Early in the afternoon last Wednesday, Jacob Fabricius, the director of Copenhagen’s Kunsthal Charlottenborg, stood on a corner along Downtown Brooklyn’s Fulton Mall, a stone’s throw from Conway, Footaction, Armani Exchange and Jimmy Jazz, wearing a sandwich board that read, “TEACH US TO OUTGROW OUR MADNESS,” on its front and back. People occasionally stopped to snap photos (many standing behind him) or talk.
“There were some people telling private stories,” Mr. Fabricius said. “There was a guy early on today who talked about how he had been in prison for 22 years for drug problems, and now he is trying to get back to a regular life, and how he tried to outgrow or overcome a madness.”
He had been on the mall for about three hours, completing the last day of a six-day project he has titled “Sandwiched,” for which he donned a different sandwich-board artwork for three hours each day, by Kerry James Marshall, Lena Henke/Marie Karlberg, Margaret Lee, Sergej Jensen (“it was kind of an abstract painting, but it was kind of inspired by—um, Miley Cyrus?—where she’s onstage giving, it looked like, a microphone blowjob to one of her dancers”), David Horvitz (who was hanging out with him) and Alfredo Jaar, who was responsible for this one.
As it happens, Mr. Jaar had also shown up a few minutes earlier and was standing off to the side in a black coat, taking in the scene. “It’s a funky area,” he said. “I love it.” The text was originally a neon work, he explained, and it seemed like the perfect piece to adapt for Mr. Fabricius’s proposal.
“It’s the title of a book by Kenzaburo Oe,” he said. “He talks about the effects of Hiroshima, of the bomb, on his generation, and he suggests that his generation is mad, is insane, because we allow for atomic bombs. In this book he talks to his son, who is handicapped, who is very weak, and he suggests that his son’s generation should be the one to teach his generation to outgrow our madness. And so I’ve always liked that statement. Me, myself as an artist, of a certain age now, of a certain generation, I feel that my generation has failed. We haven’t made a better world. Look at the way things are around us. It’s a mess.”
What responses had he seen to his artwork? “Some people have told him, ‘Go to Washington!'” he said excitedly. “Those kind of things—beautiful things.”
This is actually the third time that Mr. Fabricius has staged “Sandwiched.” The first time was in Los Angeles in 2003. He did it again later that year in New York, with the help of the Wrong Gallery and the Public Art Fund, in the exact same place where we were standing.
How does the setting compare to 2003? “This is still here,” Mr. Fabricius said, motioning to the Sight ‘n Style Optical store he was standing next to. “It’s cleaned up a bit. In that end”—he pointed southeast down Fulton—”it’s definitely become much nicer. There was quite a lot of drugs back then…There’s still the Brooklyn Tabernacle here, so on Sundays there were quite a lot of people going to church. It’s as busy as back then.”
Just like a decade ago, he said, it took him a few days to get to know the people who work in and around the stores, but now they’ve been saying hello and discussing the signs. He seemed to really be enjoying himself. “I want to do it every 10 years,” said. “Next time I’ll be back in ’23 or ’24.”