This Saturday, artist Michael Alan plans to fill his Williamsburg house with nude Marilyn Monroe impersonators, sparklers on the roof and in the butt, a cake on someone’s head, and an orgy. It will be, promises Alan, wild fucking fun.
As the next installment of Draw-A-Thon Theater, Saturday’s event would mark the healthy continuation of the much-covered, well-attended public performance art-cum open studio trip Alan and his troupe founded in 2005 were it not for the nagging fact that the project, as of this writing, is homeless.
“We had an arrangement with a Chelsea gallery through the end of August,” Alan explains via telephone, “But they didn’t want to pay the $500 insurance.” Booker back-outs of this kind are nothing new to the group. Alan has sought legal action on at least three occasions against flaky curators.
“I always win because they’re always wrong,” says the artist. “They think, ‘Here’s this painter who’s crazy that we can take advantage of.’ I might be a painter, and I might be crazy, but I’m also intelligent.”
Draw-a-Thon stagings, which typically last 12 hours and, due to ever-present and tumescent nudity, don’t serve alcohol, have failed to jibe with the Modigliani-and-a-martini crowd. The show, packing the floor for an entire working day with amateur artists, naked things on fire and hurled eggs, has become considered something of a money pit.
The communal bent of Draw-A-Thon Theater seems increasingly at odds with the prevailing curatorial trends of the city.
“People say New York is the art capital of the world, but I’m not sure what that means anymore,” says David Koren, producer for the ongoing Figment arts fair on Governor’s Island at which Draw-a-Thon performed two weeks ago. “Does art capital mean where art is bought and sold? Dragged out of a cave and exhibited?”
In 200X New York, art means money and scene means graduation party. Underneath the bohemian veneer of Williamsburg (now available at Target) and the insta-bar openings of the Chelsea strip runs a current of privilege at once potent in its cultural influence and potable in its neuvo appeal. Thousands of kids, descending from the ivory tower into Brooklyn and Soho, are drinking the hipster ale. It’s a funny balance. These days it’s harder than ever to afford the tubercular lifestyle craved by cash-in creative types. For everyone else, there’s not much of an escape. Threats of moving from Bushwick to Baltimore, or Austin, or Portland are essentially clichés of their own at this point.
Alan, too, has considered the possibility of leaving the Apple, but has opted to hang on for the time being because of personal and self-actualizing obligations towards his hometown.
“I want to do something to make this city better for artists and bands,” he says. “If I could change something here, in this climate, I feel like that would be significant.” Draw-a-Thon is currently looking to purchase a space of its own, something Alan has dubbed the Positive Art Machine.
“We were thinking of Warhol’s Factory, but positive,” he describes. “It’s going to be a huge eyesore. I want everyone to come in.” With a fundraiser scheduled for September, the PAM may be a time away. But, Alan contends, the backers for the endeavor, not to mention the support of hundreds of collaborators, artists and musicians itching at the status quo, is there.
In the meantime, Draw-a-Thon will have to improvise. When their outdoor Governor’s Island gig was threatened by rain and lightning, the troupe spontaneously relocated to an abandoned church nearby. “We baptized a guy in paint over the altar,” Alan recalls, “It’s a statement of, OK, ‘What is the Church?’, but also points out that Draw-a-Thon is a new kind of church that’s weird in a positive way, the real positive way.”
The Figment performance drew a crowd of well over 100 people, a turnout which, while heartening for the performers, begs the question of how Alan will fit those kind of numbers into his digs this weekend. “I’m just looking for a space with a radio, a stage, and the ability to keep its word in the contract,” says the painter. “Until then, I’m just hoping I won’t get evicted.”