Staff and visitors alike have been startled by voices echoing in the museum’s western colonnade. Are people hiding around the corner? The sounds are coming from the newly installed Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio work Soft Sell, a video playing on a small flat-screen monitor.
Before they rose to prominence as architects, Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio—they’re two-thirds of the Diller Scofidio Renfro starchitect team behind the high-profile New York projects Hypar Pavilion at Lincoln Center, the High Line, and the controversial upcoming MoMA expansion—were known for their art, which often have been installations or interventions in existing architectural situations.
“[Soft Sell]… exploits reversible values through familiar mechanisms of seduction,” the couple wrote about their work, which was originally done as a large, temporary projection on the doors of an abandoned porn theater on New York’s 42nd Street, appropriately enough (for those familiar with the Disneyfied area’s seedy, Taxi Driver past). Now it is tucked in a shadowed nook hugging a stairway at the Honolulu Museum of Art.
A sensuous female voice echoes off of the museum’s stairwell, seducing visitors to approach to buy a “brand new baby boy” or an “ivy league education”—things coveted yet not officially for sale, insinuating the unspoken fact that everything has a price. Anything and anyone can be bought. Warning: Experiencing Soft Sell may induce a feeling of taboo, or that you’ve just done something wrong.
The element of surprise in discovering such a work in an unexpected place and hearing the woman’s voice before you see the flat screen, is an important of the work. Soft Sell can be shown in a range of sizes of flat screens or projections. Contemporary Art Curator Jay Jensen says he decided to go small “so it would have a more intimate effect.”