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Performing the Corporate

By Christopher Frederick

Text by Cindy Moore

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We are all used to seeing men in suits; during the Manhattan workweek they are everywhere. Their presence is so ubiquitous they are noted as a collective force, when noted at all. They are corporate men in the midst of their daily routine designed to blend in, but in their ranks is an interloper, an artist posed as a businessman, an individual in a suit hoping to stand out through context, repetition, and perseverance. In his ongoing series of modest performances, photographer, Christopher Frederick, takes the role of a high-powered businessman and peruses the galleries of Chelsea, bringing up complex issues of identity, privilege, and the misleading power of our daily assumptions.

Every Saturday morning, Christopher Frederick polishes his shoes, adjusts his tie, grabs his chrome-plated suitcase, and heads out the door en route to Chelsea for his weekly gallery tour. Armed with a briefcase carefully designed to contain his recent artwork, he leaves Brooklyn and ventures out into the “art world.” Between the hours of noon and three, he winds his way in and out of the main center of contemporary galleries (between 20th & 26th streets and 10th & 11th avenues.) Over the past four months, he has yet to miss a Saturday; each week he faithfully records his experience in a journal. His presence is slowly gathering notice from gallery owners and attendants, but with a few notable exceptions he does not interact.

Meticulously housed in the suitcase is Frederick’s recent body of work entitled ‘Corporate Casual.’ Taken from his “other“ life as an employee of a major monetary institution, it consists of surprisingly intimate photographs of the corporate environment made into paperweights. Also represented are various ephemera from Frederick’s own corporation, a nameless entity perhaps best illustrated by its faceless nametags and engraved pens featuring his attractive, familiar, yet ultimately meaningless logo.

A quick glance at these elements (both the performance and the series) might tempt one to simplify the project as a straightforward critique on the commodification of art or an easy jab at the lack of identity in the corporate world. These elements are no doubt present but upon closer inspection this project becomes more compelling; Frederick’s undertakings are personal acts of subversion awkwardly positioned between the two worlds that he is dependant upon. This project is a complex blend of wish-fulfillment and self-denial, role playing and deceit; it is a risky endeavor and an insightful look into the relationship of art and business.

The identities Frederick assumes are at intrinsically at odds, not only with each other but with their environments. In the corporate sphere, he articulates his individuality in a space that does not reward “different-ness.” Through the intimate photos taken on the sly, he shows the beauty and difference in the monotony of the business environment. In Chelsea, he counteracts the camouflaging effects of the suit through context and repetition. By incorporating this mantle of power and money, he becomes the person that the galleries notice and pursue, subverting the typical artist/gallery hierarchy.

The inherent wish fulfillment of this project is paradoxical from the start; take for instance his suitcase full of art. Although Frederick’s work is literally in a number of Chelsea galleries on a weekly basis, it is never seen. The case remains shut out of necessity. To open it would reveal his subterfuge; yet to keep it closed denies his “real” role as an artist. The suitcase holds two sets of thinly veiled desires: that of the gallery to sell work and that of the artist to have his work shown. It cannot exist as both.

Although the suit allows him a higher level of interaction with the gallery, it comes at a great price. By courting the galleries as a potential client, Frederick denies himself the role of the artist. His true identity when revealed will not necessarily be welcomed; his unspoken actions have been read as potential business. At the core of his performance is this inherent deceit that has the potential to end in disappointment.

No one knows exactly how this experiment will play out. It is the perhaps the tension and precariousness of the Frederick’s placement in this performance that is most intriguing. Through the use and misuse of symbols of power, he is giving himself a chance to change his position in the life he desires. What remains to be seen is whether gaining proximity to the thing he wants most, actually gets him any closer to achieving it. In this big-city fable, when the lamb in wolves’ clothing finally reveals himself, it is not necessarily happily ever after. It is the magnitude of that risk and the complexities of its implications that drive this project further and keep our interest week after week.

Christopher Frederick's Web site is