Dot, Dot, Dot: How to Make $20 at Frieze New York

Jonathan Horowitz at Frieze

The idea, in short, was to paint a perfect 8-inch-in-diameter Mars Black circle on a 12-inch-square pre-stretched canvas. “Imagine you’re a dot-painting machine,” counseled a rep from Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, whose Frieze New York booth was hosting the project in question: A participatory work by Jonathan Horowitz that asks 700 volunteers to paint 700 circles which, when completed, are then sold as a finished work by the artist.

Edges were supposed to be clean. You were not supposed to water down the paint. Midway through my session, Jerry Saltz arrived and proceeded to speedily concoct a very wobbly circle. He was watering the paint down like hell. These dots were supposed to take 30 minutes to complete, minimum. Jerry was out of there in about four, protesting that he is not an artist. (I do believe they rejected his irregular geometry. Sorry, Jerry!) My own painting companions included Jeremy Kost, a photographer known for his photographs and Polaroid collages of attractive young men in various states of undress. Kost’s circle was bloating to something approaching 10 inches. Everyone was engaged in a conversation about appropriate sizes that, from an outsider’s perspective, must’ve sounded really pornographic.

The problem, of course, is that every time you fucked up one pristine edge of your dot, it necessitated a whole recalibration of the entire thing. This was all supposed to be meditative, and it kind of was: Eyeball the shape, choose a brush, stroke, stroke, stroke. Look at us, pausing to take deep breaths and contemplate the void. Certainly more fun than, say, laboriously separating grains of rice up at the Marina Abramovic Institute. Plus, unlike Marina, Horowitz was paying! Each dot-machine received a $20 check hand-drawn by the artist. Are hand-drawn checks even legal, my companions wondered? Evidently they are. Gavin Brown’s Enterprise had presented the whole scenario as something of a dilemma — cash the check for the $20, or keep the check as a discrete work of art — but of course someone had cottoned onto the fact that you could have it both ways, depositing the 20 bucks with one of those e-banking phone apps and still hang it on your wall. (We New Yorkers are a resourceful and cheap people.) My circle was pretty sweet. I gobbed on the Mars Black and slopped around some Ab-Ex gestural business before settling for the monotony of flatness. By this point Kost had submitted his slightly-too-big ovoid. “I think it’s only going to get worse,” he shrugged. “Then that’s probably the place to stop,” suggested the GBE rep, kindly. Kost: “I should just stick to naked boys.”

Jonathan Horowitz at Frieze

“So are these talented people, or…?” pondered a man wearing a salmon-colored polo shirt, looking like he’d just alighted from a boat in Key West. Yes, sir, we were. My circle was almost complete. Before submitting it reluctantly to the wall-hanging process, I inscribed my two tiny initials with the nub of a brush, toward the bottom of the circumference. My dot had a name! And the $20 might just be enough to buy a beer at Frieze.

— Scott Indrisek (@indrisek)

Top photo: courtesy of Alanna Martinez.