KEEP IT SLICK: Infiltrating Capitalism with The Yes Men
Curated by Astria Suparak
Organized by Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA + Feldman Gallery at Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland, OR
Sept. 4 – Oct. 26, 2008. Tour through 2010.
Reaching countless people through websites, newspapers, and television broadcasts, the sometimes anonymous Yes Men are among the most visible and effective activist-artists of our time. Over the past dozen years they have fearlessly taken on the world’s biggest corporations and bureaucracies through a process they call “Identity Correction.” Masquerading as official representatives at business conferences and on the news, they have helped keep critical issues in the international spotlight. “Unlike Identity Theft, which criminals practice with dishonest intent,” The Yes Men clarify, “Identity Correction is the art of impersonating a powerful criminal to publicly humiliate them for conspiring against the public good.”
Infiltrating the elite realm of the influential and the moneyed, cloaked in the sheerest layer of authority—thrift-store suits, quick-print business cards, forged press releases—these social activators urge us to question where ethics belong in our capitalist-driven society. In their elaborate hoaxes and improvised pranks, The Yes Men provide fleeting glimpses of a more humane world: Dow Chemical assumes full responsibility for the worst industrial accident in history at Bhopal, The New York Times reports on the end of the Iraq war and legislation capping C.E.O. salaries, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reopens public housing in New Orleans and forces Exxon and Shell to restore the region’s wetlands, and the World Trade Organization disbands in order to improve the lot of the poor. Alternately, The Yes Men extrapolate extreme conclusions to the free market’s greed and disdain: McDonald’s recycles its hamburgers for Third World consumption, Exxon converts climate-change victims into fuel, Dow calculates the acceptable ratio of death to profit, and the W.T.O. unsheathes its Management Leisure Suit to remotely control sweatshop workers.
This survey represents the first-ever solo exhibition of The Yes Men. Here you can walk into a re-creation of their past exploits in the Conference area, witness a comically apocalyptic future, and pay respects to a janitor who generously donated his body to satisfy our insatiable energy needs. In the Executive Board Room, you may browse through The Yes Men’s personal office items and orate along to their absurd PowerPoint presentations.
In all of their exploits, The Yes Men hold a mirror up to faceless, corporate power. They do this not only to mock its acute disconnect with the real needs of people, but also to rouse to action the individuals who uphold this structure—that is, all of us. They push the limits of taste, forcing us to define our ethical boundaries and reaffirm our agency, a vitally important task in an era of eroding civil rights and marketing campaigns that obfuscate what democracy means.
In the tradition of the Situationists, through lurid satire reminiscent of Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain, strategies of tactical media like those of the Critical Art Ensemble, institutional critique à la the Guerilla Girls, Hans Haacke, and Ant Farm, or public performances akin to those of Abbie Hoffman, Adrian Piper, and the Reverend Billy, The Yes Men seek to incite change.
Above all, they urge us to do something better.
ABOUT THE YES MEN
The Yes Men have gained international notoriety for impersonating World Trade Organization spokesmen on international TV and at business conferences around the world. They describe what they do as Identity Correction. Unlike Identity Theft, which criminals practice with dishonest intent, Identity Correction is the art of impersonating a powerful criminal to publicly humiliate them for conspiring against the public good. Their targets have included big bad bureaucracies like the World Trade Organization, nasty world leaders such as George Bush, ugly right-wing think tanks like The Heritage Foundation, and heartless corporations such as Dow Chemical.
The Yes Men Activity Book + Exhibition Catalog
Activity Item: SurvivaBall Sewing Patterns
Teacher Activity Guide: The Yes Men Fix The World
Nov. 14, Fri.
5-6pm: How To Be A Yes Man Workshop with preview film clips, as part of Carnegie Mellon School of Art Lecture Series.
6-8pm: Business Casual Reception
Dec. 4, Thurs.
8pm: How To Fix The World, The Yes Men’s new movie
@ Melwood Screening Room, Pittsburgh Filmmakers
Curated by Astria Suparak, Keep It Slick: Infiltrating Capitalism with The Yes Men is a timely acknowledgment of the work of Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum, two of the great social satirists of our time… The exhibition’s pointed installation hits it just right. Rather than mold The Yes Men’s activist artwork into a discreet, restrained presentation, Suparak gets into its spirit—both its serious underbelly and its consciously foppish exterior.
– John Massier, “The Yes Men,” July/Aug. 2009, p. 60
The Yes Men’s ability to seamlessly blend with and subvert corporate identities engages the public to envision a more just world of commercial and governmental responsibility… The logic behind ‘Keep It Slick’ runs contrary to most exhibitions. Instead of affirming the artists’ originality or craftsmanship, this show is intended to motivate ordinary citizens to themselves become Yes Men through DIY activism and infiltration.
– “Keep It Slick: Infiltrating Capitalism with the Yes Men,” Critic’s Pick, May 18, 2010
“The most prescient show of the year, opening 10 days after the still-gushing BP oil spill”
– Catherine D. Anspon, “Are You a Yes Man?,” June 5, 2010
The first solo show of The Yes Men (led by Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno), a survey of their bizarre and brilliant efforts at corporate “identity correction,” often beautifully constructed political pranks that highlight the immoral actions of the one-percent who call the shots on this planet…
It’s also incredibly engaging to see their handiwork close up. It helps you understand that The Yes Men are just a resourceful group of individuals interested in shining a light on some of the large-scale capitalistic fuck-ups that go unnoticed and often unpunished. Most of all, the exhibition, titled “Keep It Slick,” is hands-on and human-sized enough to encourage all of us to be Yes Men, which may be the biggest lesson this show has to offer: we can be agents of positive social change, and “Keep It Slick” is a beginners manual.”
– Damien James, “#1 Show To See This Week: The Yes Men ‘Keep It Slick’ at Columbia,” Sept. 16, 2010
Keep It Slick, the first solo exhibition by The Yes Men, arrived in Houston at just the right time. The series of installations at DiverseWorks includes documentation and props from the duo’s interventions critiquing corporate irresponsibility. This critique has the perfect backdrop: oil has gushed into the Gulf of Mexico for the duration of the show, and none of the corporations involved in the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig have accepted full responsibility for the sprawling environmental catastrophe…
In the ongoing discussion about art’s ability to create change within a capitalist system, Keep It Slick suggests that artists can try to produce change. Thinking of The Yes Men as artists, rather than activists, or even both, throws a wrench in the preference of some in the art world for work that does not deliver a specific message but whose meaning remains open-ended. The message of The Yes Men’s work, although delivered with humor, is clear: corporations do not police themselves…
In this mock conference room, The Yes Men offer primers on how to perform your own Identity Corrections and space to brainstorm new strategies for infiltrating corporate events. Here the viewer can handle the installation’s objects and discover the purpose of each without a demonstration on how it was used in an earlier Identity Correction. The Yes Men’s boardroom is detailed with cushy leather chairs, oversized posters advocating “corporate synergy,” fake plants and a bookshelf with texts by media luminaries from Rush Limbaugh to Bob Woodward. The viewer can page through memos detailing grooming tips for corporate executives or flip through a Rolodex of fake business cards for Yes Men personas like “Andrew Shimery-Wolf, Director of McDonald’s Interactive” whose office is located on “1 Kroc Drive.” (Executive) Boardroom Scene provides the tools and the space for viewers to develop their own critique.
This installation in Keep It Slick stands out because it is the passivity of The Yes Men’s audience, whether at a corporate conference or in the gallery, that they seek to challenge. It is the audience’s willingness to believe in “Andrew Shimery-Wolf” that glimpses a corporate culture where the likes of Bernie Madoff and his magical, ever-climbing profits could also be believable. In an era when executives like Fabrice Tourre from Goldman Sachs, as reported in the New York Times, asked to be called “the fabulous Fab” while raking in profits from the spiraling housing crisis, the fantastical falsehoods and wild impersonations of The Yes Men appear ever closer to the truth.
– Regan Golden-McNerney, “The Yes Men, Diverseworks,” Issue 66, June 2010
IF THERE’S A SWEET SPOT WHERE JONATHAN SWIFT, BORAT, MICHAEL MOORE and underground British street artist Banksy blend under a banner of cultural agitation, the Yes Men can claim it…
A traveling installment of the Yes Men’s first-ever solo exhibition is up at DiverseWorks Art Space in Houston. Keep It Slick: Infiltrating Capitalism With the Yes Men features video of the group’s elaborate agitprop gags, manipulated newspaper headlines and fast-food logos, and interactive “conference rooms” where visitors can read the script of a “real” Yes Men hoax. Or consider a SurvivaBall, a protective suit designed to provide bottom line-loving corporate officers with 24-hour full-body protection from global warming.
Devotees of unencumbered global trade will probably find Keep It Slick hard to stomach. Which is understandable. I’d be reluctant to go to an art exhibit that busted on the ACLU or Planned Parenthood, no matter what the reviews said. But the Yes Men’s view of the world is so original, their approach to social responsibility so pointed, and their courage so unquestionable, I’d like to believe even Milton Friedman might tip his hat in appreciation. After which he would buy DiverseWorks and turn it into a BP gas station.
My favorite Yes Men production has Servin and Vamos posing as executives from the World Trade Organization and McDonald’s. They tell horrified college students that the best way to battle global hunger is to feed poverty-stricken third-worlders the reconstituted feces of first-worlders. Maybe you wouldn’t buy that pitch if it came from me, but the Yes Men know that when they say it—ID tags on their lapels, PowerPoint presentations at the ready, corporate doublespeak dripping from their lips—the idea carries the uncomfortable sheen of possibility. Our reactions say more about the dark side of corporate globalism than any non-profit report could.
– Josh Rosenblatt, “The Power of Yes,” May 24, 2010
PITTSBURGH CITY PAPER
Keep It Slick: Infiltrating Capitalism With the Yes Men is a logical follow-up to Your Town, Inc., the first outing of the Miller’s new curator, Astria Suparak. In that exhibit, Suparak brought in Julie Christensen to visually catalogue communities appropriating the spaces left behind by relocated big-box retailers. The Yes Men take a more radical approach, appropriating the guise of the establishment itself…
Curator Suparak has demonstrated a knack for exhibiting the work of those who require a hyphenated addendum to the word “artist.” The Yes Men betray no overt connections to, or interest in, the art scene itself. They seem to frankly consider themselves as artful protesters rather than artists per se. So it’s only natural that Keep It Slick is an unorthodox show, and that it has its wonkish bits. Because the real punch of the Yes Men’s work is time-and-site specific, the show must be a museum of the ephemeral. But the ephemera are visually strong and sensitively displayed. Like good salesmen, the Yes Men and Suparak draw you in, keep it snappy and keep it slick.
– Curt Riegelnegg, “At the Miller Gallery, anti-corporate pranksters The Yes Men Keep It Slick,” Dec. 25, 2008
Bill O’Driscoll, “The Yes Men at Carnegie Mellon,” Pittsburgh City Paper, Nov. 17, 2008
This exhibit is of an urgent, aggressive nature — not one’s typical museum experience…
Suparak certainly takes the gallery in a new direction with The Yes Men exhibition, using a no-holds-barred approach of highlighting the hypocrisy in American and Western capitalism. The “We Can Do It!” woman dressed in moribund Ronald McDonald attire on posters around campus is too benign to convey the importance and exigency of this exhibit.
– Laura Thoren, “Charging against the capitalist empire: The Yes Men display their work at the Miller Gallery,” Pillbox, Nov. 17, 2008 (Magazine cover story)
HOUSTON INDEPENDENT MEDIA CENTER
From Halliburton Survival Balls to Golden Skeletons, this exhibit has it all. Come to DiverseWorks to see the various props from the myriad of stunts pulled by the YES Men in the more than 10 years that have passed since the WTO demonstrations in Seattle.
– Rachel Clarke, “The YES Men Fix Houston,” May 5, 2010
Dusti Rhodes, “Top Art Pick: Bigwigs worldwide live in fear of The Yes Men and their hijinks-style activism”
Troy Schulze, Art Reviews, May 12, 2010
Kelly Klaasmeyer, “Corporate Takeover: The Yes Men take on companies using their own tools,” June 3, 2010
GLASSTIRE: Beth Secor, “The Yes Men at DiverseWorks,” May 30, 2010
TIME OUT CHICAGO: Christina Couch, “Karma chameleons: The Yes Men step into Big Business’s shoes,” Sept. 23, 2010
NEW YORK PRESS: “Yes Men Produce Activity Book to Make More Yes Men,” May 10, 2010
CULTUREMAP: Nancy Wozny, “ASHTON KUTCHER WITH A CAUSE (AND LESS MONEY): Yes Men are anything but: Punking the press one story at a time,” May 5, 2010
HOUSTON CHRONICLE: Douglas Britt, “The Yes Men infiltrate DiverseWorks,” April 30, 2010
LIVERPOOL DAILY POST: Laura Davis, “Arts Editor’s Pick of the Day,” Nov. 3, 2009
POP CITY: “Yes They Can: Miller Gallery keeps it real with provocative new exhibitions and programs,” Nov. 13, 2008
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW: Kurt Shaw, “Artist activists bring ideas to Carnegie Mellon,” Nov. 30, 2008
THE PORTLAND MERCURY: Justin Wescoat Sanders, ” Arts Feature: The Yes Men: Keep It Slick,” Aug. 21, 2008
Sept. 4 – Oct. 26, 2008
@ Pacific Northwest College of Art: Feldman Gallery, in conjunction with Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival 2008
Nov. 14, 2008 – Feb. 15, 2009
@ Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA
Sept. 23 – Oct. 25, 2009
Abandon Normal Devices: Festival of New Cinema and Digital Culture
@ Art & Design Academy, Liverpool John Moores University + FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), Liverpool, UK
Apr. 30 – June 5, 2010
@ DiverseWorks Artspace, Houston, TX
Sept. 7 – Oct. 23, 2010
@ Glass Curtain Gallery, Columbia College, Chicago, IL