As part of my research for Artists Experiment, I went to MoMA to sit side by side with the volunteers that staff the information desks. I was not 100% sure what I would find, but my instincts told me that there was something interesting about the situation—in part because, while the desk is usually staffed by one volunteer, there are two chairs behind it, and I imagined that to be a kind of invitation; in part because I like to work on tables and I always think of them as a space for making.
It turns out that the volunteers rotate desks every 30 minutes, so at one point during the shift I was sitting alone and a visitor came and asked me where such-and-such exhibit was. I detected a Spanish accent, so I switched to Spanish and explained that I didn’t know anything about the Museum but that I knew a lot about New York. The couple thanked me and walked away. Five minutes later the man returned and asked me, in Spanish, where he could buy brand-name clothes, Polo, Hermes, etc. He complained that the stores around the Museum were really expensive. “Oh yes!,” I replied, “You have to go to Broadway and walk the blocks between Houston and Canal street. There are many stores there that sell brand names at a discount.” “Soho?,” he asked. “Yes,” I said, “but don’t go into Soho. It is really expensive. Stick to Broadway.” He thanked me profusely, left, and came back in 30 seconds to ask me: “How about fake Rolex watches, where can I get those?” I explained that for that he has to go to Canal street; but the police are cracking down so the watches are not on display. He should first shop for clothes, go to Canal street, turn left, walk like a tourist, and vendors would approach him offering him the merchandise. He asked for a pen, I drew him a map, gracias, gracias, gracias….
Be sure to check back with us to see what programs and experiences Paul Ramirez Jonas develops with us this winter and spring as part of Artists Experiment. You might get the chance to see him in action!