In the 1950s, the term “happening” was coined to mean any event or situation considered to be art. A happening essentially could take place anywhere, at any time. Rarely did they hold a consistent plot or narrative, and almost all intended to turn their audience into participants. At times, happenings were planned in part, but more often than not improvisation was considered the modus operandi.
Two weeks ago, on a balmy Thursday evening in Midtown, something definitely was happening.
On 27th and J streets, near Harlow’s, a row of opened and flattened cardboard boxes had been fashioned into makeshift display boards. Photo prints leaned haphazardly against them. The boards themselves leaned against shrubs and brick walls or lay upon the asphalt. It was an impromptu outdoor gallery.
The photo prints were all 8-by-12 inches in size, a variety of color and black and white, analog and digital. The subject matters spanned all possibilities—landscapes, candid human-interest shots, grafitti, dino bones, abandoned locales and a few risqué close-up flower shots à la Georgia O’Keeffe. None were tweaked or manipulated in any way, fitting for the raw style of exhibition. With all the structure often imposed on the arts, it’s refreshing to see such a candid display.
The masterminds behind the renegade art, a group of guys in their mid-20s, are Erik Putnam, Alejandro Martinez, Victor Gonzales and Jairus Tonel. Dubbing their group Art For Rent, they view themselves as “guerrilla ontologists” of sorts. While on this particular evening they displayed photography, their offerings of “outsider art” on any given night can include painting, music, poetry, etc.
To date, Art for Rent’s artistic insurgency has proven to be quite a success. Reaction from passersby is usually supportive, they say, some of the kinder pedestrians even encouraging the crew to keep up the good work, weather permitting.
What inspired the idea for a sidewalk sale?
Prostitutes, Martinez said in jest.
While the $10 per item “suggested donation” is a far cry from the rates of their streetwalking counterparts, Art For Rent’s goods are perhaps a bit more inspiring to clientele.
The DIY artists promise to be out again soon. You can find them every weekend, peddling in the same rebellious fashion. It’s the finding them part that might prove difficult. They liken their chosen place of vending to “essentially, throwing a dart,” half of the fun rests in their spur-of-the-moment ways.
Amuse yourself this Second Saturday on a quest for Art for Rent’s fancied intersection of the moment. Or, at the very least, you can simply hope to be there when it happens.