Poker As Social Commentary? Only In New York City…



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The game of poker is used by people for many things. For many, it is the way they make their living. For some, it is a way to pass the time with friends. Over the next week in New York City, however, the game of poker will be used for something else…as social commentary.

Articles at both DNAInfo.com and at the Village Voice have brought to light a poker game that will be taking place in New York until November 19. The game, taking place in a storefront window at Art In General on 79 Walker Street, will be played out from 10AM to 6PM until next Saturday. But this isn’t your normal game of poker; what is setting it apart is that it will be a strip poker game.

The game isn’t for salacious reasons, but rather it is looking to make an artistic and cultural statement. The display is called “I’ll Raise You One…” and will feature both male and female players at the table. As per the rules of any good strip poker game, players will shed clothing upon losing hands in full view of whoever happens to be sauntering by. While expecting to get some shocked views among its curious passersby, the artist behind the presentation is looking to make a statement.

Artist Zefrey Throwell, who will be taking part in the game as well, stated to DNAInfo, “At first it’s kind of titillating – ‘Oooh, its strip poker’. After you get over that, you start to wonder: What the hell are they doing?”

Throwell is attempting to use poker – and in particular strip poker – as a commentary on political and cultural issues in the United States. The clothing in the game is supposed to symbolize money and players in the game will show up in various states of dress to demonstrate the unequal distribution of wealth in America. Throwell’s further theory – that skill can help you but, in the end, it is all up to the luck of the draw – will be demonstrated as the players play throughout the eight hour day.

“Wealth is unequally distributed, (but) yet we’re all expected to play by the same rules,” DNAInfo quotes Throwell as saying. “It’s a political and economic criticism.”

DNAInfo interviewed the curator of Art In General, Courtenay Finn, who said that the demonstration was a “perfect fit” for the gallery. “Art in General has always been a site where artists could exhibit unconventional and experimental works,” Finn said to DNAInfo in an e-mail. “Since 2005, our ‘New Commissions’ program has produced and presented dynamic projects, allowing artists to take risks and push their practice in new directions. Zefrey’s New Commissions project is no exception and seemed all the more important to present in today’s cultural climate.”

This is the latest artistic endeavor from Throwell regarding some form of undress. In 2008, he led a performance piece entitled “Ocularpation,” where performers dressed as bankers, hot dog vendors and secretaries went to Wall Street and stripped. Three people were arrested for disorderly conduct during that artistic effort, but Throwell isn’t expecting anyone from his current experiment to have to go to jail for their art.

While a bit unorthodox, this latest use of poker as a social commentary seems almost normal. Poker has been used before as warfare – actual combat and the “battle of the sexes” – and as a method of teaching about mathematics, psychology and even life (“you have to play the hand you’re dealt”). Whether Throwell will be able to make the leap for poker into social, political and economic commentary will have to be seen…through this next week in a window in New York City!

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