Roger Sayre is a photography professor at Pace University who preference is conceptual art. In 2004 he turned himself into a walking piece of art by offering on Ebay to shave his beard into anything the winner wanted (with certain limitations). The auction generated thousands of hits and made newspapers and tv reports worldwide. He sold his “art” for $160 and donated it to charity. I heard about this auction and art creation when he contacted Weird NJ and they included a reference to it in their weekly email update. About 4 days into the auction Roger decided to try to generate some publicity. He began by emailing friends, but then decided to put out a press release on a news website. From there it took off, and he did radio interviews on an Opie & Anthony type program in Chicago, and even in Ireland.
Roger was gracious enough to allow me to document the creation of this art, and to tell me his story, which has numerous unexpected turns including fake bidders. Although I’ve detailed the story below, you can listen to him discuss the project in an interview Roger gave on WFMU. Click on June 3rd 2004 and go 1:04 into the audio file.
One of Roger’s more recent art projects was a phone booth sized pinhole camera which takes one picture over the course of an hour. After placing it in a studio gallery, people would reserve time to have their picture taken. “It really creates very different pictures depending on whether they sit still or move their face much.” After attending a presentation about artists who use Ebay as a medium (one person sold his soul, another sold his “blackness”) he wondered how he might be able to utilize Ebay. He decided to grow his beard for six months and then offer the beard for sale. Not the beard itself – the auction winner would get to decide how he would shave his beard, ala Wooly Willy. Ever heard of Wooly Willy? Me neither. It’s a tablet based game with a bald guy face and you drag the magnet marker around to leave iron particles as hair either on top of his noggin or as a beard. This game was popular about 40 years ago, but not so much now.
Under the title “Shave my beard for art, real life Wooly Willy”, he started his auction at $4.99. The winner would decide what type of beard Roger would have, then Roger would shave his face. He would wear the beard in its new form for at least one month, making him a walking piece of art. Roger suggested numerous types of beards including the Mutton Chop, the Handlebar, and the Anchor.
Roger really wanted no money for this and planned to donate the entire amount to charity, but he didn’t tell anyone because he wanted the purchase to be about the art, not a charitable contribution. “I was hoping I’d get $25, and after a day or so I began checking the hit count frequently.” To his surprise the hit counts and the bidding just kept going up. Unsurprisingly some bidders wanted unusual designs. He immediately specified 2 restrictions: no Hitler moustaches, and nothing involving an intricate design (too difficult).
One bidder who was insisting on a Hitler moustache piqued his curiosity, but had nothing but negative feedback. He investigated the identity of another of suspicious bidder, checking Ebay records, did some Google searches and came up with a phone number. What he discovered was that a disgruntled HS student had created a fake Ebay ID using a teachers info. He then bid on things and didn’t pay, generating negative feedback. He apparently also did other things to make the teacher look bad.
The auction eventually closed at $160, and Roger invited me to be present for the shaving of the beard. The winning bidder lived nearby and she selected an Amish look. A few strokes with an electric razor, cleanup with a BIC and it was done. The winner got a picture of the result, and a certificate of ownership of this “living artwork.” When he dons a serious expression he actually looks Amish (the glasses really add to the appearance). All he needs is a felt hat and a pitchfork.