Much to the chagrin of the art community at large, ‘Sure Thing!’ by Mitchell Gilbert Messina comes to a close on the 12th of October. Luckily, however, this writer has come up with a step by step formula for how to (re)create ‘Sure Thing!’ by Mitchell Gilbert Messina at any gallery in the world, and perhaps, given the right parameters, in your very own home.
(Disclaimer! The writer is not responsible for any copyright infringement, identity theft, forgery, or personality disorder that may occur as a result of this tutorial. “How To (Re)create Mitchell Gilbert Messina’s ‘Sure Thing!’” is merely a rhetorical ploy.)
Step 1: Predicate your gallery exhibition on a satire of a gallery exhibition. The gallery will, of course, be expecting this – given your reputation for self-reflexive and sardonic antics – and will brace themselves for a good snubbing. The gallery, anyway, operates already in the world of satire, excess, and illogic, so your efforts are unlikely to throw a spanner in the works. Therefore, predicate your gallery exhibition on what the gallery least expects. That is, a gallery exhibition that might actually make money. That is, an exhibition of paintings.
Step 2: Learn how to paint. But before you learn how to paint, make a long list of projects you want to execute, ranging from silly (video of a science fair volcano blowing up a gallery) to sincere (an SABC show that broadcasts accessible art education to children). These half-imagined and unfinished projects will be what you make your paintings about. Aesthetically, they will function somewhere between pro-Helvetia advertisement, Sister Corita Kent mockup, and academic précis, whereby a series of thesis statements and their tautological footnotes will be transposed via stencil onto the painting and then painstakingly filled in with acrylic. Decide to create eight of these paintings for the exhibition, which is opening in a matter of weeks.
Step 3: Move into the gallery. It’s the only way you’re going to have time and space to 1) learn how to paint and 2) finish enough paintings to justify a solo exhibition. The gallery, having vouched for you and advertised your show already, will have no choice but to let you set up shop in their viewing room. Stage this as an intervention. Make like working inside the gallery is a performance, shattering the veneer between labour and commodity. ‘Works in progress’ in the backroom synthesise with ‘works in progress’ pitched by the paintings. Meanwhile, pull several all-nighters in the gallery, making good use of the free electricity and wifi.
Step 4: Do NOT hang the paintings in the white cube. This will imbue them with a sense of austerity, rendering their irony tasteless. Rather, lean the paintings against cheap metal office shelves. Not only will visitors to the gallery applaud you on your institutionally subversive curatorial choices, but you will have extra space to store your materials for your paintings that still aren’t finished.
Step 5: Make grilled cheese sandwiches on opening night. The benefits (toasty smell will lure people in; everyone loves a snack; gives you something to do while people scrutinise your work; you can eat as many grilled cheese sandwiches as you like; makes you look down-to-earth, especially if you are literally sitting on the floor in front of a panini press) are unparalleled.
Step 6: Do NOT leave the gallery after opening. The goal here is to turn the viewing room into a residency, where artist, gallerist, and viewer alike participate in both production and reception of the work. Use this time to finish your paintings. Or, distract yourself from finishing your paintings by constructing a prototype prickly pear skateboard. Or, finally get around to tackling your troubled relationship with gallery spaces by being absorbed into one completely, like Joseph Beuys did in New York with a coyote, but instead of a coyote, it’s a video of you and your paintings dancing to ‘La Bamba’ for hours and hours on end.
Step 7: Sell the work. Even though you are reluctant to sell the work. As in, you are reluctant to ask for money for the things you make. As in, you are reluctant to ask for money from the amorphous capitalists who officially/unofficially finance the art world scheme, thereby compromising both the ethics of your artistic practice and your relationships with your Marxist friends. Quell this reluctance by selling ideas, not paintings. Enter into a con
tract with the buyer where the painting’s sales funnel directly into the painting’s pitch. In other words, you get money to produce the pilot of Educational Art Programming for Children, and the buyer gets a 170 x 120 cm souvenir of their contribution to the cause. Congratulations, you’ve now created a loophole in the private art production triangulum. Since this framework might cause confusion, make a painting about it, forming the keystone of the exhibition. Use the sale of this work to fund more paintings to fund more projects to fund more paintings to fund more projects, and so on.
Step 8: Overall, maintain a healthy balance of cynicism and idealism. Be ambitious about What Art Can Do while also pragmatic about the institutions that bar artists from Doing The Things. Enjoy the charged possibility of things-imagined-but-not-yet-actualised, but don’t get too comfortable with inaction. Take yourself seriously, but also let yourself be vulnerable. Take the audience seriously, but also play at the edge of their expectations. At the risk of sounding corny, question everything, including yourself. Few artists manage to hold themselves upright through these contradictions, and even fewer have the guts to laugh at themselves on the other side.