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Peter Walsh standing on the site of what was once P.T. Barnum's American Museum.  

Brick Man
(184 Circuits, 736 Exchanges)

Peter Walsh (USA)

A Demonstration at the Intersection of
Broadway and Ann Street, Manhattan, USA
Thursday, May 31, 2001
9am-5pm

     In May of 2001artist Peter Walsh recreated P.T. Barnum’s 1860s era Brick Man advertising stunt by circulating a set of bricks around a city intersection. Performing at the original site of the event, what was once Barnum's American Museum at Broadway and Ann Street in Lower Manhattan, Walsh worked to concretely demonstrate the economic principles of exchange and circulation. Highlights of this project included impromptu discussions about work and economics with traffic cops, sanitation workers, students and businessmen. Brick Man was funded in part by an Independent Project Grant from Artists Space.

This is the Brick Man Project Page.

* As part of a series of performance recreations by students at SUNY’s Purchase College, P.T. Barnum’s Brick Man was restaged on November 4, 2006.*

Goto Update 2006>>

Goto the Brick Man Photo Gallery >>


Related Project:

A Case Study of the Exchange of
Real Property at the Intersection of Broadway
and Ann Street, New York City

(2002)

     Using the Brick Man performance as a focal point, Peter Walsh researched the four corners at the intersection of Broadway and Ann Street in Manhattan, locating deeds for the exchange of property going back to the 1600s. The installation of this research in the museum gallery of The Bronx Museum of the Arts was intended to ground the momentary action of the "artist in performance" into the flow of historical time.

Goto the Case Study Project Page >>

"Peter Walsh standing on the site of what was once P.T. Barnum's American Museum, the southeast corner of the intersection of Broadway and Ann Street in Lower Manhattan," 2001. Photo by Nick Katz.


Barnum's Brick Man draws a crowd, circa 1860.

"The Great Brick Advertisement: Barnum's Brick Man draws a crowd, circa 1860," from P.T.Barnum's book Dollars and Sense; or How to Get On. The Whole Secret in a Nutshell, 1890.

Peter Walsh exchanges bricks at the northeast corner of the Broadway and Ann Street intersection.
A map of four corners of the Broadway and Ann Street Intersection.

"Peter Walsh exchanges bricks at the northeast corner of the Broadway and Ann Street intersection (Number Two on the map to the right)." Photo by Nick Katz.

A map of four corners of the Broadway and Ann Street Intersection.

Background Information About the Creation of Brick Man


Some Discussions on the Street

Question about Africa

Passerby - "Let me ask you this: Eighty percent of all the raw material used in production today comes off the continent of Africa. Yet, we don’t have one world-class African nation. How does your 'brick' scenario relate to that problem?"

 

Sandwich Board Man

Sandwich Board Man - Aren’t you tired of carrying those bricks around all day?

PW - Well, aren’t you tired of handing out those flyers all day, too?

Sandwich Board Man -Yes, but I’m getting paid to do it.

 

Maintainence Man

222 Broadway Building Maintainence Man - I tucked it right there behind the trash can. I don’t want anyone tripping on this brick.

 

Question

PW - I’m using my body to try to physically understand how money and capital circulate in our economy and how human labor is caught up in this circulation.

 

 

“Consider, then, the figure of the laborer caught within the rules of circulation of variable capital....”

David Harvey, Spaces of Hope, 2000, p.113.


     On Thursday, May 31, 2001, I recreated P.T. Barnum’s 1860s era Brick Man advertising stunt by “purposelessly” rotating bricks around the intersection of Broadway and Ann Street in Manhattan for one full 9-to-5 workday (184 circuits, 736 exchanges). The original performance’s lively and clever form of commercial speech was designed to draw an audience into Barnum’s American Museum on the southeast corner. Barnum wanted to show that he could create value out of thin air by making money from “nonsense” labor.

    To do this Barnum hired an unemployed working man to place bricks on each of the four corners of the intersection in front of his Museum. According to his autobiography, Barnum then commanded his Brick Man “with the fifth brick in hand, [to] take a rapid march from one point to the other, making the circuit, exchanging [his] brick at every point.” As crowds would form to see what the trickster Barnum could be up to, his Brick Man would enter the Museum each hour with dozens of paying customers following behind him – and Barnum’s point was “proved.”

     As an artist engaged in the creation of “intangible” value through the use of commercially unproductive labor, I sensed an affinity with Barnum’s proto-dada shenanigans. My goal, instead, was to use my own artistic practice to create an artist’s micro-model of classic liberal economic practice - the closed circuit of capital – and to make that model a crucial first step towards examining the mechanisms that shape our current system of free-market capitalism. As in Barnum’s original stunt, the bricks became physical stand-ins for human labor, for the potential of that labor to build the world anew, and for money itself.

    Corner One: Block 89 Lot 12

222 Broadway. Merrill Lynch and Barclay’s Bank Offices. Former site of Barnum’s American Museum (c. 1850-1865) and The New York Herald (c. 1880s). Current building previously the Western Electric “Building of Communication” (c.1960)

Corner One

    Corner Two: Block 122 Lot 1

David Rockefeller Memorial Clock (2000). City Hall is immediately behind the clock.
City Hall Park, between the clock and City Hall, was once a pasture known as The Commons.

Corner Two

    Corner Three: Block 88 Lot 1

217 Broadway. Astor Building. Owned for many years by Fur Trade and Real Estate Mogul John Jacob Astor (The building is not the 1834 Astor House described by Barnum).

Corner Three

    Corner Four: Block 87 Lot 1

Currently known as St. Paul’s Chapel. George Washington’s place of worship during part of his tenure as the first President of the United States. One of the few pre-independence buildings still existing in New York (c.1766).

Corner Four
 
Photo Gallery from Brick Man
 
Go to Photo Gallery
  Gallery of Images from Brick Man

Acknowledgements

     The Brick Man performance was funded in part by an Independent Project Grant from Artists Space and my thanks go out to that organization. Photographer Nick Katz took wonderful large format photos, photographer Joe Tabacca took a great set of slides and Roberto Guerra shot fantastic video footage of which I have yet to make appropriate use. Their help was immense.

     Most special thanks of course goes to Deidre Hoguet to whom I am deeply and persistently indebted and without whom this project could not have come into being. Crucial and final thanks go out to my daughter Emily Walsh.


All Content © Peter Walsh 2006
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