As a documentary filmmaker, Nirvan Mullick is used to being the one getting people to open up. But after he filled out the online application to attend muralist David Choe's upcoming installation "The Choe Show," he ended up on the phone with a member of Choe's family being questioned for nearly an hour about not just who he is but who he thinks he is.
“I got a phone call from Peter Choe," Mullick, who made the 2012 short doc Caine's Arcade and subsequently founded Imagination.org, recalls. "I think one of the questions [on the initial online application] was, 'How do people describe you?' and I wrote, 'I think people describe me as a nice person.' He’s like, ‘Think about that for a second, don’t say anything, and then I’m going to ask you the question again and I want you to answer.’ I was like, OK. I went deeper into all my answers and we went back to childhood and talked about my parents and the things that led me to who I am. We just went into stuff, and after 45 minutes where I was just telling him really where I was at, straight up, he said, ‘All right, Nirvan, welcome to 'The Choe Show’! And just hung up really abruptly.
"It was hilarious," Mullick continues. "It was very much an interview. ... I felt like they were really looking for people who could be honest with where they were at and feel really comfortable with that."
Ever since the Los Angeles multimedia artist announced "The Choe Show," his cryptic, immersive, experimental installation open July 12 through Aug. 5 in a yet-to-be-disclosed Koreatown location, many people have been applying online for the chance at winning what feels like the art-world version of a Golden Ticket.
A talented and, at times, controversial painter, Choe has always looked to create new experiences for himself and his audience. As authentic to L.A. as Judy Baca, Mark Bradford and Mister Cartoon, Choe may be familiar to many as the artist in the news who painted the first Facebook offices in 2005 and took stock options rather than a cash payment, which made him a millionaire. After he hit what he’s called the bonus level in life, he could do pretty much do anything he wanted, but he didn't stop making art.
It’s been seven years since his last big exhibit, but you'll seldom hear, "What happened to Choe?" He’s continued to paint on canvas and on walls; he's played in a hardcore band called Mangchi; he's hosted episodes of VICE on HBO; he guided Anthony Bourdain through Koreatown on Parts Unknown (the episode won an Emmy); he hosted a podcast with porn star Asa Akira called DVDASA; and he's directed music videos. He’s brought his art to places such as Kabul, Afghanistan, and involves his charismatic family in many of his projects. It feels as if "The Choe Show" may be a culmination of all the mediums he’s been exploring, a larger-than-life experience to “help him help you.”
The only way to attend "The Choe Show" is by applying at thechoeshow.com, which suggests, “The more honest and candid your answer, the more likely you will be selected to access 'The Choe Show.'”
The application was personal but not too personal. It first asks, "Who are you?" and urges you to stand in front of a mirror before answering. Another question asks that the applicant write her own eulogy. Misty Summers, a silversmith/nanny/gallery assistant, applied and said, “I think the last question was something like, ‘Why come you da best?’ My answer was, ‘Because I am Misty Summers.’” She eventually received an email saying she was accepted to the show.
Annie Adjchavanich, commercial real estate agent and founder of Annie's Nut Bar, knew Choe by reputation for his art and excitedly applied. Winnie from "The Choe Show" called her with a follow-up assignment to complete her application. “Winnie asked me if there was an unfulfilled dream or something I had yet to do that would change my life. I wistfully recalled how I used to make these nut bars that I sold at the Ace Hotel's coffee shop and at Cofax over on Fairfax. She stopped me and said that was my assignment. I had to bring Annie's Nut Bar back into production and start selling again. I started to feel my excitement and anxiety grow. She said that I should bring a collage showing the progress from our conversation forward until she contacted me again. She said that if I hadn't made progress, didn't bring the paper collage to her, she wouldn't let me in. And she wasn't kidding.”
Adjchavanich got to it immediately and has already seen results in her old business, “It was the most excited I've been about anything in years. I felt like I had gotten a Golden Ticket. Seriously, I took the assignment like my life depended on it. From the moment I hung up the phone, I started working on it!”
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Jeanette Sawyer, exhibition designer and co-founder of the home goods brand Maaari, got a phone call. “They actually called me twice, I missed both calls. The second call was an acceptance message that was left and the person was singing to me the whole time about how I make them smile and that they hope I have a positive day. It was quite nice and refreshing.”
“Something about it kind of felt like the very act of applying was the experience of the art show. Getting accepted into the show would just be a bonus in the experience, but it was about my enjoyment of the journey to complete the application in and of itself,” says Marc Humpert, a user experience designer/set designer/miniature VFX artist who applied. Winnie also called him back. “I was asked two simple questions: The first was why I applied, and the second was to share an experience, good or bad, that ultimately had a positive outcome. I thought for a bit and then gave a long answer and surprisingly just talked and talked and told my story until it was done. At the end they said I was accepted to the show and to prepare for the three most uncomfortable hours of my life. I was happy and excited!”
Subsequently, an interesting confidentiality agreement was emailed to those accepted to attend the show, and while it hinted at what could happen in a worst-case scenario, it seemed innocuous. I applied early on, was accepted last week via email and signed the agreement. Humpert, however, decided not to sign. “My wife was concerned for herself because the contract requires the participant to sign on behalf of their spouse, family, etc. so she was concerned information about her and from her social media would be used and abused. Since she is an actress, she didn't want her image or reputation to be affected.”
Choe’s many fans are ready for whatever happens. Mullick says, “It’s hard to measure the impact that inspiring other people to be open and creative can have in the world.”