What Price Genuine?

September 21, 2008

The day after Damien Hirst’s garage sale, art dealer Richard Feigen wrote an interesting piece about the dearth of connoisseurship and the rise of the factory.  He begins with an acknowledgment that the definition of art was revolutionized by Marcel Duchamp when,

he decreed that the term included found objects, that art need involve only the artist’s choice, not his hand—that the idea is the art. Now that can be true if the idea is profound enough, or the object beautiful enough … Once we accept that the artist’s hand is no longer necessary, only his idea, it’s a short leap to market the concept that beauty is not only no longer essential, it can even be turned into a dirty, “elitist” word.

This in turn has led gto the death of connoisseurship:

Connoisseurship is the identification of the artist by his handwriting. But if his hand isn’t there, the handwriting isn’t, and connoisseurship becomes a dead old discipline. Who needs connoisseurs? Why train them? Why not train museum director-administrators-fundraisers-construction supervisors?

… The artist can simply hatch an idea. Then comes the collaboration of an army of profiteers in “collectors’” clothes; of hungry auctioneers; of empire-building dealers; of trendy museum curators; a press bedazzled by mega-millions flooding in from every corner of the globe—art then has truly been transformed into an “asset class”

The end result is that

any image can be “copyrighted” if an artist gets there with it first. From Roy Lichtenstein’s Ben-day dots and Andy Warhol’s silkscreens, it’s a short leap to Jeff Koons’ or Damien Hirst’s or Takashi Murakami’s factories turning the stuff out.  Shock value is enough for a copyright, whether it’s a putrefying shark or a platinum, diamond-studded neo-Augsburg memento mori or a three-dimensional cartoon or a huge, shiny toy dog.

And how, he asks, can we now tell the artist’s true handwriting?  How will be establish “fake” from “real” art?  He concludes that,

with “art” proliferating and the stakes so high, there may … be big rewards in store for the litigators.


September 21, 2008

“Fireworks” (2008), Powerpoint to TIFF print, 36″ x 18″. Click on the image for a better view of the piece.