For almost a year, a 19-year-old London art-school brat claimed he'd stage a jarring art performance in which he'd publicly give up his virginity through anal sex with a male friend. Sounds awful, right? Well, the performance's execution turned out much, much worse.
If Clayton Pettet is a virgin, it's because he's the guy who hopes to have sex with people who think he's an artist, and everyone realizes he's not an artist. That seems to be the big takeaway from his overhyped show, "Art School Stole My Virginity."
Pettet got lots of attention in announcing the live performance last fall. He even incorporated the media backlash into his performance, as the promo video above shows. Because ooh, the controversy around the performance is itself a performance! said everybody, ever, since at least 1915.
Which is why most observers were not shocked on arriving to Pettet's performance this week and learning that he wouldn't be losing his virginity and there would be no gay sex. Instead, they were shocked by the infantile melange of art-student clichés that he substituted for the promised act. Here's a hilarious rundown of the performance, from a writer for Dazed Digital (click their link for pics):
The 120-strong crowd was shown into the gallery, which had chairs gathered around a small performance space. A video projected onto the wall showed a pile of bananas. A broom brush and a silver bowl of water were arranged delicately on a concrete floor.
"Looks uncomfortable," someone muttered.
Four topless people – one women, three men – marched out wordlessly, holding up signs that read "ANAL VIRGIN". One of the men was Pettet; everyone else wore white shrouds. They were all in black pants, I guess because black goes with everything, including and especially performance art.
Scrawled all over Pettet's body were words like "NSFW" and "TEEN WHORE". Pettet scrubbed the words off him till his skin turned red. One of the boys grabbed him and started to cut chunks of his hair off. The crowd gasped. The woman daubed black paint on all over Pettet's mouth...
There really is no point to any of this performance, except to show that Pettet's seen every video of performance art from 1961 to 1971, and also he has a nice butt.
Speaking of butts:
Finally, we were led into the basement and taken to a small room. The topless woman sat cross-legged on the floor, solemnly regarding graffiti scrawled on the walls, with lines like "MY NEW ANUS, PUT IT IN" and "Performance art is shit. Get a grip and pick up a fucking paintbrush". One just read, simply, "#trending". Well, you can't accuse Pettet of not being reflexive.
The hooded man pointed to me and asked me to follow. As I walk out, I catch a glimpse of another line of graffiti that reads: "Part 2 – penetration booth".
The booth was very, very small. I crouched to get in. Pettet was sat inside, still in his pants, with two piles of bananas in front of him.
"I am your anal virgin," he said. "You are my partner. Pick up a banana." I immediately started to panic: penetrating a 19-year-old was not on my to-do list tonight, even if it's with a piece of fruit. "Now penetrate with my mouth eight times."
I gratefully slid the banana into Pettet's mouth as he stared me down. Then he took the banana out of my hand, snapped it in two and told me to leave. I scrambled out and was guided to another gallery space, with three-foot-high canvases featuring cartoonishly bright, primitive illustrations of girls being fingered, hacked-off limbs, mirrors with cum on them, and self-portraits of Pettet. They were all available to buy on Instagram, a poster told us.
You could say his project was an exploration of anti-capitalist sexual and dramatic frustration, denying his viewers/consumers the performance they expected. He certainly thinks so. "I've always said I didn't believe in virginity, so it kind of defeats the point if I'd actually lost my virginity for my art show!" he told Dazed Digital afterwards. "It just goes to show our obsession with virginity and gay sex."
No, it shows his obsession with virginity and gay sex—or, more precisely, his obsession with getting media attention for alluding to virginity and gay sex. From its start, the project was a total mystification of virginity and its removal. He threw his performance of virginity and sexuality away lightly, in a miasma of tired stereotypes. He suggested throughout that butt-sex is inherently gay, and inherently violent.
This was a lazy simulacrum of a college kid's written assignment on a Warhol documentary he watched on Netflix, or at least sped through before finishing Scandal.
Pettet's promotion of this performance suggested an exploration of sexual identity. Sex or no, there is no exploration there. There is no there there. Yoko Ono actually allowed art patrons to cut off her clothing to explore their capacity for subtle violence. Carolee Schneeman actually pulled a written scroll out of her pussy to explore the intersection of logos and mythos in the feminine body. Chris Burden actually allowed himself to get shot for—well, who the fuck cares what for? He got shot!
Pettet, on the other hand, had a pile of bananas.
The performance continues apace, however. Even though Pettet now assures us that he will "never have sex," because "my art is my sexuality," another art student—who previously accused Pettet of stealing the idea for this show—now claims he had the gay male buttsecks with Pettet just last week.
Vaya con dios, sad young artisterary men! Keep the charade up for as long as you can. Can't wait for Shia LeBoeuf and James Franco to play you in the indie biopic.