7 Art Objects that Play with the Idea of Artistic Value

by - Sunday, November 03, 2013



This list is primarily comprised of objects from the 60's. The decade was great for asking these sorts of questions. Since then, the "hey, I am an artist and that is all it takes to make this valuable" and the "Look, I am pulling all my content from trash culture" schticks are all but played out (I am looking at you, Jeff Koons). There are other reflections on capitalism and the global market which explore something new, but if you are looking into the root of this line of inquiry, especially in American Art, you basically have to go through this wave in the 60's.

from blog.echovar.com
from www.radford.edu
1. R Mutt (Marcel Duchamp)- Fountain- People like to put Picasso right at the beginning of all things contemporary and modern. I disagree. I would say if you want to understand anything about any art made in the last 100 years, I say go no further than Marcel Duchamp. If you can "get" Duchamp, you can put your arms around most anything that came after (this does exclude abstraction, but who cares about that). Duchamp was a key member of a non-collective called Dada, which said all art is everything and nothing. They recited poetry in gibberish, made their collages from chance, and generally set out to be radically ridiculous.

In 1917, Duchamp submitted Fountain, a urinal that bared a fictional artist's signature (he was the king of altar egos) to a salon that claimed to be willing to display anything, as long as the artist contributed their fee. It was rejected. Fountain took the least valuable thing in society, an object people literally pissed on, and reframed it as art. He also revealed the fallacy of the value of an artist's signature by keeping his own already famous name off the work. Plus, this thing is damn funny. Spend ten minutes talking to someone who owns a gallery now, and it is still damn funny. It mocks the reverence an art object is paid.

from npr.org
2. Robert Rauschenberg- Erased DeKooning-1953- Rauschenberg began working in the late 50's when the craze over abstract expressionism was reaching its peak. Abstract expressionists, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Willem DeKooning among others, were seen as these mythic painters, spreading their post-war masculine angst all over the canvas in a way that was deeply authentic and powerful. It also turned out to be incredibly valuable, and this phase of American Art solidified New York as a money-making scene. Galleries shot up that just sold the many iterations of this messy masculine painting, so much so that it had its own term "the 12th street touch."

Rauschenberg went a different way. Inspired by the philosophy and music of John Cage, the artist began making work that made fun of the heteronormative angst of these men. In the most defiant act against them, Rauschenberg erased one of Willem DeKooning's drawings, seemingly erasing all of the value DeKooning's famously erratic and authentic sketching produced. The gilded gold frame around the work further underlines the ridiculousness of this empty canvas. Rauschenberg meant to explore whether an art work could made only from erasing, rather than adding. The irony of this, as is the case with almost everything on this list, is that this thing is also worth a ton of money now.

from www.askyfilledwithshootingstars.com
3. Claes Oldenberg, Interior of The Store, 1961- From here on, all of these objects were made within five years of each other. The early 60's are basically where you want to look if you want to see baby postmodernism (also,  early twinkles of feminist aesthetics). Claes Oldenberg was a sculptor and performance artist who worked with artists who made Happenings like Allan Kaprow (he's coming!). If you know Oldenberg (which you do, even if you don't know you do), it is from his sculptures, which look like everyday objects covered in acid. Or how you would imagine them if you were on acid.

In the early 60's, Oldenberg bought an old store building to make his studio. In the back room, Oldenberg worked, making his art. In the front, he set up a store space, much like a department store or grocery store, where art buyers could browse. Not only did Oldenberg start treating banal everyday objects as worthy of being art, but he presented them in a way that was totally banal and capitalistic. You ee in these art objects, all the way back to R Mutt and his urinal, when these artists question why art is valuable, they also bring the institutions that frame and legitimate that value. We aren't supposed to notice the galleries when we look at art (this was much more true back in the 60's)- that's why the walls are so often white. Oldenberg reframed the space of art exhibition as being open about what it is: a place to buy and sell.


from allanmccollum.net
4. Allan Kaprow, Yard, 1961- That same year, Allan Kaprow responded to Abstract Expressionism in a very different way. He followed the thinking of Harold Rosenberg, who termed the art "action painting", and focused on the process of making these splatter paintings, instead of the final product. In this way, a Jackson Pollock is just the index of when a performance took place, and it blurred the lines between his life and his art. Kaprow wrote a good bit on this himself, saying "The line between art and life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible.”

In Yard, Kaprow filled the back patio of the Martha Jackson Gallery with 100's of tires and tar paper, turning a traditional gallery into a stinky, difficult to navigate dump. People arrived all gussed up, ready to see and be seen, but spent the evening crawling around materials most would see as garbage.


5. Anything Allison Knowles did with Fluxus in the 60's-Fluxus is a remarkable movement at that time, because it meant to mirror family cultures, so there are a number of fluxus weddings, and it is a collective where women are involved. Knowles produced a number of books and sound installations, and she has not got her due in the art world. She published Notations, which was a list of directions to act out certain art pieces. Rather than making something that takes exceptional skill, and therefore is only accessible to a few people, Knowles made artworks that were intentionally and radically democratic. Not only could anyone see or afford her art; with her direction, anyone could make her art.


from www.diaart.org
6.Dan Flavin, Monument for V. Tatlin, 1966- Also responding to those fancy,super deep and drunken Ab Ex gentlemen, minimalists came in and made another entirely new argument about the artist's touch in art. Minimalist artists designed their objects. They were usually large-scale and simple objects taking over the viewer's experience of the room. Unlike the paintings which showed the artists' hand with every stroke, minimalist sculptures were usually made in factories according to the artist's design. In Dan Flavin's case, he took simple florurescent tube lights, which you could find in any office building and turned them into art, usually monuments. Most minimalist sculptures also have no title, so very little meaning can be gleaned from the words attached (Flavin could not resist dedications, which is why I will love him forever and amen).

from www.christies.com
7.Andy Warhol, Dance Diagram, 1962 -Lastly, if you are going to talk about artists rejecting traditional models of artistic value, you have to talk about the always irreverent Andy Warhol. In the Dance Diagram series, Warhol again takes a shot at Jackson Pollock. Pollock famously painted on the floor, and the Hans Namuth film records his rhythmic spreading and splashing of paint on the ground. In Dance Diagram, Warhol makes fun of this process, turning it into dance steps that feminize Pollock and treat his artistic style as repeatable and banal, like the simple dance steps taught at a dance school. These paintings are a barely veiled slam at a very specific target, so the playful veneer raises lots of fun and challenging questions about the status of this tortured masculinity and the seeming originality of the ab ex style.

So, what art objects do you think of when you think of art and value? I mean, the humor in a lot of these is how incredibly valuable they are now. How do you see some of these themes still at play in the art world now? 

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