Pope.L. How Much Is that Nigger in the Window a.k.a. Tompkins Square Crawl. 1991. Five inkjet prints; Timberland leather boots; asphalt. Acquired in part through the generosity of Jill and Peter Kraus, Anne and Joel S. Ehrenkranz, The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, The Jill and Peter Kraus Media and Performance Acquisition Fund, and Jill and Peter Kraus in honor of Michael Lynne. © 2020 Pope.L. Courtesy of the artist

Pope.L began a series of street performances, or crawls, in the late 1970s, in an effort to “do a work that didn’t require language, it just required an action.”

In 1991, wearing a business suit and holding a potted dandelion, he crawled, military-style, along the perimeter of Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan’s East Village. The park had recently been the site of riots involving the homeless population that took shelter there; squatters, activists, and the police.

By “giving up his verticality” during his crawls, Pope.L prompted spectators to direct their gaze downward, drawing attention to the people who exist in vulnerable positions on the street and in society. His suit underscored the deep rift between aspirations of upward mobility and the absence of opportunity that confronts many Americans.

This fall, we traveled around New York City with Pope.L to revisit the sites of his performances, including Tompkins Square Park.

This film also appears as part of MoMA’s free online course What Is Contemporary Art? on Coursera. member: Pope.L, 1978–2001 is on view through February 1, 2020.