Art

12.07.13

Doing ‘Penance’ at Art Basel in Miami

Sinning in Miami Beach? Talk to Father G, better known as writer Glenn O’Brien, who launched ‘Penance,’ based on his performance art, complete with a Catholic-style confessional booth.

Each year at Art Basel in Miami Beach, the fashion and art crowds parachute in for a week of parties and debauchery where sinning is aplenty.

So Alldayeveryday, the group behind the pop-up Newsstand in Brooklyn’s Lorimer subway station, and writer Glenn O’Brien seized the opportunity to launch his book, Penance, along with a Catholic-style confessional at the bayside Standard Spa. 


Penance is an account of a performance that O’Brien held in May 2012 at New York’s iconic Chelsea Hotel, where he took on the pious role of Father G, listening to people’s dark secrets and offering them advice in an actual confessional booth, while surrounded by artworks by artist Richard Prince.


Unfortunately, the original confessional wasn’t able to make its way to Florida, so visitors sat with O’Brien and cleared their conscience as he signed books and offered advice in a fresh enclosure created just for the event.

What gave O’Brien the idea for the piece?

“Just being a Catholic child and having to go to confession when I didn’t do anything bad, but you had to go to confession. It made a big impression on me, and I went to many, many, many years of Catholic school, and I always thought it would be interesting to be on the other side,” said O’Brien.

The idea for Penance came about when O’Brien and Alldayeveryday decided to partner on a project together. O’Brien had recordings from the piece and suggested they turn it into a book. “I went to Catholic school for nine years, spent way too many hours dealing with all this, and I was like, ‘OK. I’ll do this because my mom will think it’s cool,’” said Alldayeveryday co-founder Kevin Kearney.

O’Brien originally thought the May 2012 happening would be a humorous, light-hearted affair. “I thought people were going to come in, it was just going to be funny and laughs. People were laying really heavy stuff on me,” he recalled. “They were really confessing their problems. Sometimes it’s just a joke, but sometimes I’m actually giving people probably good advice. It made me realize that people have this need to unburden themselves that is probably not being addressed by the church or psychiatry, so there should be a cheap, easily available alternative.”

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Fashion photographer Terry Richardson (L) and GQ's "Style Guy" Glenn O'Brien attend GQ's The Style Guy party at The Beatrice Inn on November 19, 2012 in New York City. (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty)

Among the silly and serious anonymous confessors: a man who reveals that he picks up hookers on his way to his mother’s house for dinner to make “beautiful-delicious love to them.” When the man asks Father G if he has sinned, he responds, “No, this is a modern confessional. We’re more concerned with your business practices. These strumpets are professionals. You’re being safe. You’re paying.”

And what’s the strangest thing O’Brien heard?

“It was only weird when my agent confessed that she had been stealing from me—but she was only kidding,” he said.

Penance is available at the Newsstand, Miami and at alldayeveryday.com for $45—$500. A limited number of copies will by signed by Glenn O’Brien and Richard Prince.