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The journalist Bianca Bosker takes us behind the scenes of the art world in Get the Picture, a frank and funny account of her time working as a gallery girl, studio assistant and guard at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. For five years Bosker infiltrated the art world, puncturing the more pretentious aspects of the contemporary gallery scene with her acerbic insights into private views, art fairs and lofty artists. Here, Bosker describes a rather unusual private view (in more ways than one).

Extract from Get the Picture

I first learned about Mandy AllFIRE’s art in the course of what had become my new routine of seeking out shows at New York’s most off-the-beaten-path galleries—places, usually run by artists to support their talented artist-friends, that tackled the problem of high rents and a shortage of chances to show by staging exhibits in dumpsters, bathtubs, shipping containers, broken payphones, trees and a microwave. I spent one Saturday at Catbox Contemporary, a gallery based out of a cat tree in a guy’s apartment in Queens, where I hit it off with an artist who texted me a few weeks later to say this artist called Mandy AllFIRE had an upcoming solo show, and would I like to come along to the opening?

I skimmed the press release. AllFIRE, whom I’d never heard of, had on her résumé a master’s in visual art from Columbia, a stint at the prestigious Skowhegan residency, and a track record of performing at some of the city’s most precocious arts venues. More recently she’d been performing on Instagram as an ass influencer, and her camera-unshy booty had charmed nearly 300,000 followers, who were coming to the opening to be squished. “She aims to sit on as many people as possible, for as long as possible,” declared the impressively straight-faced press release. “Each participant will be sat on until they can’t take it anymore.”

The answer was no, I did not want to go to AllFIRE’s opening. I fancied myself a budding art connoisseur, but this seemed too far. Still, it wasn’t every day an artist invited me to an opening, and I decided to suck it up and go.

The art was already happening when I arrived. AllFIRE’s ass faced the audience. She wore gold hoop earrings, black eyeliner and lacey black lingerie. A middle-aged man, slick as a manatee in nothing but leopard underwear, was stretched out on the mattress with AllFIRE straddling his face. Like a discerning mattress shopper testing the merchandise, AllFIRE bounced gently on his nose.

“Rich, you’re next, right? You’re next, right? You only live once, Rich,” babbled a guy a few inches from AllFIRE’s left foot, while Rich stayed mute. The crowd was equally split between men and women, with approximately a million raised iPhones, as well as some National Geographic– quality digital cameras.

“Have you ever been sat on before?” asked AllFIRE. She held a microphone up to her butt.

“Mhever,” said a muffled voice from under her. “Mshurh biggest fan.”

“Can I push harder down on you?”

“Wuhwoo! Hordor, hordor!”

For 15 minutes, AllFIRE roosted on the man’s head while she read fan mail from her followers. There were occasionally whistles, a few woos! Mandy swivelled on the man’s forehead and tossed her booty-length black hair over her shoulder. She put her hands on her hips and looked over her shoulder at the crowd. “Is anybody else going to participate?”

I have this moment on video. I’ve watched it at least 50 times, trying to make sense of what happened next. The blurry 22-second clip pans jerkily over someone’s dirty white Converse and over a woman filming with a Steadicam, then back to AllFIRE’s cot. AllFIRE adjusts herself on the guy’s face, flips around, says, “Is anybody else going to participate?” and stares directly at my iPhone. Then the recording cuts off.

That’s when I raised my hand.

• Bianca Bosker, Get the Picture, Viking, Penguin Random House, 384pp, £20 (hb), © Bianca Bosker 2024

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