Since when were homing pigeons art?

Inside the well-polished and shapely bonce of Adam Lerner, (our favorite impressario director of Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art), the definitions and classifications of modern art must flitter and natter like over-caffeinated butterflies…

Getting patrons to release homing pigeons – sometimes called racing or carrier pigeons – so they fly back to their loft at the MCA… is art?

Well, not as we have known it in the past, but that’s exactly the point.

Jon Rubin’s experiential installation at MCA is called “Thinking About Flying”.

And that is just what we did. My daughters and I (pictured) spent a remarkable afternoon at our favorite museum playing with homing pigeons.

Unboxing the artwork

Where most art museum experiences involve wandering somewhat aimlessly through the galleries, buying a gonk or two in the gift shop and driving home, usually a bit confused – essentially a limited immersion that starts and finishes at the museum – this little gem requires you to meet a pigeoneer at the ramshackle loft atop the museum, box up a live pigeon (in a very nice shoe box with “Thinking About Flying” beautifully laser-cut into the side), drive to a location of your choosing, release your pigeon, and then wait for it to return, miraculously, to its coop at the museum. Seriously.

Mr Pigeon Wrangler takes your name and later sends you an email notifying you of your pigeon’s arrival, or you can hang around for a day (or six) to see it return yourself. And yes, it’s free. (Ours took 36 hours, because it stopped to hang out with its 50,000 friends on the telephone wires at Broadway and Colfax).

When I talked with Jon Rubin about his work, the question he posed was, “Where does art start and finish”? In this case, we fully participate in Rubin’s installation. We become part of it, in fact. The experience and the joy all take place almost exclusively outside the museum. We have to imagine 95% of the art taking place out of sight, which is itself a very personal exercise in artistic expression. It is our own fundamental creative thought: Where is our pigeon, and what is he doing? How fast is he flying? Will he get eaten by a hawk on the way home? Did he stop to take a shit on someone’s car?

My, this new type of art is fun. And not only for the pigeons.

The museum also becomes very active in maintaining Rubin’s exhibit; someone has to feed, clean and water the little guys to keep them in top racing condition.

The artwork takes off

Rubin’s genius is that he tricks us into being artists without really knowing we are doing it. The world is his canvas, and we are his subjects and his spectators. The more people who participate, the stronger becomes his work of art. It’s all very unexpected and delightfully quirky. Just like anything artistic and worthwhile should be. Our minds are expanded and our eyes are opened a little wider. I even learned that homing pigeons were still used by the police to carry news of emergencies in remote parts of India until 2002, when the Inter-nets arrived.

Rubin is very good at this type of project. He also runs a restaurant, called Conflict Kitchen, which specializes in serving only cuisine from countries which are in conflict with the USA. Always lots to eat and talk about there.

For more of Rubin’s artscapades, please go here.

Rubin’s installation is at Denver’s MCA until March, and the pigeons are getting better at homing the more they get released (initially their training increases block-by-block every day, for about five or six weeks, until they figure out how to get back from anywhere within about 60 miles, hunters permitting).

So please home in on this; I bet you have never released a racing pigeon in your life, let alone called it art.