Paul Schmelzer has an unusual way of collecting autographs from the famous -- he asks them to sign his name instead of theirs.
Schmelzer's no egomaniac. He just thought it might be an interesting project, after observing an 8-year-old boy with Asperger's ask jazz musician Ben Sidran for his autograph. When Sidran complied, the boy said, "Not your name. Mine!"
Schmelzer, who is the Web editor at Walker Art Center and a freelance writer and blogger on arts, media and activism, saw it as "deconstructing the concept of celebrity. There's really not that much difference between us and superstars, fundamentally. Why shouldn't he feel like it's about him?"
On Signifier/Signed, the blog he created five years ago to post the results of his quest, Schmelzer has gathered more than 70 scribbles from obliging notables, including architect Frank Gehry, performance artist Laurie Anderson, actor Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson) and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who gets an A-plus for penmanship. Though each request includes a brief explanation with the story of the boy's response, he's also collected about 40 rejects -- most recently "This is not an item that President Carter will sign" from the office of Jimmy Carter.
While it's not a pursuit he devotes much time to, Schmelzer says he keeps it on the back burner, hoping for a big "get" like Obama or Oprah.
"I know it's taking something from them, and I understand if they don't want to do it," Schmelzer said, "but it seems like the people who were really cool got it and responded, and the big untouchables didn't. They're the ones with full-time handlers and I can't know if they even saw it or not."
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