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Art student’s celebrity gaining power, hundreds sucked in

…a life-size cardboard cut-out in the center of a patch of red carpeting, behind a knee-high pile of tabloid newspapers titled Celebrity Artist. The front-page photo was the same couple from Lazerhappy. The headline said, “Dominique’s Secret! What she’s keeping from him may end in more heartache.”

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This all started a couple of weeks ago, when a photographer friend of mine finally managed to convince me to go to Lazerhappy Studios (1153 W. Grand) for a “performance gala” called “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” Not that the whole see-and-be-seen scene appeals, but, hey, I’d just bought new boots.

So we show up, and the first thing that catches my eye isn’t the guy lying motionless in the corner, while girls dressed in white stacked crystal and talismans on his hairy body. It isn’t the boisterous alkies in the back playing some sort of video game with little plastic guitars. It isn’t even people cheering as someone ceremoniously erases their MySpace account. No, it’s these two people, posing hip-shod and glamorous amidst a writhing nest of popping flashes and voracious cameras.

The closest I can come to pinning these two down is that they’re the kind of people who never take their sunglasses off, not even at night, indoors. She’s tall and slender, blonde; he’s dark and handsome in a military uniform and faux-hawk. As the two moved around the smoky, sticky rooms of Lazerhappy, they would often pause as if the mighty hand of Vogue or WWD had placed them there for our aesthetic edification, occasionally turning to one another and locking tongues like sumo-wrestling invertebrates.

Everywhere they went, their aviator sunglasses reflected flashbulbs and red recording lights. Heads turned as they passed, and the crowd parted for them as neatly as if they ground they trod had red carpet beneath it and velvet ropes on all sides. The crowd wanted them; the crowd wanted to be them. They looked like heartthrobs plucked from the big screen and arranged, carefully and artistically, in the midst of the plebian rabble.

“Who are they?” I breathed reverentially. My photographer friend glanced at me glassy-eyed, shrugged, and raised his camera.

Days later I was still tingling with curiosity, admiration, and jealousy. I was having a go at the BFA Show, starting on the third floor and working down. I had paused briefly to admire Elliot Layda’s larger-than-life six-pack when I caught sight of the girl again. But no—it was a life-size cardboard cut-out in the center of a patch of red carpeting, behind a knee-high pile of tabloid newspapers titled Celebrity Artist. The front-page photo was the same couple from Lazerhappy. The headline said, “Dominique’s Secret! What she’s keeping from him may end in more heartache.”

“I knew it!” I thought, and grabbed one (OK, I took three). I moved to the second floor of the gallery and was aiming for Amaris Granado’s gorgeous color photographs, when I was again stopped in my tracks, this time by Christopher Covington’s “Shanghaied, 2006.” Agog, the pretentious critic in me had just turned up her nose and was beginning to roll her eyes at what looked like the back page of a seventh-grader’s yearbook when I saw, scrawled across the top, “Who is Dominique?”

“Who indeed,” I thought, and inspected closer. Covington’s name had been scratched out on the little plaque and “Dominique Maciejka” written above it. The whole wall was white and was covered top to bottom with Sharpie marker and neon pink, green, and yellow doodles, including cartoon men in funny hats, cars, penises, lots of ghetto tags, “PBR 4 LIFE!” and the requisite, “For a good time, call…”

“Aha!” I crowed, yanking out my Nokia and dialing. A sleepy-sounding guy in New York City answered and admitted to knowing Dominique, but after I made clear to him where I’d found his phone number, he grew alarmed, refused to tell me his name, and asked urgently that I cross the number off the wall.

“Geez,” I thought, hanging up. “I ain’t no vandal!” At home, I curled up with a Pabst and poured over Celebrity Artist. It is well put-together, although clearly an amateur job (I heard someone say it looked like Streetwise), the paper featured pictures of Dominique on every page and in almost every advertisement, as well as other people I recognized from “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” The tabloid-style stories involve Dominique appearing on the Tonight Show, Dominique is-or-isn’t dating model Tyrese, Dominique’s rehab stint at Betty Ford. There’s even an “exclusive interview” in which she explains her BFA project. “The act of being a celebrity is the art,” she is quoted. “It’s like a Catch-22! What kind of artist are you? I’m a celebrity! What kind of celebrity are you? I’m an artist! This is 5-D, life art. Reality-reality.”

Feeling a bit like Keanu was about to pop out of the Matrix I any second, followed by bloodthirsty paparazzi, I clicked onto MySpace and looked her up. Now, I pride myself on the number of friends on my own page, all of whom I actually know, but neither Dominique nor anyone else whose name was dropped in Celebrity Artist possessed fewer than twice as many friends as me. Her display photo is the same as the cardboard cut-out in Gallery 2 and is captioned, “The cool kids are doing it…” Her listed interests include “spectacle, the concept of perfection, imperfection, the tasteless and the tasteful, misconceptions, lies (but not lying), legends, love, sex, drugs, rock & roll, and fun, fun, fun!” The comments on her page from friends are glowing, and include a fan’s adventure-novel style tale of Dominique’s dramatic demise in the jungles of Brazil, which urges readers to “pray for that roguish and untamed girl we once knew.”

But then, as I was greedily flipping through her blogs, I was shocked to discover one called “Celebrity Artist: Exposed!” Oh Dominique, how could you, just as I was really starting to dig your glamorous, subversive mystique, admit you did it all because you once took a boring class and you wanted to make your professor “look like an ass”? That your inspiration came from the immortal Paris Hilton, media darling and butt of a thousand jokes?

And Dominique, in your tabloid and online, you refer to British feminist Griselda Pollock’s notion of avant-garde art requiring “reference, difference, and deference.” According to this model, you are “referencing” established commercial artists, and “deferring” to these artists’ method of using themselves in their work to make themselves into art stars. As you say in Celebrity Artist, “This is all about us and selling out. Being commercial and being all about us.” Not to sound vapid, Domo darling, what about the “difference,” which Pollock writes must be “legible in terms of current aesthetic and also a definitive advance on that current position [my italics].”

Well, Dominique, you’re the celebrity and I’m the media, and I’m calling you out. How is presenting yourself as a celebrity artist different from presenting yourself as a celebrity actor, musician, or addle-brained heiress? Perhaps a new headline for the tabloids is in order: “Exposed! Celebrity ‘artist’ rips off not artists, but celebrities!” Undergrad project not art at all, but covetous ploy for attention! Riots in the streets! Hilton files lawsuit! Performance artists blacklisted nationwide! What’s a bit of fame without the smack of scandal?

But these are modern times, and nowadays, if you say it’s art, then it damn well is, and perhaps, like a urinal made into an art history classic by a simple signature, Dominique has transformed herself from a little Polish maiden into a fabulous star merely by virtue of the sheer power of her will and influence.

Make you a deal, Domo darling. You put me on your Top 8 and let me ride your coattails, and I’ll be your personal publicist (no offense, editorial staff of Celebrity Artist) and ensure you reach the stardom for which you are destined, because that dude was right when he posted on your MySpace page, “words are not enough to explain the absurd style of your sexy ways.”

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