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As the 12/18 GUARDIAN put it, “Clinton Boisvert, a newly enrolled student at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, was arrested this week and charged with reckless endangerment after dreaming up one of the more provocative art projects of the post-September 11 era: placing 38 black boxes, bearing the word ‘fear’ in white lettering, around the Union Square station.”
Of course, the immediate implication from the media was that Osama bin Laden, Lex Luthor, or one of the evil minions thereof had placed these boxes of fear in the station, attacking us as terrorists are wont to do. Not to worry, though. After the station had been shut down for a few hours so the Bomb Squad could sweep for bombs, recover dropped sweetheart lockets, and the like, helpful tipsters began reporting that they had seen “two ‘artsy types’ distributing the boxes.” What stoic cool it must have taken to downgrade the incident from an Attack On Democracy By Theocratic Fascists to a distribution of boxes. But never mind all that. Once the police figured out it was two artsy types, they naturally began to “canvas local art schools” for the hopefully ersatz evildoer. At some point amidst all this canvassing, Clinton Boisvert turned himself in.
Certainly, this is the most interesting piece of conceptual art done in homage to the terrorists since the mailbox bomb smiley face a few months back, though I have yet to see some of the work Israeli Art Students have done relating to 9/11. But I’d expect that an artist with Boisvert’s audacity and vision would take the opportunity provided by claiming the work to articulate his vision. Boisvert certainly must have realized that this is a country that doesn’t play around when its court-appointed leaders decide we’re in wartime. Once Boisvert started speaking truth to power, he might as well have finished the job.
But Clinton Boisvert had no such inclinations. There are no gallery openings in the Cell Block. No time for “provocative art projects” when one is having diseases communicated to him on a hard plank in a cramped cell. In behalf of the young artist, Boisvert’s attorney claimed that “he’s only been in New York three months; I’ve been trying to explain to him what 9/11 was like here. He feels terrible. He wants to say sorry to New Yorkers, with a capital S.”
What is Boisvert sorry for, exactly? The lawyer’s implication is that he is sorry for the inconvenience he caused, or for unintentional reckless endangerment. For an artist, however, the consequences of his work are beside the point while the work is being created. The difference between a visionary and a hack is that the visionary is willing to die for his vision, while the hack is willing to cut deals with benefactors so that he can continue living. For a visionary, there is no life without truth. Boisvert’s proxy plea comes attendant with the cowardice that allows a man to cut deals, to sacrifice the sanctity of his work to save his own ass. Boisvert, like so many among us, feel like fame and material fortune suit us better than the miserable poverty to which we’ve become accustomed. The price for getting over in the exciting world of modern art is dear indeed, but apologizing for one’s work itself certainly is a nice down payment. Clinton Boisvert, welcome to the big time!