Eternal City


Arts & Culture, Our Daily Correspondent

whitney apple

Photo: Sadie Stein

The Whitney Biennial has generated any number of reviews—the more comprehensive ones will tell you about the distinguished curators, the three “biennials within a biennial,” the ambient sound installations.

So far, I have not read anything about the Apple.

On a chilly evening earlier this week, I attended a preview with a friend. It was, as others have recounted, crowded. “I thought you were the artist,” said a woman as I studied one of the pieces, a voluptuous ceramic by Alma Allen. “Because of the way you’re dressed, I mean.”

“Thank you,” I said. Alma Allen is a man.

By the door, a young woman was handing out canvas bags. “Just the ladies,” she said as we exited.

I waited until I was home to open my gift bag. Inside was a black box. “BCBGMAXAZRIA + WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART,” said one side of the box. Another side said “Celebrating 25 Years of Style.” A third said, “25th Anniversary Chrome Apple.” And the fourth featured text:

This chrome apple epitomizes the eternal relationship between fashion and art. We present this gift to you in celebration of BCBGMAXAZRIA’s 25th anniversary and the 2014 Whitney Biennial Sponsored by BCBGMAXAZRIA.

No one dare accuse this box of false advertising. For inside was indeed a chrome apple, which was itself a small box, covered in spikes. I stared at it for some time. I took a picture and sent it to some friends. “Looks more like a durian,” commented one of them, accurately. I left it on the counter and went to bed.

The next morning, there it was. When I went downstairs to get my mail, I deposited the apple, in its explanatory box, on a small table in the lobby that serves as a tacit giveaway area for the building; it’s usually populated by books. This table has voodoo qualities. I have never seen anything there go unclaimed, be it an outdated Lonely Planet Madrid, an old VHS tape, The Kosher Cajun Cookbook, or a pair of light aerobics weights, although in the spirit of full disclosure, I myself am now the owner of those last two.

And yet, when I went downstairs again some four hours later, it was still there, sitting in solitary splendor. My brow knit with disgruntlement. I spied a four-year-old neighbor.

“Hi, Pablo!” I said. “Would you like this metal apple? See? It’s a little box. That looks like an apple.”

He inspected it gravely, suspiciously. “Why are there spikes on it?” he said.

“Because it’s … art,” I said.

“I don’t want it,” he said with brutal candor, and went upstairs.

“Your loss,” I muttered, and stuffed the box into my tote.

On the subway, I found myself seated near a family of obvious tourists carrying a large Build-A-Bear bag.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” I said, “but I’d like to offer you a souvenir of the Big Apple. It’s from the Whitney Museum.” I proffered the box.

“No, thank you,” said the mother hastily, moving her little girl down the car away from me.

“See if I care,” I said too loudly.

I schlepped the apple around for the rest of the day. Come nightfall, I went into a Starbucks to use a bathroom, and my eye fell on the bag of the man ahead of me in line. It was the gift tote from the Whitney.

“I thought only women got that,” I said. It took some moments before he had any idea what I was talking about.

“Yeah, someone gave me hers,” he said. “But I didn’t get any of the stuff that came with it.”

“It’s not fair,” I said. Then the bathroom door opened, and my moment had passed.

Later that day, I went back to the Whitney to try to actually get a crack at the sound installations. “What’s that?” said the guard who was checking my bag. But he would not confiscate it. So I left it in the lobby.