Marilyn Wenker's "Sitting Ducks" by Lance Richbourg


                High noon Saturday, March 13, at Bill Cruickshank’s farm in Essex Center, Vermont, Marilyn Wenker performed an art piece she called “Sitting Ducks.”  On a hillside across from a small frozen pond fifteen abstract watercolors mounted behind plexiglass were hung on fifteen white easels lined up in the snow.  These paintings were the same ones confiscated from the Saint Michael’s Art Gallery last year by the Chittenden Trust Company because Wenker was in arrears on her loan payments.  Only after lengthy legal maneuvering and with the aid of celebrity liberal lawyer William Kunstler was Wenker successful in having her paintings returned.  Wenker, now living in Los Angeles, California, returned to Vermont to produce this performance on the anniversary of the confiscation.

                She was assisted by Bill Cruickshank who, dressed as a kid’s cowboy marshal, took charge of crowd control, and Liz Hemingway, who draped a velvet rope along a row of wooden stakes directing the spectators to file past a mannequin “banker” and view the paintings.  The guests were served a gummy licorice candy called “crow” and given black armbands.  Wenker engaged in stripping the mannequin of his double knits down to his duck pattern boxer shorts.  These too were removed and he was dismembered and his torso draped with her cancelled bank notes and legal papers.  Thus garbed and truncated he was abandoned.

                Next Wenker, dressed in the image of feminine innocence and vulnerability, armed herself with a 16-gauge shotgun.  She positioned herself between the row of paintings and the audience now safely on the other side of the duck pond.  Cruickshank followed alongside her holding a red parasol to protect her from the drizzle of rain which had just commenced.  They struck a dramatic silhouette against the snow.  Marilyn, with her elbows cranked out, took aim and, with the assured professionalism of an Annie Oakley, she proceeded to blast the paintings.  Behind each one was a concealed bag of colored paint, a different color for each painting.  As the 16-gauge field shot tore through the plexiglass and paper, color oozed from the front of the paintings and dripped and ran down the white legs of the easels.  But what the crowd most audibly approved was the ten-foot fan shaped spray of color the shot sent out over the snow covered hillside.

                One by one she blasted them, all fifteen.  After the paintings were transformed by field shot, the viewers returned for a closer look while Wenker spattered the snow in front of the easels with red paint complementing the row of spent green shotgun shells lying there.  Champagne was uncorked and the remade art and the painted snow were enthusiastically toasted by an audience visibly cheered by this surprising and colorful event.


  -- Lance Richbourg

High Performance

Issue 17/18  1982 


Still from Sitting Ducks