The audience expected a lively discussion when the artist Alex Melamid and the writer Cheryl Kaplan staged a debate Friday night inside the ring of Manhattan’s historic Overthrow Boxing Club. But the gloves came off sooner than expected when the restless crowd began hurling insults at the panelists, which included philosopher Alva Noë, artist Jeffrey Gibson and choreographer Moriah Evans.
Apparently, Kaplan’s questions on the theme of “Why Do We See So Little?” were altogether too civilised for this bloodthirsty crowd: “I’m sorry, but asking, ‘What is your process for making a dance?’ is not a debate question,” interrupted one young man.
When Noë dared offer the observation: “Art is what makes life more interesting than art”, the room went wild. “Can we just stop with the literary obfuscation!” shouted a man in the back. “Shut the fuck up with your bullshit academic references!” screamed someone else.
A microphone made its way into the audience; “I’d like to hand this to someone who’s not a white man,” said a white man.
Kaplan tried to quell the situation, saying, “I think we’re getting choreographed a bit by the context.” But when she directed a question back to the panel, Gibson, looking stricken, said: “I feel completely disrespected I don't want to continue… I drove four and a half hours to be here tonight.” Noë, too, declined to go on.
The only person smiling as the event came to its abrupt close was Melamid. He cheerily invited the crowd to join him for his next gathering, known as the Ice Pick Club. They would meet in the former New York City home of the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky—famously assassinated by ice pick. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.