07.12.16 / New York / New York

When NYC Hotels Are The Canvas For An Absurdist Display

Matt Starr occupies a unique space on the New York art scene. He rarely, if ever creates his work around the ‘gallery’ form, instead choosing a mix of performance and photography as his primary mediums, with themes so comical it borders on ‘meme’ art. It’s usually interactive and funny, but always rooted with social commentary. It’s often a challenge to extend that kind of intangible and droll work into the consciousness of art-industry types, but Starr continues to capture the attention of media and art brands, including his latest venture with Culture Corps.

While many of his peers were away in Miami, Starr was tapped by Culture Corps (Art Production Fund’s Doreen Remen and Yvonne Force) to create a 1 day rotating exhibit with luggage brand Raden at New York’s most prominent hotels. With only a small team of assistants, Starr brought colorful Raden luggage—enough suitcases to carry all the earthly possessions of multiple people—to hotels including The Plaza, The Standard, The Edition, and The Mandarin, creating a humorous spectacle that made passersby stop in their tracks. Starr even attempted to check into the hotels with the luggage in tow, which also had the labels ‘Fragile,’ ‘Very Fragile,’ and ‘Extremely Fragile,’ plastered on them. It all happened to take place on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, Cyber Monday, and beneath the surface Starr was challenging the ideas of conspicuous consumption that drive the country into a frenzy every holiday season. We reached out to Starr to learn more about the ideas behind this quirky performance.

How did this performance change from Amazon Boy, which dealt with similar topics of consumption?

Amazon boy was about going somewhere and this most recent project is about waiting. Both are about being.

What made you choose hotels as the platform for the performance?

Hotels are interesting spaces. They’re very liminal. They’re inviting and exclusionary at the same time. When I team up with companies to make art, I’m not interested in making objects for one to costume passively. I always want to set up a situation or experience for people to engage with. It’s more interesting for me and everyone else involved. Since I partnered with Raden (the luggage company), hotels made the most sense. I thought about doing something at JFK or LaGuardia but was afraid of being mistaken for a terrorist and shot.

It seems that while millennials prioritize experiences over products, there’s also an increase in materialistic tendencies. Do you feel that this performance fits between those opposing ideas?

Totally. I think everyone is interested in spectacles, whether they like what they’re seeing or not. People are programmed to notice the ‘thing’ that stands out. I like being that thing. And I like using the banal objects that most people take for granted (i.e. Amazon boxes, luggage, baby clothes, etc.)

What were the reactions like from onlookers? What about the reactions from the hotels?

Onlookers were shocked. Most couldn’t fathom what was in the suitcases. They wanted to take pictures and know what was inside. A handful asked to take the luggage with them.

Hotels were annoyed. Some had mixed reactions.

The Plaza for example, was very warm and kind at first. After a while they made it clear there wasn’t enough room for all my luggage. I was pretty shocked how helpful they were being. They offered me a complementary drink and let me and my handlers take everything inside to a safe spot, but as soon as I realized I was at the wrong hotel they became cold and removed. People kept taking photos of me which they didn’t like. They thought it was a stunt.

At the Mandarin, we were shooed away immediately. We barely unloaded all the luggage before the general manager came out and asked us to not block any signage and take the luggage and go. It was early in the morning, so I don’t blame them. I should’ve have offered the door men some coffee.

The Standard was warm and welcoming, asking to take pictures with the suitcases.

None of the reactions surprised me. All were very telling of them and what the expectations of their guests are.

Your performances are a bit playful, but underneath the surface you’re looking at society and social behaviors…is your outlook optimistic?

I’m only concerned with creating an experience for everyone (all demographics). It doesn’t have to make sense and most of the time it doesn’t. My performances are dealing with normal people doing relatively normal things, just a bit exaggerated, which force people to pay a little bit more attention than they typically would to their behavior and those around them. So yeah, optimistic.

See more of Matt’s work at matt-starr.com and @mattstarrmattstarr

  • Photo: Pete Voekler

  • Photo: Pete Voekler

  • Photo: Pete Voekler

  • Photo: Pete Voekler

  • Photo: Pete Voekler

  • Photo: Karim Mustafa

  • Photo: Pete Voekler