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Artists Hijack the Whitney's Stairwell for a Surprise Exhibit

Apostrophe NYC received a lifetime ban from the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Antwaun Sargent

Antwaun Sargent

All images courtesy Apostrophe

In a move that evokes Yoko Ono's unauthorized show at MoMA in 1971, the art collective known as Apostrophe NYC snuck 12 paintings into the Whitney Museum of Art and staged a guerrilla-style exhibition. The paintings were hung in a stairwell on the museum’s big bay windows overlooking the Hudson River on a Friday night as part of Apostrophe’s Base 12 Artists Project.

“The Whitney is the first of three shows we plan to do in museums, as a part of a larger project that will additionally include three subway shows, three park shows, three international gallery shows, and 12 solo shows at a reopened Apostrophe NYC gallery,” explains an Apostrophe NYC member to The Creators Project. “In the Whitney we found a beautiful stairwell with no art, no cameras and an innovative way to hang the art without breaking any vandalism laws.” The group hung their small and light weight works using suction cups onto the glass windows. “Museums represent an objective level of success in the established art world, making it a historically weighted environment to view art in,” says the collective. “In this historical mire, the 12 artists created a harmony within the space.”

The guerrilla nature of the show can be considered a work of performance art unto itself. The staged show was in conversation with the Whitney’s current fifth-floor exhibition, Open Plan, where artists such as Andrea Fraser, Michael Heizer, and Steve McQueen were asked to maximize the 18,200 square feet of freestanding gallery space. Apostrophe’s popup meant to challenge that notion of maximized space for its own means.

“We are looking to activate sites and explore the notions of reception, and location through the exhibition of art in a myriad of different contexts,” the collective says. “By placing art in such drastically different sites Apostrophe is not only putting excitement into the viewing of art, but also centering the Base 12 artists and art as the core focal point and constant throughout the project.” They add, “What we want to accomplish with Base 12 is to show the work of 12 artists, whose art we believe in, and exhibit that art in the most fun and engaging ways we can think of.”

The Base 12 show lasted 40 minutes. During that time, they camouflaged their art into the museum, took selfies with their paintings, and flowed through the stairwell. Museum guards escorted the artists out of the museum and banning them for life. One guard told the group, “This is not how you’re supposed to get your art into the Whitney—there’s a process.” The Whitney refused to comment on this activation. 

The Base 12 artist outside of the Whitney Museum of American Art

For more information on Apostrophe NYC, click here.

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