At John Lennon: The New York City Years, opening Tuesday at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex in New York, watch out for the phone near the exit.
It's called Telephone Peace. It will have a little sign on it which says if it rings, pick up the phone. And, according to a NY Times review of the exhibit, it will indeed ring from time to time. When it does, it will be Yoko Ono calling, live, to chat with you. Here's the Times:
... A touch of the avant-garde playfulness of Lennon's early New York period is on display as well. Near the exit is "Telephone Peace," a white telephone mounted on a wall, with a card telling visitors to answer the phone when it rings.
"This is something we did at the show in 2000," Mr. Henke said. "Yoko would periodically call in and speak to whoever answers."
Ms. Ono seemed amused at the prospect. "Yes, you pick up the phone," she said, "and it will be me...."
It reminds me of a play I heard about staged at Goethe Institute earlier this year. Apparently, you were led into a large room and invited to sit down on a couch and pick up the telephone when it rang. There on the other end of the line was an actor, in character, who performed the play -- a conversation with you.
I hope these are just some of the early signs of a new wave of 21st century telephone art. Some notes for further development:
The Library King
You're reading Patricia Cornwell at the library, near the pay phone. Suddenly, it rings, and you notice a little sign on it that says, "If this phone rings, pick it up." Hi, this is Pat Cornwell. How do you like the book? I was a little worried about that part in Chapter Three where Kay Scarpetta uses white wine instead of vodka in the pasta sauce. What do you think?
Blythe Cop Show Spirit
You're in Times Square, admiring that gigantic ad for The Closer in which Kyra Sedgewick is wearing a very attractive yellow and black dress made out of police tape reading "Do Not Cross The Line." Suddenly, you notice the pay phone in the bus stop says "If this phone rings, pick it up." Hi, this is Kyra, hope you're going to tune in on June 8th. My parents say hello. How's the weather in NY today? Are people still wearing jackets?
Dinner At Eight with Mark
You're buying a hot dog and the vendor's cell phone goes off. He pulls it from his pocket and looks at it quizzically. It's for you, he says at last, handing it over. Hi, this is Mark Bittman. Are you sure you want to go through with this hot dog thing you're doing?
You're at the Met, feeling a little uncomfortable as you look at the cat mummy in the Egyptian Wing. The phone rings. A little sign on it says "If this phone rings, pick it up...." Was it really that dark and empty in the corridor when you first walked in? Where are the tourists? Where are the guards? And anyway, how is a cat mummy even art?