When Brooklyn artist Linda Marston-Reid received a check in the mail for several thousand dollars, she was excited. It wasnt the money she was looking forward to; after all, she knew it was a fake. The sender was a scam artist she had been leading on for weeks. What delighted her was that she finally had what would become the centerpiece of an art installment that was months in the making. The check was $4,000 over the agreed-upon price for which Marston-Reid was supposedly selling some paintings. The clever thief then asked her to wire back the extra $4,000. Now, it was time to seal the deal. She insisted that the security question on the wire transfer be the Frank Zappa philosophy by which she lives. "What is art?" "Art," the reply went, "is making something out of nothing and selling it." This moment capped off a five-week-long correspondence with the so-called Eric Simeone, a self-proclaimed London art collector. Actually, Mr. Simeone was the fake name of an African con artist. For several months beginning in the spring of 2006, Marston-Reid had been collecting hundreds of letters from email scam artists. The letters were "fantastical tales that were incredible," she said. "Whoever writes these are the greatest storytellers." There was the trunk box full of cash, and the political exile with enormous riches locked away, and the children orphaned in an automobile accident that could access their fat inheritance if only they had your help - yes, you! - and, of course, your bank account number. Naturally, you'll get a cut. Everyone with an email account has gotten one of these stories before. Tales of tragedy and injustice fill our inboxes, and usually beg our help to recover exorbitant sums of money, often as much as $40 million. Some, like the one from Mr. Simeone, are more clever, and will offer to buy art or some other object from you. After issuing a fake check for an outstanding amount over the cost, they ask for a refund. Using the best of these stories, Marston-Reid has assembled a seven-foot collage, veiled by transparent fabric, displaying her personal correspondence with Mr. Simeone. The result is a humorous statement about greed and international class perceptions, currently on display at the Project Space Room of the Artist Loft Building in Clinton Hill. The exhibit, entitled "Hoping to Read From You Soon: Another Country Heard From", is a break from Marrston-Reid's usual work of colorful paintings using gouache and encaustic techniques, which also line the walls around the emails. The emails usually come from the developing world. Scam or not, the spammers do draw sympathy from the artist. "What lengths would I go to if I didn't have something to eat or a place to live?" Marston-Reid mused. Still, she worries that ultimately this is a story of greed of both the scammer and the scammed. On the one hand, you have the perpetrators of a "get-rich-quick" scheme. "I think the people doing this ... I think theyve made money off of this and they're not likely to stop and do another job that pays less. They've made a business out of it," she says. On the Western side of the performance art of the scam, Marston-Reid wonders if the letters' success is due to our own greed. "People here are so anxious to get money that they dont think about the logic behind it," she said. The collage is laid out in a four-by-four grid based on an old Mexican game of chance, called Lotería. Like the game, the piece explores symbols by using stamps, flags and other "found items" to indicate the country the emails came from. Despite the humor of her exhibit, Marston-Reid warns of the potential harm these scammers can do to the unsuspecting. She warns possible scammees to be suspicious of shady-sounding financial transactions. After all, just as Marston-Reid follows the Frank Zappa philosophy, she thinks the scam artists' creed can be found in circus magnate P.T. Barnum's quote: "There's a sucker born every minute." The exhibit is now being shown by appointment only at the Project Space Room of the Artist Loft Building at 35 Claver Place, #10, until January 15. Appointments be made by calling (347) 228-9574. Visit www.marston-reid.com for further information.
©2007 Community News Group
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