“As the (former Rhode Island School of Design) Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, occasionally I am asked to nominate the most multi-talented student to graduate during the past few decades….There is an impressive list of living candidates… from David Byrne, Jenny Holzer… to Dale Chihuly, Shepard Fairey and Roni Horn… Pushed for a response, I would have to say that in truth, my bet is on a remarkable artist named Neke Carson (class of 1968).” —- Bruce Helander, “Poster Boy,” Huffington Post, Nov. 20, 2013
Neke Carson has always had his ardent advocates. A pioneer performance artist with roots in Fluxus, Conceptual Art and Pop, Carson has had an unusual and remarkably varied career. Perhaps best known for his “rectal realist” portrait of Andy Warhol (1973), Carson also attracted attention for his guerrilla performances in high-end art galleries in the 1970s; for La Rocka, a new-wave model agency that functioned both as an artwork and as a business (1980); and, for his series of upshot “closet portraits” taken in the homes of celebrities (2009).
Here Gallery 98 spotlights Carson’s Lottery Drawings from the late 1970s. These performances survive today exclusively through ephemera — the posters announcing the events, and the ripped-in-half-drawings that were the principal prop in audience-participation spectacles. To win money gallery visitors searched for crumpled ripped-in-half-drawings hoping to find the half that matched the half-drawing randomly picked from a lottery bin. Carson’s clever play on the “lottery drawing” pun in the context of an art gallery trounced the meaning of art, trash, value, collecting and greed.
More of Carson’s work can be viewed in Gallery 98’s online exhibition The Strange World of Neke Carson: Early Works, 1970-85
A Neke Carson Production, You Can Win $100 In Cash Just by Going To A Gallery and Looking Around, 1977. Offset on paper. 18 ½ x 15 in. SIGNED by Carson. The poster includes a picture of a crumpled ripped-in-half-drawing and includes instructions about how it might be worth $100.
The first of Carson’s Lottery Drawings was a true outlaw guerrilla performance that took place without permission in the most prestigious galleries in Soho. Carson would randomly discard the half-drawings in different galleries with instructions inscribed on their backs to gather at Sonnabend Gallery later that day for the drawing.
“If you find one of these drawings. Keep it. It could be worth one hundred dollars in cash. Many such drawings will be forgotten at the galleries listed below. Find and bring your lottery drawing to the Sonnabend Gallery. A drawing will take place at 3pm. If the piece of paper you have in your hand corresponds with the other half of the drawing picked at random from the lottery bin. You will be handed $100 in cash.”
After becoming the performance director at the Robert Freidus Gallery in 1978, Carson staged two more Lottery Drawings. With the prize money increased to $1000, the search time limited, and all the half-drawings hidden in a single confined space, the last of these events in 1979 had an intensity that far exceeded the earlier performances. In this last iteration the greed of the audience members became the principal component of the performance.
Neke Carson, Lottery Drawings, Freidus Gallery, Announcement Card, 1979. Size: 6 x 4.25 Inches. Cover illustration shows one of Carson’s lottery drawings before it is ripped in half.