Best Food Fight

J.J. McCracken
The inaugural (e)merge Art Fair, which took place last summer at the Capitol Skyline Hotel, marked a pivotal moment for the District art scene. It had two purposes: to sell art, and to sell the District. Artist J.J. McCracken did more than arguably anybody other than the fair’s founders (D.C. dealers Leigh Conner and Jamie Smith, with fair veteran Helen Allen) to make that happen—though not in a way that necessarily made everyone feel good about it. McCracken set out with an almost Biblical mission. Her raw performance saw her tethered to her sister on a makeshift stage. The McCrackens, blindfolded and covered in wet clay, the artist’s preferred material, engaged in a tug of war. For an entire afternoon, they pulled away from one another, trying to reach the end zones of the field. The harness binding them together meant that when one McCracken made progress, the other failed. Reaching their goals meant much more than scoring for the performers: The end zones featured water tanks. The blindfolded, dehydrated, over-exerting artists held ladles that they used to support themselves, and, when they were winning, to drink water. With the sister-vs.-sister dynamic and the actual struggle for real resources, McCracken’s version of The Hunger Games—staged, remember, for viewers who paid the entrance fee for an art fair—cast a disquieting light on the entire enterprise. It’s only so often that it’s made so apparent how buying art requires an appalling lack of conscience, given every other purpose the money could go to.