New York

Kunst Brothers (Alison Saar and Tom Leeser)

In an effort to place art more broadly throughout New York City, Creative Time has started a new series in which artists not only propose a particular installation or project, but suggest a specific site in which to develop the work. In creating a mobile work that was transported to various neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs, the Kunst Brothers created a piece whose content and context were the scope and rich variety of the city itself.

Automotive Votive, 1989, consisted of a wooden, gender less, royal blue figure enclosed within a Plexiglas display case and mounted on the back of a small pick-up truck. The figure sat on a modest throne, surrounded by white fabric. Like the advertising trucks carrying enlarged bottles of the brand of vodka they are promoting, the Kunst Brothers’ project was a transitory icon spotted, in most cases, only by chance. For its brief life span, it made scheduled and unscheduled stops in parks and communities. As the first step of arrival, the figure was lifted from the truck and people were invited to nail small objects onto its blue body. Over the weeks, the figure continued to acquire mementoes, which began to form a thick, new epidermis that expressed personal and collective archeologies. Everything from gum wrappers to small family heirlooms became part of the figure’s emergent, accretive identity.

Automotive Votive cleverly inverted the process of pilgrimage. Rather than simulating the long, anticipatory journey of the converted to some sacred site or relic, this project made expeditions to the people, with the artists as the designated drivers. By conjoining a catalytic art object with a car in the streets of New York, the artists helped restore the dissipated condition of ritual coalescence. While the depth of a spiritual trek was absent, the surprise of discovery and the rare opportunity for the public to shape some cultural event was vigorously present. The directness of this temporary project was compelling. Through thoroughly unpretentious means, these artists illuminated the atrophied conditions of collective rituals that once fortified the sense of public life—the bond that was shared by the human community in a mysterious world. Ritual and art were once firmly entwined, but contemporary life frequently has pushed them far apart. With this project, the Kunst Brothers bridged that distance, if only briefly. One look at the figure, covered entirely with mundane and rare artifacts, confirmed that some votive journey had been undertaken—that a small promise to the public had been made and kept.

Patricia C. Phillips