What It's Like to Sit in a Room With a Sobbing Shia LaBeouf, for Art
On Tuesday, serial plagiarist and "not famous" famous actor Shia LaBeouf invited the public to join him at his latest cry for help in Los Angeles. According to the press release for his new performance entitled "#IAMSORRY," LaBeouf will be "in situ" at an art gallery for six days so he can apologize for his sins.
So I went.
When I arrived at the Cohen Gallery on Beverly a few hours after it opened, there were five people in line in front of me. The pacing security guard asked, "Anyone here from the press?" Four of us sheepishly raised our hands. The only person who didn't raise his hand was the second person in line, a good looking, sharply dressed dude who identified himself as a UTA talent agent.
LaBeouf might have been sorry, sincerely sorry, but the only people present to witness the apology on Tuesday afternoon were those of us who are paid to care.
Only one person was allowed to enter at a time, so the line moved slowly. When patrons reached the front of the line, the security guard looked through their bags, skimmed their bodies with a metal detecting wand, and then—and I don't think this was protocol—the bored guard engaged them in chitchat.
Buzzfeed staffers, whose office is located across the street from the gallery, had apparently been taking turns all day waiting to enter. I was in line behind one Buzzfeed; a trio of Buzzfeeds joined behind me. At one point a whole gaggle of Buzzfeeds who had already been inside the exhibit strolled by, teasing their coworkers who still hadn't been inside yet.
A Los Angeles Times photographer and reporter showed up, trying to talk their way inside the exhibit together. But rules were rules, said the security guard. One person at a time and no cameras. The Times reporter grabbed a spot at the end of the growing line and began interviewing the only person there who was not on assignment or employed by Buzzfeed. That man gave very serious answers while clutching a seriously tiny skateboard.
A reporter from E!, who was two people in front of me, pointed out that the UTA agent had been inside for a very long time. In Los Angeles, I guess it's never a bad time to get a private sit-down with a star.
When I reached the front of the line, the guard leaned in and whispered to me, "So uh, is your take that this guy is fuckin nuts?" "Yes," I whispered back, "so why are you here?" He laughed it off and never answered. I thought he must somehow be part of the show. My paranoia grew; I was convinced I was being recorded.
And then I was permitted to enter. I was greeted by a young woman standing behind the table. I asked for her name and she confirmed she was Nastja Säde Rönkkö, who, along with LaBeouf and Luke Turner, is a collaborator on the exhibit. She stood in front of a table covered with random objects and told me I was free to take any implement I wanted into the back room. My options: a pink ukulele, a Transformers toy, a bowl of Hershey's Kisses, a vase of daisies, a wrench, a whip, Brut for Men spray cologne, Jack Daniels, a bowl filled with printed out LaBeouf-related tweets, and a copy of The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes.
I grabbed one of the tweets ("You're still famous in my heart, even tho you've turned into a douche wad"), but I put it back. The whole set-up was stupid and insulting. I didn't take anything. In retrospect, this was a dumb move because I could have at least gotten a free swig of Jack out of the deal. I was led behind a set of curtains and into a smaller space. In the middle of the room, sitting alone at a bistro table, was LaBeouf. He was wearing a tuxedo and an "I'm Not Famous Anymore" bag over his head. His hands were resting on the table. He was not moving.
I had plans to ask him great questions, to make him laugh, hold his hand, take off his bag, and convince him to take a picture with me. But when we locked eyes, I was unnerved. LaBeouf had been crying; under his right eye hole the bag was soaked with tears and stuck to his face. I introduced myself. "Are you tired?" I asked. "This must be exhausting." Another tear fell.
It might have been art, it might have been real emotion—it was probably just bullshit—but at that moment, I realized I was stuck in a tiny room with a seemingly unstable crying man who was wearing a bag on his head. Imagine the most uncomfortable internet date possible, but add a weeping Shia LaBeouf and subtract the alcohol because you stupidly left the bottle in the other room. It was like that, but much, much worse. I wanted to get the fuck out as soon as possible.
I fumbled through my notes and he kept staring at me. I could hear him breathing. The questions I had prepared seemed stupid ("Are you mad Dumb Starbucks stole your thunder?") so I stared at his dirty fingernails and stupid hand tattoos and attempted small talk, "You must be sick of this shit." He nodded slightly. I told him I was sick of it, too.
I didn't know what else to say, so we sat alone for awhile. The wet spot on his bag kept growing. I couldn't take it anymore.
I know everyone will spend the next few days comparing him to Marina Abramović, talking about whether or not this was art, whether or not he's for real. I know that there are already tricks and tips online about how to hack the whole LaBeouf apology funhouse. In the next few days, someone will probably get him to dance, get him to take off his bow tie, or force him to admit the buffoon with the metal detector out front is part of the act. It might be funny.
But when I was leaving, it wasn't funny. I felt sorry for him. I felt manipulated. And I felt angry that I was in a fucking art space on Beverly on a Tuesday afternoon probably getting tricked by some dude who would never, if circumstances were different, want to sit alone with me at a table.
So I did the only thing that felt appropriate. I stood in the doorway and told him I was sorry too.
I was then escorted out the back of the building.