"Did you get the press release? Everything sounds better with 'of art' after it, don't you think?" Filip Noterdaeme said from his bed, where he was under the covers. He wore a glued-on beard and squinted into the light at a tiny slide in his hand. "I'm smoking a Vermeer," he said, dropping the slide into his pipe. A taxidermied coyote, the museum's publicity director, sat in a pram with a microphone in front of its muzzle, and I could see myself on a closed-circuit TV on the other wall. There was a girl in the corner behind a tripod, videotaping us, as well as another guy with a camera. Are they are part of The Homeless Museum—now The Homeless Museum Of Art!—too? (They are not. They are journalism school kids from Columbia, making a project.)
The Homeless Museum (of Art) is not really about the homeless! It is a mock "museum about museums" in the artists' own rental apartment in Brooklyn Heights that wants to "subvert the increasingly impersonal, market-driven art world and expose the sellout of cultural institutions to commerce, cronyism, real estate, and star architects."
Although: There is a "homeless simulator," a translucent structure the size of a refrigerator carton that you crawl into. An electric mixer filled with pennies is inside, and the audioguide instructs you to turn it to 10.
"So what do New Yorkers think about?" Filip asked me. I said: Sex and iPhones mostly. Madame Butterfly, the museum's hostess, hovered in the background, already having served the standard snack of a hard-boiled egg, chilled organic milk, and a mussel, de-shelled—clearly an homage to Marcel Broodthaers and his eggshell and mussel-shell assemblages, which is so totally about the emptiness of modern art.
"Let's hear what Florence Coyote has to say," he says. Her microphone boomed with something about "searching for a home." Some days she says: "There is nobody walking away clean in this world any longer."
You might remember Noterdaeme from the protest organized in 2004 against MoMa's admission price raise; he encouraged visitors to pay with rolls of pennies only.
Or, you may not! He is also famous for writing letters to people like Ronald Lauder, president of the Neue Galerie, along the lines of:
Congratulations on your purchase of Gustav Klimt's 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Isn't it amazing how far we will go when driven by passion—even if it means bribing and paying a price well beyond its market value?
The other exhibit I especially enjoyed was a prototype for "The Newest Museum," whose tagline is "Be There. Do That."
"But you can't go in," Madame Butterfly said. "Nobody can go in. You can, however, project whatever you want—words, hype—onto the front of the building. Which is all you need to be able to talk about it, really." There will be no art inside the Newest Museum.
Similarly, you can't visit the Homeless Museum of Art any more either, though private appointments are available for journalists, curators and gallery owners. It's no longer open to the public. Earlier this year, their landlord—who lives in the building and found out about the museum from reading about it in the New York Times back in January—has threatened them with eviction for "running a semi-public art project out of our rental apartment."
[Photo: Russell Gera, for The Homeless Museum.]