This event was an open discussion of Clayton Pettet’s much-anticipated performance Art School Stole My Virginity, during which the artist was to lose his virginity before a live audience in a West London gallery space. Pettet situated his performance as an investigation into the cultural significance of virginity and sexuality. The artist was also critiquing what he perceives as the stagnation of the London contemporary art scene and art education system. This piece received widespread media attention in national and international publications – unusual for a work by any artist, let alone a nineteen-year-old art student. Despite seemingly comprehensive coverage, media outlets focused on the superficial sensationalism of the piece, describing Art School Stole My Virginity as a “live gay sex show,” a “controversial ‘exhibit’,” and “taking sexual exhibitionism to new heights.”
Pettet said his “piece isn’t a statement as much as it is a question.” In “A Performance of the People:” Discussing Art School Stole My Virginity, art historians Dorothy Fisher and Vincent Marquis collaborated with Pettet to answer that question by discussing both Art School Stole My Virginity and the attention around it. Fisher, Marquis and Pettet were interested in examining the relationship between Pettet’s work and the themes of gender, sexuality, art education, and the reception of contemporary art. The collaborators created a space for a nuanced discussion of these themes by combining the art historical backgrounds of Fisher and Marquis with the fine arts training of Pettet. The discussion format of “A Performance of the People:” Discussing Art School Stole My Virginity allowed the contributors and the audience to participate in an exchange of ideas toward a new understanding of Pettet’s work and its implications.