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Exhibit observers perplexed by sign language

Associated Press

“Empty your purse and start a new life!”

“Lay on the ground as if you fell from a tree!”

“Go home and make love! Now!”

Bright yellow signs scattered around Vienna’s central Karlsplatz square urge passersby to do everything from eating pineapple to starting smiling chains. It’s bizarre, to be sure, but it’s all in the name of art.

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The signs, which have prompted plenty of double takes from Viennese and visitors alike, are part of an exhibit by the nearby Kunsthalle Wien. The prestigious art gallery invited 100 contemporary artists from around the world to create unusual instructions designed to take just a few minutes to carry out.

Karlsplatz, a subway hub popular with drug addicts, is mostly known as a place to pass through on your way elsewhere. That made it a perfect location for the unorthodox exhibit, “handlungsanweisungen” (“instructions to act”), Kunsthalle director Gerald Matt said.

“People normally just run through. They don’t stop, they are busy,” he said. The interactive exhibit “creates another speed in daily life. This rush is interrupted and is made slower by the artists and their instructions for action.”

The orders are as varied as the artists behind them.

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“Do not obey any instructions!” says sign No. 35, by Vienna artist Esther Stocker, who said she dislikes being told what to do.

“People forget they don’t have to do what people ask for -- that personal freedom should always be defended,” Stocker said as she strolled through the square searching for her sign. “I just believe in this personal thing: that everyone is responsible for his own actions.”

As it became obvious that her sign -- affixed with a metal band to a lamppost at a busy corner -- had been stolen, Stocker was delighted. “Someone really ignored the instructions,” she said, laughing.

Kunsthalle spokeswoman Claudia Bauer said the sign would be replaced, as have a handful of others that were stolen earlier.

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Although the first placards went up in 2001, an opening celebration wasn’t held until July, when the signs numbered 100. The show is a permanent installation.

The artwork consists entirely of signs. Most signs have the message typed in black on a bright yellow background. Some artists used handwriting, made drawings or submitted pictures. For example, No. 75, by Skip Arnold, a Los Angeles artist who also lives in London, has a stick figure drawn on it. The figure’s hands are on its head and its mouth is open. Above, scrawled in black, is the text: “Scream!” No. 52, by Chinese artist Zhuang Hui, features a photo of a smiling Osama bin Laden, which has the text: “Who has fabricated him?” in Arabic and English.

At Karlsplatz, the Kunsthalle has an exhibition space -- a modern glass building that was created with the idea of making art more accessible.

“The art is not hidden behind the walls of a museum. The art is presented in a way that people passing by or even cars driving by can look into the window,” Matt said. The signs, he said, take that concept further by presenting an interactive experience in an unexpected place.

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