Sunday, March 28, 2010

“Everything made since Duchamp has been a readymade, even when hand-painted” - Gerhard Richter

What exactly does it take to create an artwork? What conditions need to be met for an artist to take ownership of an object? The precedent set by Duchamp seems to suggest that all an artist needs to do is to stake a claim to a thing, that the relevant part of artmaking is not the act of constructing an object, but creating an idea. Art history seems to confirm this claim, but is this valid? What and where exactly are the limits?

I've been thinking a lot about the recent Tino Segal show at the Guggenheim, and what exactly it means for him to claim artistic ownership of a couple embracing, as he does in his piece Kiss. Here Segal takes a ubiquitous human activity and stamps it as his own. Does he get away with it? And is it really art? Or, perhaps more importantly, is the 'artness' of it really a meaningful question? Perhaps what is relevant now is not the question 'is it art,' but rather 'should we care.'

Fortunately there's an iphone app that can help with these questionable cases of artistic identity. The pocket-sized program analyzes your photos and calculates if whatever you're looking at is, in fact, art. (Unfortunately this will be little help in with Segal case, who has prohibited photography of his pieces.) While this app might be the latest gag put out by the Pittsburgh based Mattress Factory, the tongue-in-cheek tech piece asks a larger and more serious question: to what extent is the label 'art' an interesting and relevant distinction? If the Duchampian vision of obliterating the line between life and art has indeed been successful - and we can argue with some conviction that it has been given a few colorful examples like living sculptures Gilbert and George - is there any sense in labeling something art at all?

Untitled (
Michael Mandiberg, 3250px x 4250px (at 850dpi), 2001

What, if any, are the limits of this? How about claiming someone else's art as your own? Sherrie Levine has made a career out of this, rephotographing Walker Evans depression era photos in the late 70's, and later reproducing Duchamp's Fountain in gold. Her move was repeated in the early 2000's by Micheal Mandiberg, who scanned both the Evans and Levine photographs and uploaded them to his website where they can be printed with a certificate of authenticity as original Maniberg's.

What about having someone make every part of your work for you? Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons have been doing this for years, and while it may upset the likes of Dennis Dutton and Stuckism International, the art world at large seems to ask few questions about these objects.

Call me young and naïve, but intuitively I'm still somewhat uncomfortable with an artist who claims ownership of other people's work. I certainly don't want to advocate throwing them out of the pantheon of art, but I think it's very important that we consider who actually made the artwork as part of the piece's conceptual core. Part of the value of Warhol's commentary was that he wasn't making his objects, and that they would have meant something different if he was. The question going forward is whether or not this same applies to artists like Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter, Kehinde Wiley, or Tino Segal. Whether their participation, or lack of participation, in the creation of their artwork helps or harms the piece itself.

Friday, March 26, 2010




The universal communication and internet symbol @ has been acquired by MoMA. When I first saw this news release I wondered how a museum could own a symbol in their collection. I went to their website,, and looked around. I didn’t find any other symbol like this that wasn’t attached to an overall image or model; however, I did find what the MoMA is saying about the @ symbol as an acquisition.

MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Designs says the acquisition of the @ symbol means it is no longer a necessary requirement to have physical possession of an object. They acknowledge things that “cannot be had” because they are too big -- like buildings, airplanes and installations, but they go on to say the same criteria of quality, relevance, and overall excellences shared by all objects in MoMA’s collection also apply to these entities. So @ is sharing the same criteria as all objects acquired; but they are now called entities not objects. As I looked around on the MoMA website I didn’t see any other entities so widely used freely by the public. So if @ cannot be had, what is the purpose of having it in MoMA’s collection?

The @ symbol is not an objet to own. So MoMa put the image of the symbol in the graphic design collection which includes typography, posters, and other combinations of text and image.
I guess that @ fits into that category of art, but its free use is what makes it so important. I started to think about what other symbols have been so widely used in the world without, any sort of religious hinge, and I couldn’t think of any. @ crosses all lines of culture, beliefs, freedoms and attachment. Its free use is what makes it such a global symbol.

When I looked up the history of @ on Wikipedia I found the most compelling part to be the computer history; Ray Tomlinson, American electrical engineer developed a computer system to send messages to different computers through his network. He noticed the underused @ symbol already on the keyboard. In 1971 Tomlinson appropriated @ to use for his first email. This is what makes this little symbol so important to the world? Anyone with a computer, cell phone or any other type of social, communication or information devise knows the importance of @.

Maybe its acquisition by MoMA is to honor the @. I think most users already know this. Wikipedia had some ancient history on @ I found interesting but it is nothing like its use today.
Thinking about how to collect an artistic idea made from an installation, performance or thought has proved to be challenging for museums and galleries. Taking a photo of these does not depict the moment in time when it happened.

It is like a good play or concert, once the lights are off it is clearly never going to be the same, can’t be owned. But money was made from the performance. The @ symbol is our work-horse. Maybe it is achieving sainthood. The MoMa tried to explain this acquisition by saying “it sets curators free to tag the world and acknowledge things that “cannot be had.”

Tag the world? I guess to acknowledge things makes since. I wonder if this is going to start a new form of collection. What is the next symbol to be added to their collection?

Jenny Harris

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Art and Money

Much discussion has been generated about the status of art in the current economy. Ripples caused by the burst of the contemporary art bubble have pervaded the pages of art magazines and newspapers for the past three years - and yet seldom do hear about the status of practicing artists, specifically those outside the nepotistic inner circles of the NY/LA/Miami gallery scene.

Earlier this week Time Out’s senior art critic Howard Halle said over Facebook that “there’s a lot young artists out there who were promised superstar careers in art school, and now, thanks to the shitty economy, they’ve got bubkis.”

With less art selling, opportunities for young artists are becoming fewer and farther between. As galleries become more conservative in the wake of a broken economy, can young artists be expected to sustain any progressive or radical energy, or does the selectivity produce a homogenized litany of intellectually congruous Post-Minimalist bourgeois ornamentation?

Or perhaps the opposite - Damien Hirst at one point suggested that less money circulating the art market encourages art for art's sake rather than art for money's sake. While it's difficult to take Hirst's statement seriously given his billionaire status, there might be a grain of truth to it, that traditionally artists have been motivated more by a love for the creation of artwork rather than the creation of capital. Nevertheless, when oil painters can't afford oil paint, where do artists turn to support their labor of love?

A few opportunities remain. For the past three years MYARTSPACE.COM has awarded $16,000 in cash scholarships to six artists currently matriculated in either an undergraduate or graduated university degree program for visual art. The scholarship, which is open to students worldwide and juried by first-class curators, is based on artistic merit rather than art-scene connections; on originality and clarity rather than decorous marketability. Unlike most competitions for young artists, there is no entry fee.

MYARTSACE.COM provides free visibility and networking opportunities to artists outside of a traditional gallery context. At the same time, it allows millions of art appreciators every day to access unique artworks by over 100,000 artists from around the world. While an economy in decay and a conservative and insular art-market can have a stifling affects on young artists, MYARTSPACE.COM provides opportunities and encouragement not found elsewhere on today's scene.