But Is It Art?

Tilda Swinton has been making a kerfuffle in the art world for her exhibit at MOMA titled, "The Maybe" where she naps in a Plexiglas box for an entire day. Perhaps that is why the 24-hour news cycle missed my performance art at Pratt as part of Lucia Pedi's senior thesis exhibit. I sat at a table with a box of cannolis and an alarm clock. Each time the alarm went off I ate a cannoli. I did this for two hours and then went home and took a nap -- so perhaps Tilda Swinton is on to something.

Lucia's other exhibited pieces were mostly religious themed -- a statue of Mary that cried once a day (the miracle happens at 5:30 pm due to an installed water pump), a video of a guy in a suit carrying a massive cross through midtown and a plaque that recounted how she paid an actress to cry on the High Line for two hours. The last was a reference to Italy, where she informed me that people pay women to weep at funerals. I found that amazing, melancholy, but also life-affirming. Lucia is a petite pixie, but has a presence that makes you know she is going to do big things in the art world (Tilda, perhaps a collaboration?).

My role was to wear a suit, not smile, and eat cannoli at each buzz of the preset alarm clock. There were cannolis for the art goers and I could talk to them about whatever I wanted...art, pro-eating, or my preference for sfogliatelle. It was sort of competitive eating deconstructed and I found it harder to eat 20 cannolis over the two hours than in the six-minute contest at San Gennaro each year (I finally won in 2009 after so many attempts, shedding the impression that I was the Susan Lucci of the pastry world). I began to hate the sound of the buzzer and my taste buds grew tired of monotony of mascarpone. Sisyphus would have made a terrible Major League Eater. At the end of the event, no cannolis remained and Lucia hugged me profusely ("gentler please"), sending cannoli crumbs from my goatee like a leaking snow globe. Her smile was better than any antacid and I walked out a belt size bigger, but also happier.

My mother is an abstract artist so I felt inclined to help Lucia out. It was easier than my last foray into the art world, as a nude model at the Fashion Institute of Technology (It really is cold in those rooms!). I don't paint, sketch, or doodle, but I grew up around giant canvases and paint splatter, so I have a healthy appreciation of art. George Shea, the head of Major League Eating, has often compared our sport to, "a ballet of the buffet." He is often ridiculed for comparing traditional art to, well, stuffing one's face for prize money and a trophy. However, what most gustatory gladiator fans don't know is that George is an artist himself despite his art neither exhibited nor shown to the public. It is rumored that George has been working on a single painting for years -- a large canvas, brushstrokes in oil, of the crowd and eaters at the July 4 Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. One single painting for over 20 years.

I picture George with a beret and palette saying, "No, puce just isn't right, let's try eggplant," but perhaps George sees himself more as a poor man's Matthew Barney. Barney left an Ivy League football scholarship to pursue art, while George abandoned his Ivy League high diving scholarship, ending up not with a career in art, but rather, public relations -- highlighting others talents before his own. One either makes a splash in the modern art world, or drowns in its whirlpool. But perhaps George is simply a modern-day Henry Darger -- he doesn't need Art Forum to recognize his work, nor a gallery, or people to stare at it. Each stroke of his brush holds off the sand filled hourglass, pointing to one moment, high noon on July 4. Perhaps artists like George, Lucia, and yes, even Tilda are telling us something very subtle about time. Try as one might, either sleeping, eating, or weeping, no artist can compete with the clicking clock or in the poetic words of Andrew Marvell, "Thus, though we cannot make our sun stand still, yet we will make him run." Run, artists, run!

Crazy Legs Conti will be switching to donuts because he has trouble saying croissant. Email him at crazylegs@crazylegsconti.com