Standing in front of me is a lanky guy in white pants, white shoes, white shirt and a blue blazer adorned with large white stars that belong on a flag. He has a red, white and blue bow tie.
Oh, yeah, and he’s carrying a see-through acrylic briefcase — to which he is handcuffed — that he says contains $500,000 in hundred-dollar bills.
And he’d like to sell you this piece of art — that briefcase full of a half-million dollars — for a million bucks.
Meet the performance artist who calls himself Capitalist Man. He had been asked to leave the recent Art Basel show in Miami. He was apparently causing too much of a stir that was detracting from the artists who had paid to exhibit their works.
If you don’t know what Art Basel is, let me help. It’s the four-day art extravaganza where someone paid $120,000 for a banana taped to a wall. Then someone ate the banana.
Capitalist Man, whose real name is Eitan Baron, was hanging out in that crowd with his acrylic treasure chest locked to his wrist.
Luke Richbourg, a lawyer in New York who attended Art Basel, says Capitalist Man got heavy competition from the banana during the show. Nevertheless, “He was like the Pied Piper,” Richbourg said, with up to a dozen people following him.
Richbourg got to carry the case — handcuffed — and says the $1 million asking price was “$500,000 for the cash, $500,000 for the concept.”
To dig a little further into the insanity, I tracked the Capitalist Man down and interviewed him last week. First two questions: Is the money real? Can I touch it? Yes and no, were Capitalist Man’s answers.
Baron, who is a real estate developer when he’s not “performing,” says the person who decides to buy his work can certainly check out the bills. But since I’m not buying, I’m not touching.
He did show me a video of TSA workers at the airport opening the briefcase and rummaging through the bills. But that only shows me there are stacks of bills, not that they are real. (Their inspection took two hours and Baron missed his plane to Miami.)
On the way back, Baron says, scrutiny at the airport was less because Art Basel was disbanding and because the TSA workers “knew I was an artist.” He says his life was very profitable but boring when he was just doing real estate.
“I don’t know how to play the guitar, or sing or paint. I know how to make money,” said Baron, who came to the US from Tel Aviv in 2000.
“I came to this country and learned the capitalist system. My act says what I learned in capitalism and I conveyed it in an artistic way,” says Baron. He also says that if he sells his artwork and makes a $500,000 profit, the money will go to charity.
On different occasions, he tapes different messages to his box and, on the day we met, the million-dollar price tag was hanging from the handle. Another message simply says “Debt,” which Baron says he uses when he’s around students — the evil of borrowing too much money.
Another is the phrase “0 percent APR” — which, he says, represents “consumer debt” and the fact that eight out of 10 Americans owe money. He says he shaved his head “and acted like a prisoner” of debt for this message.
His head wasn’t shaved on the day we met and strolled around a couple of blocks on the East Side in the 20s. We walked slowly and did a couple of loops on the same street to give people time to react.
And they did. But not as much as I expected. And I wasn’t sure if they were noticing the flamboyant jacket, the money in the briefcase or the fact that my photographer was snapping pictures of Baron and some of the people who came up to talk.
Apparently someone claiming to be carrying $500,000 doesn’t shock anyone in New York City. And, if you are wondering, nobody tried to make off with the briefcase, although a couple of people did ask for money. (And, why not? That’s an every-minute occurrence in New York.)
I was a little nervous setting up this interview and kept the topic of this column secret from everyone except my immediate editor. If Baron were to be robbed (and, more importantly, if the photographer and I were going to be shot) it wasn’t going to be because I had a big mouth.
The Capitalist Man did bring along a security guard, but I don’t know how much good he would have done if a crook were really determined.
Baron says he’s never had any trouble with onlookers, although we did skedaddle when a couple of sketchy folks came walking up and asking too many questions.
Baron’s wife of 19 years apparently doesn’t understand this new career as an artist. “She thinks I’m crazy,” he says. “She also knows that when I have a project I go all out.”
I think it’s a little crazy, too. But, as I said, I don’t know much about art.
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Author: New York Post