Those About to Die Salute You

There are few times working as a museum educator and public programmer that I get to feel like an art world star. Usually I’m the one behind the scenes, checking the logistics and making sure everything goes off without a hitch. This week I, along with some of my colleagues, got a chance to be the stars of the show for a change.

When Peter called me and asked me to be involved in something after work on the 13th I agreed, not really sure what he was asking me to do. Little did I know, I had committed myself to taking part in the “art party of the summer,” Duke Riley’s project “Those About to Die Salute You,” the culmination of his residency at the Queens Museum of Art. Duke constructed boats for teams from 5 Museums in the city (Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, el Museo del Barrio, Snug Harbor Cultural Center?) out of reeds that grow in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and fashioned a project based on a Naumacia, a Roman battle in the flooded colosseum, held especially during times of hunger and strife. How fitting, I thought. Little did I know what I was in for.

Despite arriving early and being briefed on the rules, both participants and spectators were given copious amounts of free alcohol and the event began to feel a little more like a bacchanal and less like a scripted Roman battle. I was nervous when we got on our boat and were pushed out into the pool, only to have drunken visitors lobbing rotten tomatoes at our heads and kids ran around in the pool. This was not a family program, people and hey, we were supposed to be the spectacle, not them!

Everything that happened after that was a blur, but I do remember the Queens Museum team illegally boarding and capsizing our boat and me scrambling aboard their boat while beefy guys tried to throw me off. Heck no was I going to let that happen. I couldn’t help but remember my great-grandfather, Captain Patrick, who saved his family by lashing them to the mast of his sinking clipper ship. While the Queens Museum celebrated victory, a climbed up their boat and flipped them (and the crowd) the bird. It probably only lasted 5 seconds, but it was an eternity in my mind.

I climbed out of the pool to find myself bleeding. My wounds got a lot of play and made me a rock star at work today, though my head was still pounding from tomato impact.

See the whole story unfold on the Brooklyn Museum’s flickr stream. Gothamist also did a pretty good write up (and took great photos). The New York Times’ City Room Blog also has a pretty good write up.

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