I was going to learn a lesson. I could tell it by the way he approached me. Balding, spectacles, black jeans know-it-all. He had been inspecting Barnett Newman’s Cathedra. He’d been staring at it a while, his glasses hanging sideways out of his mouth.
“There used to be a bench here where people could sit.” The museum guides continually complained when they came into the room turning to their groups to explain. “If you stand in front of it for a while, the painting changes.”
I’d done my Tino Seghal propaganda number twice since the man came into the room. Because people want to see the paintings, I refrain from singing the piece too much, butting into their inner dialogue only when necessary.
“She sang it 367 times.” A museum guard complained of a colleague on the Propaganda route. “Every time she sang it she clicked her phone to keep count.” This was a new colleague with a Japanese name. I wondered if those two bits of information were linked to the information gathering obsession. On a four hour shift I’m guessing that I might sing it 120 times on average, depending on whether it’s a busy day or not. We don’t get paid for the number of times we sing the piece.
From what I have read and see, there is always a museum guard on hand nearby who can recognize the face of the perpetrator. Cathedra was slashed by an irate art gazer. “Here,” said a guest waving an arm to his friend, “You can see where the painting was damaged.” People come into the room especially to see the famous work that attracted unwanted media attention. Immediately after the traumatic event the painting was taken from the wall and laid on the ground in a quiet place to recuperate. With such care the museum eventually restored it to good health. In the room devoted to 70’s minimalism the shimmering blue Cathedra does have a magnetic quality, especially compared to the other paintings. The solid grey painting, for instance, or the solid white one with some stripes of color near the edges.
“Propaganda,” the man said smiling down at me, we were alone in the room. “Rotates, moves on and on.”
I considered this. I always think of propaganda as a lump, a fly eating plant, sitting someplace dark and damp like inside a television set waiting for a victim.
“The word comes from propagare, that’s Latin.” He informed me, “One thing begets another.” Do plants inside televisions poop? I wondered.
“Perhaps that applies to humans who see it,” I replied, “Not the propaganda piece itself.”
“No,” he reiterated, “The word means that it compounds upon and multiplies itself.”
“Yes, of course, do take it away then.” We ended our conversation thus on a friendly note. The patrician smiled back at me as he moved into the even less interesting room with orange and green and grey hanging on the walls. “This is propaganda,” I sang as a piece of immaterial art hired for the half day. Was I the embodiment of propaganda or was the art on the wall the embodiment of the propaganda?