Next to my computer monitor I have a couple postcards and photos tacked to the wall here in the office. I’ve got a photo of the cat, an announcement for a Monika Weiss exhibition, a color copy of a family portrait of my friend Deana taken in the ’70s in which her sister ever so subtlety flips the bird to the camera, and a promo photo of the Del Sol String Quartet performing Yoko Ono’s Sky Piece for Jesus Christ (I was one of the performers). But hands-down the strangest image confronting me on a daily basis is Kerry Skarbakka falling in the shower.
I met Kerry at an artist retreat last year. Although somewhat of a conflicted soul, he also tends to be the life of the party—the guy who unwittingly cultivates the crowd you want to hangout with. Needless to say, we hung out. I remember one beer-fueled discussion concerning negative publicity, something extremely familiar to him. Let me explain: Kerry’s work became the center of the general public’s attention when he staged a day-long photo shoot of himself repeatedly jumping off the roof of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. The media misconstrued his artistic intentions a tad bit, resulting in a firestorm of international coverage. (Those interested in a much more nuanced account of why the artist did what he did can find it in this Chicago Reader article, written before everything went down.)
In my mind, I’ve always thought that any publicity is good publicity—something we composers get very little of, to say the least. Just imagine if your artwork were to become the talk of the town, then the nation, and then, for a little while anyway, the world. Certainly it must feel a little strange—though I’m the first to admit I wouldn’t necessarily shy away from it if the circumstances arose. After communicating my sentiments to Kerry, he became very sober, and it became clear to me that he was hurt to the core by the accusations that he was trying to profit from the deaths of 9/11 victims. In the end, negative media attention doesn’t actually focus on the art itself, so how can it promote the artist? Could that old any-publicity adage be outdated?