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Blindfolded Nude Male Swinging Stick at Donkey Piñata

by Shari Kasman

edited by Emily Schultz

Kurt von Hagersfeld (b. 1963) was born and raised in a small suburb of Boston where he developed such a strong love for celebrations that he relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico to pursue studies in event planning and management. He remained there throughout the 1980s, then moved to San Francisco, relocated to Houston, spent time in Oklahoma City, and finally made his way down to New Orleans. He refuses to disclose the specifics of his current location since he believes that some details should be left to the imagination. Von Hagersfeld has said that the fact that he exists should be enough to satisfy anyone’s curiosity as to his whereabouts. The gallery’s clever administration team and support staff suspect that the artist makes his permanent home in either Los Angeles, New York, or Nevada, although von Hagersfeld has responded to these guesses by saying, “You’re wrong.” He is pleased to exhibit here — in a gallery that offers exclusive benefits to premium members — and, on a number of occasions, he has said that he likes the gallery’s gift shop.

Von Hagersfeld entered the art scene in a flash, coming out of virtually nowhere, rising to quick fame due to an unfortunate event: while in New Orleans, he had been hired by a celebrity client to organize a formal tea party for a high-profile crowd, but, as von Hagersfeld learned, taking “creative liberties” is not always the best way to advance one’s party planning career. Lucky for him, this disastrous tea party thrust him into the spotlight of the global media, garnering him the reputation as an inefficient, careless, and ill-tempered individual. With regard to this fiasco, von Hagersfeld said, “Don’t blame me. It wasn’t my fault,” but he was delighted by his newfound fame, saying it was the perfect opportunity to expose himself to the world as a “brilliant artist.”

Blindfolded Nude Male Swinging Stick at Donkey Piñata (2007) was formed at the start of his mid-career phase — a time period that von Hagersfeld refers to as The Main Course — and is a subtle shift from his previous work. The artist built a reputation early on, during The Appetizer, thanks to his installation, Empty Campbell’s Soup Cans and Bowls of Tomato Soup (1989), in which bowls of tomato soup were placed around the edge of a room with empty soup cans piled up in the room’s center — a response to Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962) by Andy Warhol. Von Hagersfeld garnered further acclaim with One Hundred Baby Seals (1992), an installation that sprouted from his childhood obsession with folding paper into airplanes. Challenging himself to take these skills at manipulating paper to a more advanced level, von Hagersfeld formed one hundred baby seals from durable, waterproof paper — he named the folding technique aquagami, a process akin to origami — and placed them in a wall-to-wall aquarium. Nearing the end of The Appetizer, von Hagersfeld worked with bronze. He arranged bronze puddles on the floor in his work entitled Puddles (1994), and set bronze placemats on a glass table in his work entitled Placemats (1998).

This piñata sculpture is in keeping with von Hagersfeld’s ongoing focus on creating “innovative works that reflect life.” As a whole, his work represents commitment to task, isolation, sight, blindness, animal rights, violence, shape, form, society, humans, animals, and parties. The donkey piñata in this sculpture represents von Hagersfeld’s first trip to a petting zoo.

One might suspect that the piñata is hollow and, since it is suspended from the ceiling by cables that appear to be as thin as fishing wire, the piñata looks weightless, as light as a papier-mâché donkey decorated with tissue paper that one may purchase from a party supply store, or from the gallery’s gift shop. This sculpture’s donkey piñata, however, has cement at its core and is rock solid and very heavy. The blindfolded nude male appears to be heavy, but is actually light, since he was created from papier-mâché and is thus hollow. It is a credit to von Hagersfeld that the nude male looks as if he has been sculpted from stone, that the blindfold so closely resembles a blindfold, and that the stick so closely resembles a stick.

Von Hagersfeld takes special pride in two unique elements of this sculpture: the interior and the extra-exterior. The viewer cannot see the interior of the blindfolded nude male holding a stick, but his hollow body is filled with candy, similar to the candy that may be purchased from the gallery’s gift shop. Von Hagersfeld says that in order to view the glowing halo that surrounds the sculpture, otherwise known as the extra-exterior, one must squint one’s eyes while standing exactly ten feet back from the blindfolded nude male holding a stick. He says that many viewers are, unfortunately and inexplicably, unable to see the extra-exterior of this sculpture.

It is impossible to create an exact replication of this piñata sculpture because of its overall complexity. Von Hagersfeld has said that he is “relieved in knowing that the uniqueness of [his] work prevents knockoffs from turning up in unexpected places, like cathedrals or bowling alleys.” The artist has said that no imitation sculpture could possibly have an extra-exterior quite like the one that glows around his own work. It is also presumed that replica nudes are not filled with candy such as the candy that is on display and for sale at the gallery’s gift shop.

The gallery acquired Blindfolded Nude Male Swinging Stick at Donkey Piñata in 2010 as a donation from the Smith family. The Smith family acquired the piece from the Goldstein family who acquired the piece from the Mandelbrot family who acquired the piece from the Rotman family who acquired the piece from the artist himself. The consensus among these former owners is that housing this sculpture was a bold move, an avant-garde decision, and seemed to be a brilliant idea initially, but was ultimately not worth the trouble that ensued.

With the gallery’s devotion to art pieces from around the world that intersect a manifold of brilliant ideas, this piñata sculpture fits in perfectly. Von Hagersfeld said that he is in full agreement with the gallery’s mission statement and he trusts that each piece of art on display is an extraordinary masterpiece. He went on to say that he is not surprised that his work has wound up in the gallery’s permanent collection among other works that invite viewers to formulate questions and ponder answers. Von Hagersfeld added that this sculpture is best suited to the gallery setting since the blindfolded nude male should be standing in a space among crowds of gallery visitors rather than posing in a home, alone with a small family. He elaborated on this point, saying, “Piñatas are meant for large spaces with moderate to high levels of social activity. There is little reason for this sculpture to sit in a home where in reality, on any normal day, nobody would dare swing a stick at a piñata for fear of putting holes through walls or smashing porcelain trinkets or fine china.” When asked why this sculpture spent so long in the homes of the aforementioned families, von Hagersfeld said, “I think you already know the answer to that.”

Since 2010, fifteen people have been caught trying to steal this piñata sculpture. Of those fifteen, six said that they were collectors of donkey-related objects. The remaining nine culprits said that they were after the candy in the center of the donkey. Little did they know that the candy was at the center of the blindfolded nude male holding a stick or that the candy could be purchased for a reasonable price from the gallery’s gift shop.

Despite the blindfolded male’s nudity, this sculpture tends to remind viewers of birthday parties — a response that was a deliberate intention on the part of the artist. In the presence of this sculpture, one automatically begins to crave sugar, which may be purchased in the form of candy from the gallery’s gift shop.

Because of all the candy inside the blindfolded nude male holding a stick, one might assume that von Hagersfeld has a sweet tooth. The artist, however, has asserted that he has no interest in eating sugary treats. This statement came as a surprise to the art world as well as to von Hagersfeld’s former event planning mentors, colleagues, and clients.

From time to time, von Hagersfeld visits the gallery during the gallery’s hours of operation (Mon. to Thurs., Sat., Sun., 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Fri. 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., closed on Tues.) specifically to reacquaint himself with this sculpture as well as to visit the gallery’s gift shop. He has been known to lean in close and whisper to the blindfolded nude male holding a stick. Several of the gallery’s security guards have noted that when von Hagersfeld speaks to the sculpture, he refers to the man as Andy, which gives a clue as to who this being represents. Could it be a naked and blindfolded Andy Warhol holding a stick, preparing himself to bash a donkey piñata? This question was posed to von Hagersfeld, but the artist declined to answer. Von Hagersfeld is said to have had one-sided conversations with “Andy” that have lasted an hour or more.

In one famous interview, an art scholar posed a question to von Hagersfeld: “What is most satisfying: blindly swinging a stick at a piñata, breaking a piñata with a stick, or eating the candy that would fall from a piñata?” Von Hagersfeld replied, “The donkey piñata is not filled with candy and, more important, this sculpture is not a toy.” When that art scholar explained to von Hagersfeld that his question was about piñatas in general, not about the piñata in Blindfolded Nude Male Swinging Stick at Donkey Piñata, von Hagersfeld said, “I have no time to answer questions about piñatas. Ask me something about my body of work. Don’t ask me questions that are irrelevant. Ask me something about my significance in the art world. Don’t ask me ‘What if you had a piñata?’ questions. Don’t ask me ‘What if you were Andy Warhol?’ questions. Don’t ask me ‘What if you were filled with candy?’ questions. Don’t ask me ‘What if you had a pet donkey?’ questions. Don’t bother asking me any of those ‘what if’ type questions. ‘What if’ type questions are useless.” The art scholar then asked, “Why is your work significant to the art world?” Von Hagersfeld had a succinct reply: “Because I said so.”

To purchase a piñata, go to the gallery’s gift shop. To purchase candy or blindfolds, go to the gallery’s gift shop. To learn more about donkeys, visit the gallery’s gift shop. To learn more about art theft rings, go to the gallery’s gift shop. Remember, the gallery offers exclusive benefits for members only, including discounts at the gallery’s gift shop. For further information on Kurt von Hagersfeld or Blindfolded Nude Male Swinging Stick at Donkey Piñata, please go to the gallery’s gift shop, conveniently located on the lower level of the gallery, which may be accessed by elevator or stairs, both of which may be found through the corridor on the far side of this exquisitely modern von Hagersfeld Hall, a grand space that would not have been built without the support of philanthropic donors such as von Hagersfeld himself.

Illustration by Marc Ngui