Text by Katya Kazakina 4.05.2017
Talk about a red carpet entrance.
A naked man curled up inside a clear plastic box was dropped off at Monday night's Met Gala—one of the more outlandish moments in New York's red carpet history.
It didn’t take long for the cops to arrive. The man inside the acrylic glass box was Russian artist Fyodor Pavlov-Andreevich, who flew into town to shake things up and draw attention to the performance art. He was dragged off the carpet after a few moments and arrested around 8:15 p.m. Police were unable to open the box and Pavlov-Andreevich refused orders to exit, so the fire department had to cut open the box, according to police. The next day he was charged with public lewdness, criminal trespass, and disorderly conduct that created hazardous conditions.
By that time, the Vimeo clip showing the whole shebang has been viewed more than 30,000 times on the internet, and news items appeared in the local press. For Pavlov-Andreevich, it was mission accomplished.
"It was super successful,’’ the 41-year-old artist said when reached by phone Wednesday afternoon as he browsed through the Whitney Museum.
What for many others would amount to a horrific, 24-hour ordeal was the happy culmination of a five-part performance art project that began two years ago in Venice and has taken place in Moscow, London, and São Paulo.
Titled Foundling—which refers to a baby abandoned by a mother—the project is based on a simple concept.
"I am donating my body encased in a clear box,’’ Pavlov-Andreevich explained. "The receiver of this work is either an institution or individual who has difficulty understanding or accepting performance art.’’
To “succeed” artistically, his donation has to be rejected. He has achieved this result again and again, usually with the help of security—although never, until Monday, the police.
"I've never been arrested in my life,'' he said. "My body is my instrument. I send my body as a work of art. All five times, it's been badly rejected and hated.''
Pavlov-Andreevich, who is blond, slender, and six feet, two inches tall, claims that the project is not a publicity stunt but an attempt to bring attention to performance.
"I am not seeking press and attention,'' he said. "I am not trying to embarrass anyone. I am trying to see if people can relax and have a sense of humor about things. It's a work that entirely depends on the audience."
His past targets have included Christie's and its owner, François Pinault (at a glamorous party in Venice), as well as Dasha Zhukova's Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. The former two don't show or sell performance art, he said. The latter failed to include his work in a historic survey of Russian art when it opened at Gorky Park last year.
Representatives for the Met, Christie's, Pinault, and Garage didn't immediately return calls and emails seeking comment.
Here's how it works.
Pavlov-Andreevich gets naked and curls up in a fetal position inside the box, which has small breathing holes on the sides. An assistant closes it and screws the top on. Four carriers haul the box to an event. The procession is usually led by an attractive female in festive attire who announces: "Step aside. The artist is coming."
Pavlov-Andreevich's yoga practice and martial arts experience makes it easier to stay inside tight quarters. The box is 100-centimeters long (3.28 feet) and 70-centimeters tall and wide (2.3 x 2.3 feet). Once he had to stay inside the box for four hours because the police didn't come quickly and security was afraid to touch the box, he said.
"I nearly suffocated,'' Pavlov-Andreevich said.
Getting inside exclusive, glamorous events is another obstacle. The artist said he counts on the shock of seeing a guest arrive in a box, his sources on the inside, and some luck.
In Moscow during the splashy opening of the Garage, security didn't want to let him in, but a woman checking in the guests found his name on the guest list. His carriers dropped him off in front of Zhukova, the founder of the museum and a partner of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, and ran away, he said.
"I was definitely not on the guest list at Pinault's event,'' he said.
There, during the opening of the last Venice Biennale, security thought he was part of hired entertainment for the evening celebrating exhibitions at Pinault's palazzos. Pavlov-Andreevich, who remains silent in his temporary incarceration, recalls seeing guests taking selfies with his box.
The performance ends when the glass is removed, he said. The artist steps out, dons his clothes, and leaves.
New York didn't work out quite that way. Although Pavlov-Andreevich declined to elaborate on the Met Gala episode, he said it was "the culmination of the entire cycle. I never had such a long and profound experience.'' He plans on writing a book and creating an exhibition about these five happenings.
—With Chris Dolmetsch