New York

Lisa Kirk


Inspired by the theatricality of street and media activism, Lisa Kirk’s projects—or, as she sometimes calls them, “social occasions”—are marked by a winning combination of wit, nerve, charm, and aggression. For “The Greatest Show on Earth,” her exhibition at Participant Inc. in 2003, she had an effigy of the Whitney Museum fashioned from cake, and then blown up. For her project Revolution, 2006–, she created a customized fragrance memorializing the persistent smell—or, rather, the stench—of street violence, bottled in pipe-bomb vials and “marketed” with a bandanna face-mask accessory and a DVD commercial. At times, she desists from artmaking entirely, choosing instead to curate polemical shows as rejoinders to contradictions she perceives in the art world. “I figured there was already too much art out there,” she explains. “It seemed like it would be more interesting to do something with it.” Wholly original, Kirk’s projects are always a synthesis of personal experience, current events, and an insider’s perspective on cultural politics.

In this show, “House of Cards,” Kirk gleefully conflated the collapse of the real estate market, vacation time-share incentive marketing, and the “hard-sell” techniques used in furniture showrooms. She constructed a freestanding one-and-a-half-room shack within the tiny Orchard Street gallery. The structure, built in fifty-two parts from found materials, is both a sculptural installation and a time-share sales model. Ingeniously conceived and made, the shack is an indigent clubhouse. A wok dropped into the center of three stacked-up tires serves as a cooking range. Metallic gift-wrap curtains frame Plexiglas windows. The scavenged plywood interior walls are adorned with peeling wheat-pasted posters from yesteryear’s protests—one shows a cop clad in full riot gear, with the pitiful phrase abolish alienation printed on his face-shield.

At the close of the show, the work was moved to a donated lot in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where it will remain until next April. Viewers were invited to participate in the project by purchasing one-week time-shares at the low starting price of $199. Backed up by a “deed” produced by Kirk herself, the shares entitle their owners to full use of the shanty for the purchased time period. Battery and solar power are available at the site. Should they choose to do so, owners can take up residence throughout their week, or simply use the time-share as a venue for parties. Higher membership levels are also available. For $599.99, “Basic Collectors” can own a signed piece of the shanty when it’s removed from the yard. For $8,999.99, Kirk will have the piece bronzed. Fees can be paid in convenient, interest-free installments.

Actors Susan London, Luella Lu, and Bob Spence were recruited to function as “sales associates,” greeting prospects as they entered the gallery and conducting tours of the model while highlighting ownership benefits: “You are contributing to art history by becoming part of this project. . . . You are not only buying a piece of art but becoming part of it!” Eventually, viewers were led to a windowless sales center (otherwise known as the gallery office), where the deals were closed. As an added incentive, buyers were allowed to “look under the rug”: That is, they were led down a flight of rickety stairs to the dank gallery basement, where portions of Kirk’s Revolution—ransom notes, a milk crate of gilded Molotov cocktails, posters proclaiming SORRY ABOUT ALL THE TORTURE AND EVERYTHING—were reprised as a peep show.

An artist with ideas to spare, Kirk approaches the “House of Cards” enterprise with the same zeal that drove Claes Oldenburg’s Store, 1961, his exuberant ode to primitive capitalism. But whereas Oldenburg sold plaster sneakers and sausages from his storefront studio, “House of Cards” transcends the mere physical object. What’s for sale is the idea of ownership, backed up by specious grant deeds.

Chris Kraus