Civil Liberties

Emma Sulkowicz Hopes Maybe a Museum Will Buy Her Mattress

What does her art represent?


Columbia Spectator

Now that she has graduated, Emma Sulkowicz is no longer bound by her promise to carry her mattress with her to class. The symbol of her protest against Paul Nungesser now sits in her parents' living room, according to Vulture.

What's next for the mattress? Sulkowicz hopes a museum might buy it from her:

She herself told the Times on Class Day: "If some sort of museum wants to buy it, then I'm open to that. But I'm not going to just throw it away."

Hers would not be the first mattress to take up residence in an art museum, according to Vulture:

Many have noted that Mattress Performance resonates with historically weighty works by Vito Acconci, Tehching Hsieh, and Marina Abramovic. And these days, props from performances by Acconci, Hsieh, and Abramovic are displayed in museums and, in some cases, sold in galleries.

Whatever its fate in art or social history, Mattress Performance could well live on in objecthood. But would a museum or gallery want it? On the phone from California, where she is visiting a friend in Laguna Beach post-graduation and luxuriating in the distance from the 50-pound mattress she hauled around daily since September, Sulkowicz says no one has approached her about the prospect yet. But the question is in the ether.

"I can definitely imagine it having a future," says Catherine Morris, curator of the Brooklyn Museum's Sackler Center for Feminist Art. "What makes her work interesting and viable for the long term is its immediacy, but also, I think, her ability to understand how her work works within the context of art history."

Art is open to interpretation. What this mattress represents—perseverance in the wake of sexual violence, or calculated harassment—is also open to interpretation, I suppose, depending upon whether one finds Sulkowicz's account more credible, or Nungesser's.

Sulkowicz wants us to see the mattress as a piece of art. But really, it's a piece of evidence in an alleged crime—a crime of which Nungesser was cleared. As I've written previously, I can't say for certain that he is innocent—although recent developments point in that direction—but it seems strange to keep praising Sulkowicz's antics as if her heroism is beyond doubt.

If a museum does buy her mattress, I hope the exhibit is a testament to the imperfections of the campus rape adjudication process, or perhaps a meditation on whether we can ever know for certain whether justice was done.