Sunday March 21 marks New York’s first Art Handling Olympics, a competition that will determine the city’s best art handlers. I wanted a sneak peak about what was in store for the weekend, so I spoke with the event’s founder Shane Caffrey to help get me up to speed. We discuss dumpling slamming, Macgyver, and well, yelling.
Paddy Johnson: How many teams are participating in the Art Handling Olympics?
Shane Caffrey: Fifteen teams are competing in the qualifier race and then there will be four teams that will move on to compete in the Olympic games.
PJ: And how many different games are there?
SC: There’s Hang In There, Pack It In, Static Hold, and The Eliminator, so there’s four games – five events total including the qualifier. The qualifier is our homage to all the people that slave in trucks. It’s a race covering about a three-block loop from Ramiken to Bar 169 to Dispatch Gallery and then back to Ramiken. And since there are four people on each team, two people will be inside a commercial box and two will push. When they get to bar 169 they will have to slam down orders of dumplings and a shot of well whiskey and then run off to Dispatch to pick up an art work to bring back to Ramiken.
PJ: Normally, with art pick-ups in New York truckers very often get parking tickets. Is this part of the competition?
SC: I hadn’t thought of issuing parking tickets to anyone…and logistically I might skip that, but I like the idea a lot. It could be a penalty because those will accrue throughout the game.
PJ: Who are the judges?
SC: Carlo McCormick, Senior editor of Paper Magazine, Filippo Gentile, the head preparator at the Brooklyn Museum and Justine Birbil, the Director of Michael Werner Gallery uptown. All of them are very excited.
PJ: And what kinds of things are the judges going to be looking for? Will they have scorecards?
SC: Yes. Each judge will have a scorecard and they will be using a point system. So from 0.0 to 10.
PJ: So it’s like figure skating?
SC: [laughs] Exactly! JUST like ice skating. And the judges for each event will be looking for professionalism, style, and team co-operation. What they’ll be looking for will vary slightly from event to event but that’s the overall gist. Each event is timed and the time is recorded, and the fastest times of each event would all be tallied at the end.
PJ: So you should be fast?
SC: Yes. You have to hang stuff without a level in a ridiculously fast amount of time, with a lot of cards stacked against you logistically in terms of what’s on the back of the pieces and stuff and having people scream at you.
PJ: Wait, you’re going to have screamers on hand?
SC: Yeah, and we’re thinking about pulling screamers from the audience so it might be a nice twist towards the end. So people could get the chance to be a collector or curator or…
PJ: An asshole of some variety? Have you talked to many of the teams about how they are preparing?
SC: I’m getting very cryptic answers. I’ve spoken to many different teams, mostly through email, though I’m bound to acquire everyone’s phone numbers tonight or tomorrow. A lot of sarcasm involved in response to the training. When asked how they are training they say “Way too long” or “longer than they care to admit”. People have told me that their teams are having strategy meetings. My friend Jay, worked The Armory this year, and he said a lot the art handlers he talked to who were on teams were getting together and talking about how the qualifier’s the most important thing. Everyone wants to move on to the Olympic games, so everyone’s taking that event extremely seriously.
PJ: Will you be participating yourself?
SC: I’m the MC. I’ll be the general host of the day, and the chief heckler. I will take a lot of joy at screaming at people myself.
PJ: What happens in the case of rain?
SC: Nothing changes. If it’s pouring rain the teams will be racing in the qualifier, just, you know, in the rain. That is art handling.
PJ: So if the works get too wet, will they be penalized?
SC: I mean, if it’s really, really raining, I’m not going to be like, “This piece of cardboard is wet”
PJ: So as long the paint isn’t running off the piece then it’s okay?
PJ: Art Fag City will be providing live media coverage of the event. What other media outlets will be covering the event?
SC: Artnews, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, WNYC contacted me and said they wanted to do a piece, as well as a Lower East Side blog called The Low Down. To be quite honest though the event is not for those people. The event is for the guys and girls who are going to be competing and everyone else who needs a good fucking laugh.
PJ: People really like this competition. They also really liked the hotty art calendar that was announced a while back – I don’t know if it ever got made – What do you think the interest is in art handlers?
SC: [laughs] Oh man, I wish I knew. I have been continually surprised each week with the growing interest of this event because to be honest, I was hoping to get four teams registered. I thought it would just be a bunch of art handlers hanging out all day. Art handlers are incredibly interesting people. They come from all over the world, and they all come to New York with different stories and backgrounds. You could be sitting in the back of a truck eating a sandwich with a guy with a PHD and a girl who just got back from a dance troupe in Berlin. I love the men and women I’ve worked with over the years…they just have a lot of soul, and a really amazing sense of humor. That’s what I most consistently see. This is the segway to the art handlers reality show.
PJ: Which I think would get a lot of play. I have the sense it would fair a little better than the artist reality show. The job of an art handler is a little bit easier to define. The job of an artist is not…My favorite stories of art handlers are the ones where they chainsaw through some important work (the least favorite of dealers and auctioneers I’m sure).
SC: If people only knew how much that shit happens every day and you just never know about it. A dirty secret with art handlers is that a good art handler can cover his tracks really well. It’s amazing what you can do with a sharpie.
PJ: What’s been your most successful hanging of a show?
SC: Catherine Sullivan’s video installation at Metro Pictures in 2007 was particularly taxing and when we made that it was as if we’d all given birth at the end. It was incredibly long hours. We did with four guys (myself included), what the Walker Art Museum did in double the time with double the people. And audio-visual shows are the most difficult to do. They are the most demanding and nerve wracking. I remember was at Meineke Muffler two days before the show opened getting muffler pipes bent to solve a problem for a curtain rod…stuff like that. But I get off on all that shit…Like “we’re out of power! That’s alright we’ll just hook a bicycle up to a generator.” The Macgyver side of it.
PJ: Is there a game that reflects that?
SC: The most Macgyver will be the eliminator. The teams will have to think on their feet. With someone yelling at them.
PJ: Ah the other constant. Comradery and…YELLING.