'Art' in a Subway Station

Clinton Boisvert, an art student at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, placed ominous black boxes labeled "Fear" in the Union Square subway station for a school project.

His teacher, Barbara Schwartz, praised the project and gave the student an "A" in her class. She said the 25-year-old student intended to observe the public’s reaction to his project.

Well he certainly got a reaction. In the bustling transit hub that I use continually people were frightened. An evacuation was forced for five hours after the 37 "Fear" boxes were taped to the walls, pillars and benches in this subway station.

According to Professor Schwartz the student is "very smart and caring and a good person. I don’t hold this against him. He looked at it as just an art project. He didn’t intend to scare anybody. This was supposed to be an innocent project."

I noticed that several commuters notified transit officers about the boxes. In fact, there appeared to be pandemonium as many people tried to determine what was going on and several said, "let’s get out of here."

A full-scale police probe followed involving dozens of officers from the joint terrorism task force, bomb sniffing dogs and an explosives dusting robot. The Bomb Squad examined each box, dusted for fingerprints and checked for hazardous materials. The expense to the city was estimated at $25,000 and the chaos that ensued didn’t have a price tag, but was certainly costly.

Mr. Boisvert was charged with reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct. After placing the boxes in the station, Boisvert returned to retrieve his work when he learned the hub had been evacuated.

Professor Schwartz said her prize pupil admitted that the project "was not a smart thing" in the current climate. Nonetheless he received an "A" for the semester and a spokesman said the school wouldn’t take disciplinary action against Boisvert.

This is a mind-boggling incident that suggests the foolishness and immaturity of the student, the blatant assininity of the instructor and the irresponsibility of the school.

How could this student assume that placing boxes labeled "Fear" in a congested subway station approximately two miles from the World Trade Center site wouldn’t cause panic? How could an art instructor consider this an "innocent project" and give him an "A" for his efforts? And why wouldn’t the school discipline a student for irresponsible acts?

The answer to these questions is readily apparent in an art world that has lost touch with reality, even the reality of art. According to the teacher, Mr. Boisvert simply wanted to observe the reaction of passersby to his project. If he wanted to get a rise out of his fellow New Yorkers, he certainly succeeded. He might have been even more "successful" if he labeled the boxes "Bombs." Perhaps that would have earned him an "A+".

Then there is this misguided instructor who praises the student for causing a near riot. I wonder how she might have reacted if a child of hers happened to be in the Union Square station when all hell broke loose. If Mr. Boisvert didn’t intend to scare people as his teacher suggests, why did he put "Fear" on the boxes? And if art is merely generating attention, prancing nude through the station would have done the trick.

Last, what kind of school sanctions this behavior or, at least, averts its gaze to the harm that was done? Would the school respond the same way if it were fined $25,000 or the equivalent for the expenses borne by the city?

If this episode demonstrates anything, it is the foolishness of what passes for artistic study. In a world where shame still resides, the student would be embarrassed and the instructor mortified.