about our eye color, at which point the artist asked me to send her a photo of mine. Oh! An erotic exchange! It was very exciting. With only ten minutes of allotted time, I barely got off my image (I was forewarned that the wi-fi connection might not be so strong from the basement).
Afterwards, I watched as Finley sketched my eyes, I wanted to say “Hi,” or something. But there was this ‘do not disturb the artist’ aura about the whole thing. I suppose that was the whole point of “Sext Me if You Can.” The hidden brief encounter, the spontaneous, quickie message–the tease of it all. All I wonder is, was it as good for her as for me? I will have to wait and see when the commissioned work of art is finished.
New Museum NEA 4 in Residence continues through June 28 with John Fleck and Tim Miller.