Michael Smith is an influential performance, video, and installation artist with over 30 years of work under his belt, often based around his two performative alter-egos: the impulsive man-child Baby Ikki and the more benevolent Mike. The artist, who splits time between Brooklyn and Austin, Texas, has staged solo shows and screenings at the Whitney Museum, the New Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art, among many other venues. Smith will have a solo exhibitions this fall at Boca Raton Museum of Art in Florida and at Museo Jumex in Mexico City in December.
Smith’s Consumer Report follows him on a European trip, which starts with an extended layover in London before the artist decamps to Münster, Germany, to attend the 25th anniversary party for a tattoo shop with which Smith collaborated for the 2017 edition of Skulptur Projekte Münster—the project involved offering senior citizens tattoos at deeply discounted prices. Things then return to London before returning back to New York, but not before an emergency landing in Vegas. Within that time period, you, the reader, get a glimpse into the traveling style of an artist that is sometimes referred to as “Mr. Elemental.” —John Chiaverina
When I was invited to submit a Consumer Report, it took me some time to understand exactly what I needed to do. I tend to be overly literal in my reading of almost everything, and seeing Consumer Report and ARTnews in the same sentence, I immediately assumed I was being asked to write a review of a product, service, exhibition or event. Even after looking at some past submissions, and still not clear what was being asked of me, I decided to report on a weeklong trip to Europe.
Although this photo is from another trip, I love showing it to anyone patient enough to wait while I pull it up on my phone.
After I received the invitation from Tanina, the founder of Tätoweirsucht, I thought this was a party I definitely wanted to attend.
June 19, 2018
JFK to LHR
Getting to Münster from New York City is a pain in the ass, especially if you are a loyal American Airlines traveler. Almost all AA flights to Europe get routed through Heathrow, a huge mess of a hub. They lost my bags on two other occasions going through this stupid airport.
Travel Tip #1: Check nothing, carry on everything.
I am not one of those of those road warriors on planes every other day, but since I started teaching in Austin about 18 years ago, I do my share of flying. My MO, when in the air, is do pretty much everything I’m offered. Food, drinks, and movies. Almost all of it not very good, but at least you keep your hands and mouth busy.
An old friend of mine once called me Mr. Elemental, and I have a feeling after you read my reflections on this trip, you’ll not only understand this nickname, but a Consumer Report will take on new meaning.
One of the perks of frequent flying, beside admittance to the lounges, is that you get to board earlier than other coach passengers, guaranteeing a choice from a wide range of overhead bins.
Travel Tip #2
If seated in an aisle seat, lean in toward the middle seat to avoid being slammed in the head by elbows, purses and backpacks of boarding fellow passengers.
Get the lay of the land.
Around 8:30 p.m.
The Journey Begins
Like I said, when on a plane, I do everything they give me. I’ve found that when going to Europe, a lot of cheese is involved. Cheese sandwiches, cheese at breakfast, wedges of plastic cheese accompanying plane meals, and often a slice of cheese pizza right before landing. I was offered pasta in cream sauce, but I opted for the chicken curry. This paired with a generous serving of jug wine set me up for some movie watching, 3–4 to be exact. One of them was Molly’s Game, another was Ladybird, the best of the lot. I also caught the beginning of Red Sparrow while landing. I am a Jennifer Lawrence fan, but even she could not redeem this film. As for the 4th movie, I’ve completely forgotten what it was.
Travel tip #5
Take some time to plan your trip.
Since I wasn’t up for taking two flights and a 2-hour train ride to get to Münster on the same day, I decided to break it up and spend one night in London and then return for a couple days before heading back to JFK. Seemed like a great idea, that is, until I actually did it. Exhausting.
Landed in Heathrow and after some time getting through customs, I got on the Heathrow Express to Paddington.
Finally, it felt like I was in a foreign country. Travel can be complicated for me, primarily because I am directionally challenged. I ended up going in the totally opposite direction to where I needed to go.
Around 11 a.m.
Arrived at Hales Gallery on Bethnal Green Rd. Met with Paul Hedge and crew. I hung around, schmoozed, ate a sandwich, until it was apparent that the fatigue had set in. I headed out to Forest Hill to check into my room at the All-in-One. An odd name for an inn, but it turned out to be fine. Very reasonable, simple, clean, and above a pub.
Normally when I visit London, I stay with Paul and Jane, but they were having work done at their house. Later, at the pub, Jane went into graphic detail about how their waste pipe exploded in the middle of the night, and Paul saved the day by grabbing a package of pork pieces from their refrigerator, wrapping it with a sheet, and then stuffing it into the pipe to stop the gusher. A bit too much info, even for me, but it did illustrate Paul’s resourcefulness.
Jane and I took the Overground back to Shoreditch and met Paul for dinner at the Smoking Goat. I must say, whenever I dine with Paul and Jane, food is usually very delicious. I was sorry to miss the Pakistani Grill, Needoo, on this trip, but most definitely, I will be back at some point.
June 21, 2018
Took a morning flight from London City Airport to Dusseldorf.
I’ve never used this airport before. Small, easily accessible from the city, and much less crazy than Heathrow. My flight was delayed, but it gave me more time with my new love, LCY.
For the most part, I do not take pictures of food, and normally find it obnoxious when people take snapshots of every course served to them. After an inordinately long wait, my plate finally arrived; a bit cold perhaps, but ok. The mushroom was actually a fresh portobello.
Arrived in Dusseldorf after an uneventful flight, just how I like it.
I purchased an online reduced-fare ticket prior to my trip, but since my flight was late, I had to buy another ticket. No savings there.
Travel Tip #4
Best to spend a few extra dollars and buy a flexible fare ticket, especially when relying on airline timeliness.
Met for dinner with Marianne Wagner, from the LWL museum, and Kristina Scepanski, from the Westfälischer Kunstverein. Mr. Elemental was very pleased with the Italian food.
June 22, 2018 – Morning
Appointment with Marianne at the museum to discuss the installation and location of NQU_G for Fall 2019.
I had designed a reduced-scale version of the shop that will be installed in a room filled with American art. My piece will be situated in front of windows looking down onto the Red Bus stand. These tour buses are primarily used by elder tourists visiting Münster. Last summer, seniors could get coupons for discounted tattoos, when entering or exiting the red bus.
A hair salon that is now where Not Quite Under_Ground used to be located.
3:30 p.m. – The Party
A very friendly event attended by many old friends and family of Tanina, the original owner of Tatöwiersucht.
Germany was playing Sweden, and at a certain point the party stopped so that everyone could watch the match. Although I enjoy soccer, I really wanted to eat some spargle (white asparagus). I lucked out and found a restaurant still serving them at the very tail end of the season.
Sunday Morning – June 24, 2018
Münster is a very pretty city with lots of trees and bike paths. It also happens to be the bicycle capital of Germany.
Went to the Tate to see the Joan Jonas show and to meet various people.
As Paul put it, I set up office at the Tate bar. I met with him and Sasha for an informal business meeting. Shortly afterwards I met with Catherine Wood. We talked about a lecture she was preparing and somehow I got on the topic of lip-syncing. While waiting to meet Dan Gunn, I bumped into Andrea Lissoni, the curator of Joan’s exhibition. Evidently, he sets up office in the bar too. He offered to give me a tour of Joan’s show. I came back the next day to meet him. Dan showed up and we hydrated before going for lunch at a very good Tapas restaurant. Afterwards we took a walk, and Dan showed me some sights. He’s from London, so he knows the town pretty well.
The Tower Bridge
Tuesday Morning – June 26, 2018
Many years ago, I was on a flight to Los Angeles that made an emergency landing in Las Vegas, so that an ill patient could get proper medical care. I was watching some disaster film as they wheeled the patient out on a gurney. Totally surreal experience.
Anyhow, when we finally got to JFK, there was a wheelchair, and no medical team waiting on the sky bridge. Evidently this passenger was not as sick as the one on my flight to L.A.
Tuesday Night – June 26th
A raucous couple sitting in front of me drank and cheered while watching the World Cup. BTW, this was well before the passenger needed emergency attention.
Tuesday Night around 11PM
Got through customs quickly, and before I knew it, I was in a cab on my way home. I think I already mentioned this trip was exhausting, but it wasn’t until the next day, when I realized I left my credit card in the cab. This is the second time, in the past several months, that I’ve left my card in the cab after a long flight.
Although I have become fairly efficient at dealing with lost credit cards, spending the next day calling around about your lost card is not fun.
Travel Tip #5: Don’t rush. Try to remember to take your time.