416 West Forty-Second St. between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Through February 28, free
Theaters around the country are facing severe financial hardships as a result of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, but the enormous dollar bill in the window facade of the shuttered Playwrights Horizons building on West Forty-Second St. is only partly about money; it’s primarily about the cost of death, specifically the ultimate price paid by hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died from Covid-19. The piece is titled With Great Power Comes No Accountability, and it is by Jilly Ballistic, who has been decorating the subway and subway platforms for decades. The title of this aboveground work was previously used by Ballistic on an L train platform on January 31, 2020, before the full nature of the health crisis was known. The giant note of legal tender is signed by then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Ballistic initially wrote on it, “IMAGINE 352,464 of these. Now imagine they’re bodies,” in a word bubble being spoken by President George Washington. Ballistic has returned to the bill several times, using a Sharpie to cross out that number and write in 399,053, then crossing that out and adding 427,626. The coronavirus crisis is costing America in multiple ways, each and every day.
“It’s difficult to conceptualize such large numbers, especially when those numbers are linked to something so tragic as these deaths. There’s a danger, though, if we don’t fully grasp the atrocity: we allow those in power to get away with murder. What better way for a politician to understand our pain than using money as a metaphor?” Ballistic says in her artist statement. She sees the piece as “a reflection on corruption, failure, value, and death in America.” The work is the inaugural installation in Playwrights Horizons’ Lighthouse Project, which is curated by artist, activist, and writer Avram Finkelstein, a founder of the Silence=Death Project, and two-time Tony-winning set and costume designer and activist David Zinn (The Flick, Circle Mirror Transformation). With Great Power Comes No Accountability will remain on view through February 28, to be followed by commissions from Ken Gonzales-Day, Dread Scott, and others.
“This year, this theater is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary under remarkably strange circumstances: a global pandemic, a historical reckoning, and a constitutional crisis,” artistic director Adam Greenfield explained. “In this moment, we want to rediscover the ways our building can be used, to expand the range of artists and disciplines we present, to create a culture of inquiry that pervades the entire building, inside and out, so that genuine artistic innovation can be met with genuine openness.” Zinn added, “I know a lot of things are happening quietly inside of theaters to meet both this racial and economic moment, but I also feel like theaters have a moral responsibility to communicate to the world outside the building. What we’re making is a vehicle for communication — for this need for our buildings to speak for this moment. Jilly's piece in particular addresses this moment with weight and a sense of political irony that is heartbreaking, and it’s responsive to current events in a very immediate way.”
The Lighthouse Project will also include online conversations, workshops, concerts, and other events addressing this dire moment in time. You can watch the first two talks, “Public Art / Public Space” with Greenfield, Ballistic, Finklestein, and Joy Episalla and “Theater and Society” with Natasha Sinha, Michael R. Jackson, Heather Raffo, Michael John Garcés, and Mimi Lien, here. Up next is “Profiled” on March 3 at 7:00 with Sinha, Lileana Blain-Cruz, Clint Ramos, and Gonzales-Day talking about Gonzales-Day’s Playwrights installation, which will consist of two large-scale digitally edited photographs, part of his long-term series that looks at portraiture through historical memory, race, museum display, moral character, beauty, and the body.