Does it ever seem to you that orange cones just appear, seemingly out of nowhere? Do you find yourself looking at one and wondering exactly where it came from, who put it there, and why? Sadly, most people don’t pay attention. Bright and eye-catching as these markers are, their ubiquity and utility grant them a kind of invisibility. But all that changes when you know what to look for. The next time you spot an orange cone in front of a museum or marking the wet floor of a gallery on a rainy Saturday, take a second look. Despite their apparent innocuousness, those cones are likely to be the work of the guerilla artist, Beijing Charlie. Appearances of his Orange Cone Project range from the careful placement of single cones to site-specific installations such as his bold centerpiece in front of the main pavilion at this year’s Art Basel|Miami Beach. As many of you will recall, two years ago he took over a New England village for 21 months under the ironic guise of “beautification;” those of us who saw it were awakened to the genius of this artist whose work has marked the landscape for years before this and whose reputation has been growing too slowly since.
Still, this sly artist’s work has slid under the radar in part because the artist has publicly acknowledged his involvement in only a few of the thousands of installations he has done. More eyes are finally opening to what has been in front of them for years now: the Orange Cone Project is everywhere, international in scope, infiltrating even the most hallowed circles of the collector’s world. Officially nobody in Miami is willing to acknowledge that the series of images that appeared on Instagram with the hashtags #beijingcharlie #orangeconeproject #orangebasel and #artbasel depicted anything but ordinary traffic cones. Sources tell me, however, that the cones themselves were quietly collected and stored.
A cadre of documentarians, myself among them, who have learned to recognize the master’s hand when we see it have begun trading sightings of individual installations on this website. You are invited to join us.
I am confident that once you know what to look for you will being to spot displays of the Project yourself. Remember that while the most notorious appearances have been at art venues, this is only a small fraction of the actual installations that Beijing Charlie does. Don’t dismiss any given cone based on its apparent site or venue. Look for the social commentary, the mocking of capitalism, and the highlighting of social disruption in particular. Documentary images and relevant data should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and will be posted solely at my discretion. Full and careful documentation assists our research immensely: Date, time and location (GPS) data are always helpful. Please let me know what form of attribution you would like.
Even if you don’t contribute to the site, please participate in spirit: Always look twice at an orange cone and wonder, truly, what its purpose is. Is it simply the hand of Big Brother, guiding you like a sheep through the construction zones of life? Or is its function less readily discernable? Might it not be one of those small reminders that art is everywhere, when you know what to look for?