How to Sell Nothing / Edward D. Miller

The installation ART&COM™ enacts a confrontation of two modes: contemporary artistic practice that advocates for an active audience and old-fashioned merchandising designed for the sale. While Thiago Szmrecsányi and Natalia de Campos set up shop in two vacant spaces in the Jamaica Coliseum Mall, the Brazilian Lower House of Parliament prepared to vote on the impeachment of President Dilma Roussef—in what many believe is a constitutional coup, removing a legitimate, leftwing President. Also Thiago and Natalia collected leftover items of the Mall just days before the Republican and Democratic Primary in New York. The U.S. and Brazil are the two most populous multicultural democracies of the Americas and their economies rely upon the citizenry’s ability to shop AND spend—and they are also Thiago’s and Natalia’s homes. Huge political changes are afoot in both nations with economic consequences, affecting the laboring classes’ ability to afford bling and wigs and designer sneakers. And public funding for the arts is certain to be diminished if both nations are taken over by rightwing forces.

Responses to ART&COM™ ranged from “WTF!” to “what exactly are you selling?” The series of encounters became improvisational theatre with the vendors, shoppers, and the artists themselves playing leading roles. The artists’ presentational strategies became responsive to the reality—and not the idea—of the Mall and the shoppers’ attention was diverted by the audacity of offering nothing for sale. But this is where the realms of brick and mortar shopping and participatory art meet: both offer an experience of an unrehearsed event that occurs live, with objects replacing the memory of a transaction that can’t quite fit inside a cardboard or wooden box.

Edward D. Miller

Edward D. Miller is a Professor at the College of Staten Island and the Graduate Center/CUNY. He is currently a Mellon Fellow at The Center of Humanities. His many publications include the books Emergency Broadcasting and 1930s American Radio (2003) and Tomboys, Pretty Boys, and Outspoken Women: 1973 Media Revolution (2012).