Matt Levy’s Lost in History: Exit Poll Cocktail Toll

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08/12/2008 12:00 PM |

By Matt Levy

What goes best with politics? Blue-in-the-face arguing? Solipsistic grandstanding? Memorabilia collecting? Sure, those are always a hoot, but what truly makes political discussions oh so fun is booze! The addition of liquor to our political conversations allows us hard-working, hard-drinking Americans to surge forward, secure in the knowledge that our treasured opinions on personal, cultural, communal and national matters make so much more sense when they’re powered by liquor. That’s the beauty of America: when the BAC level coursing through our bloodstreams makes red and blue states meet in the middle, liberal arms around redneck necks, and we sing the national anthem (not really, but we all have a dream).

Dean Baldwin also has a dream: one that involves free booze and the documenting of ever-shifting social dynamics. Not an American but a bona fide Canadian, Mr. Baldwin was in Chelsea last Thursday for the opening of his interactive vodka-fueled exhibit, titled Exit Poll Cocktail Toll, which runs through today at the White Box Gallery. For Exit Poll Cocktail Toll, one of six weeklong exhibits shown as part of White Box’s Six Feet Under series, Mr. Baldwin brought a bunch of vodka, shelves, and curious questions to the American fashion-forward, art-going, booze-drinking public. Picture, if you will, a fancy Chelsea gallery with a bar at the center. Free vodka drinks handily dispensed by cheerless galleristas — vodka and cranberryl vodka, pineapple and blue curacao; vodka and nothing else — to happy-go-lucky hipsters and the standard gallery-hopping crowd. Surrounding the bar, mounted to the walls, are a bunch of shelves with empty plastic cocktail glasses stacked on either side of a demarcated line. Sharpied on each shelf is a question, and under each shelf is a option of two answers.

"If the election were to take place today who would you vote for?" has an overwhelming stack of empty cups — 30 or more — on the Obama side, and a half dozen for McCain. "Does Capitalism control democracy?" (pictured) also has a stack of empty cups on the YES side, and a handful (but not many) on the NO side. Another query has a shelf perched high above the heads and reachable arms of all boozers in the gallery and a ladder placed squarely underneath leading to the inquiry "Are poor people lazy?"

Chen Tamir, a NY resident and guest curator who invited Mr. Baldwin and his spirited installation of spirits, describes his art as "creating social scenarios and sparking conversation through the argument of art and the lubrication of booze." White Box’s theme of Six Feet Under was developed to take a humorous yet interactive approach towards the election season. Chen and Dean interviewed friends as well as strangers on the street to come up with 30 questions, which were then whittled down to 13 and displayed prominently on the walls. It seemed as if patrons had a good time boozing it up and making their decisions known. If the answers to the questions surprised n -one, well, neither did the crowd of young urbanites on hand for the opening. Neither did the stack of empties on the positive side of the shelf labeled "Did you come for the free booze?"