BY REQUEST is a subversive, humorous, and celebrity-obsessed show about the Washington, D.C. art world. For the show, seven D.C. power players—collectors, curators, and critics—were asked to fill out surveys to determine their ideal works of art. These surveys were turned over to seven different D.C. artists who pledged to deliver custom pieces.
There was one small catch: The show’s ringmaster, Jeffry Cudlin, insisted that he be depicted in every work of art, thereby transforming himself into the show’s biggest celebrity. The resulting outlandish images feature cross-dressing, a severed pig’s head, and a pair of fake latex breasts, courtesy of an FX makeup artist.
For BY REQUEST, I have attempted to merge my curatorial and artistic practices—transforming myself into either an intrusive, meddlesome curator; or a parasitic performance artist who only creates by insinuating himself into the work of others.
The project’s jumping off point is polling data. Because of this, BY REQUEST at least superficially resembles the 1994 – 1997 People’s Choice project by Komar and Melamid—in which the two artists used polling companies to determine archetypal most desirable and least desirable paintings for various countries.
But whereas People’s Choice attempted to reveal something about national character, BY REQUEST simply aims for total transparency within the field of cultural production—collecting and evaluating the opinions of professionals in an attempt to thoroughly explain why DC gallery culture currently looks the way it does.
Of course, whatever pretense is made about the show’s empiricism is undercut by my one overriding rule: I must somehow be present in each work of art. This is meant to underscore my privileged status as the broker of all seven transactions—the show’s gatekeeper, statistician, and coordinator.
As a result, BY REQUEST functions as an unlikely laboratory for quasi-open-ended collaboration between artists, collectors, critics, and curators. And while I have established strict guidelines surrounding each artist’s production of a piece for the show, the resulting group of works nonetheless reflects a pervading sense of liberation, a determination to create strong pieces even in the face of absurdity, and a willingness to take risks.