Who wants to be art?

By Lawrence Cosentino

Broad Art Museum needs your face for its first masterpiece

Friday, Oct. 26 — When the crew of a Hollywood blockbuster comes to town, locals clamor to get into the picture. Who wouldn’t want to be Scorched Bystander 43 in a firefight between aliens and superheroes?

Michigan State University’s Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, set to open Nov. 10, is offering a more thoughtful way for ordinary people to get their faces into a colossal picture.

Today the Broad Museum put the call out for everyone in greater Lansing and beyond to collaborate in a conceptual work of art by German artist Jochen Gerz called, “The Gift: Lansing, Michigan.”

The art will consist of a cumulative gallery of photographs of people from the community — lots of them, photographed one by one, in large-format black and white.

Photographs will be taken, printed and hung in the tent right away. (See below for places and times to be photographed.) The project is produced with support from City Pulse and the Department of Art, Art History and Design at MSU.

The creation and hanging of the portraits will be a centerpiece of the opening weekend and a dramatic statement that the museum, and its art, will be open to all.

“The idea, from the beginning, is to say to the people who are living here, ‘We are trying to do something different,’” Gerz said.

Broad Museum curator Alison Gass said the project is “about making the art world more democratic and more about generosity.”

“You don’t look at it or even touch it,” Gass said. “You’re in it.”

“The Gift” is the perfect opening gesture for a museum that has already taken pains to distance itself from elitist notions of art. The Broad Museum has already sponsored summer “pop-up” events like the “Land Grant” discussions on local food and sustainable farming and artist Fritz Haeg’s participatory project of weaving a giant rug from discarded scraps.

In the rotating “Gift” exhibits, faces will line up without regard to wealth, rank or any other category. Billionaire philanthropist and Broad Museum donor Eli Broad, architect Zaha Hadid, MSU President Lou Anna Simon will appear alongside the hardhats who built the museum and anyone from the community who would like to get in the picture.

Gerz loves the democratic leveling effect of sizing the portraits exactly the same way and opening the studio to anyone.

“In my work, I have very often the high people, the politicians, because they want to be there,” Gerz said. “But I have also hobos, homeless people.”

It’s also a strong rebuke to old-school notions of static art objects collecting dust and a preview of the dynamic installations and performances the Broad Museum promises.

“I like that in a society, that people from totally different backgrounds have an access to things,” Gerz said. “They’re not getting pimples because they’re standing in front of art.”

When Gerz mounted similar projects in other cities around the world, including San Francisco, the cast of faces expanded into hundreds, if not thousands. The faces were reprinted in local newspapers, on billboards and other media, creating a shifting, kaleidoscopic group portrait.

“You slowly see a bigger picture of what is called ‘your place,’” Gerz said. “And you will say, ‘I thought I knew my place.’ And you don’t.”

The titular “gift” of the project comes after it’s over. All participants are invited to come back when the project is taken down and will be given a photo to keep. The final binding thread of “The Gift” is that you get someone else’s photo, not your own.

“You become the guardian of a stranger,” Gerz said. “Young people and old people, mother and son, crisscross.”

There’s another gift on the back of the portrait you will get of the person you don’t know: An official stamp will notify the world that you possess a portrait from the collection of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum. Gass said the gift “extends the collection of a public institution into endless private installations.” You could call it “buy-in” if any buying were involved.

See here for more information on how to participate in the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum’s inaugural project by German conceptual artist Jochen Gerz, “The Gift: Lansing, Michigan.”

Times to be photographed

Oct. 29-Nov. 7, in the former Barnes & Noble space at 333 E. Grand River Ave., East Lansing

Noon–3 p.m.

Nov. 10-11 (Broad Museum Grand Opening Weekend), in the tent adjacent to museum