Wednesday, February 14, 2007

When Is a Prince Not a "Prince"? Part II

The comment thread on the first post on this issue has morphed into a good, but off-topic discussion of who gets to call art "art," but to permit for a thread on the question of whether an artist can declare some previous "art" of theirs now no longer their "art," I wanted to share this quote from the introduction of the catalogue for the exhibition in question, Fugitive Artist: The Early Work of Richard Prince, 1974-77, at the Neuberger Museum. [Reprinted with permission of the curator, Michael Lobel]:
We can certainly allow that there are categories of work that should not be included in the official record, or that at the very least have an ambiguous status: student works, for instance, or pieces that never leave the studio and thus are never fully realized or executed. But once a work has been executed and exhibited and written about, and perhaps even bought and sold, are we really to allow an artist to edit or erase the historical record? My short answer is no.
My long answer (as long as I think it really needs to be) is also "no." But I'll explain.

History belongs to the public, not the artist. Revisionism might be tempting, but it's intellectually dishonest, and smacks of an irritating insecurity. The responsible time to decide whether one wants a work to be recorded as one's own is before it's exhibited, written about and/or sold...not after. Yes things happen, and so once it's sold, the artist can still change their mind, but only, IMO, by buying back the work at current market value.

Someone on yesterday's thread suggested there's no harm really to the collector or gallery if an artist rescinds authorship (they still have the piece and they still know they exhibited it), but that's to suggest, in part, that the collector and gallery are there solely to serve the artist's possibly ever-changing whims. Perhaps there's a certain cachet in certain quarters to owning or having exhibited an unendorsed Prince, but that's not what the collector or gallery signed up for. To minimize as insignificant the impact of having a work rejected for the catalogue raisonné or an exhibition deleted from the history books or whatever else might follow such an action by the artist is to suggest the collector and gallerist are irrelevant players in art history.

Most galleries are run by true believers (there are much easier businesses to get rich in), and collectors can spend their money on an endless supply of other things. I see it as an insult to minimize their respective roles to the point that their contributions to supporting an artist's career are viewed as a gift to them by said artist. Yes, I'll permit you to worship me.

There's no other industry I can think of where producers are treated as such minor players (in film, music, publishing, etc., the folks who prove their faith in an artist by putting up the money are paid more respect that this, and legally entitled to have their name associated with the project forever...who collects the Oscar for best picture?...the Producer). It's not a perfect parallel, I realize, but comparatively, it's a very small thing collectors and gallerists ask of fine artists: don't unendorse a piece I bought and don't delete the exhibition I gave you from your CV. Seriously, how freakin' hard is that? You had the show...you sold the work. Live with it.

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21 Comments:

Anonymous David said...

EW, it seems to me the whole thing is a big game, and the collectors hopefully know they are participating.

Part of the game is making outrageous declarations about what is or isn't art. On the "is" side, there's of course Whistler, Duchamp, Rauschenberg, Warhol, Koons, and many many others. Whatever his intentions, Prince seems to be playing the game on the "isn't" side. The game continues...

2/14/2007 11:20:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

There's no other industry I can think of where producers are treated as such minor players (in film, music, publishing, etc., the folks who prove their faith in an artist by putting up the money are paid more respect that this, and legally entitled to have their name associated with the project forever...

Edward, I work in the film industry, and there's no way in the world you can reasonably compare the role of a film producer with that of an art collector. The producer is integral to the creation of the film. They come up with funding, hire the director, crew, etc., take care of all the logistics of making the film, and then get it distributed to the public. And they put as much money and effort afterwards into promoting it and trying to get awards for the director, actors and crew. The best ones work just as hard as the director, actors and crew.

An art collector is a customer. The equivalent in film would be all the people buying tickets to see the movie, not just one of them but the whole theater full. For a collector to be seen in the same role as a film producer, they would have to completely fund an artist's career for several years (studio, materials, living expenses), get their work into galleries and museums, and take out full-page ads in all the art magazines. Maybe there are a few who do this (please introduce me), but for the most part collectors are, at best, enthusiastic customers, and at worst clueless speculators.

Producers in the music industry have a similar role to those in film. They are in the studio with the artists, arranging, mixing and often co-writing songs.

Don't get me wrong, customers are important. But they don't deserve credit for producing the work.

2/14/2007 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

well...I did admit the parallel is not perfect David, but the comparison of a collector, who is the only customer of a given artwork, with the hordes who comprise the audience of a film is also problematic.

Many collectors are more parallel to a film producer in that they, by exhibiting the work in their home/office/location where lots of other potential future collectors can oohh and ahhh over it, loaning it to museums and such, spending a chunk of change to conserve, and generally adding to the artist's career through their own hard-earned reputation as a connoisseur (why else do artist include a "collection" section in their CV, if this wasn't important?) do indeed often spend much more than several years supporting that artist.

Other collectors go further and commission work or fund expensive projects, very much exactly like a film producer.

None of which is to say that the collector who picked up a small Richard Prince in the 1970s for $350 is entitled to have his/her name on the cover of Prince's catalogue raisonné but he/she is entitled, in my opinion, to expect that work to be included in it and the provenance to be accurate.

2/14/2007 12:01:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

well...I did admit the parallel is not perfect David, but the comparison of a collector, who is the only customer of a given artwork, with the hordes who comprise the audience of a film is also problematic.

Well, it's a different sort of product. The hordes that buy movie tickets and rent DVDs generate millions of dollars of profits for the studios, the producers (they helped make the film) and often the director and actors. And as the profits add up, the people who created the film keep getting more money. Unlike what happens for artists when their work is resold.

So film audiences and collectors are all customers, but because of the type of product you have to scale the way you look at it. One row in the theater during a matinee might be like the purchase of a work on paper by an "emerging" artist. It might take the total weekend box office for that same theater to equate to the purchase of a major painting. The analogies are not perfect no matter how you make them, but there's still a big difference between someone who creates something and someone who buys it.

Granted, someone who funds a commission or some other expensive project is more like a film producer. But you can't say the same thing about someone who just buys a completed work.

My CV only lists public and corporate collections. I thought it was bad form (invasion of privacy) to list private collections. Have I been doing this wrong?

2/14/2007 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

But you can't say the same thing about someone who just buys a completed work.

We're getting away from whether or not a collector has a right to expect their purchase to show up in the catalog raisonne, here, but no one "just buys" a completed piece of art. They insure it, conserve it, often frame it, etc. etc. It's a longer-term financial commitment than you seem to be willing to acknowledge. A movie viewer leaves the theater with no further financial obligation to the work. An art collector does not.

thought it was bad form (invasion of privacy) to list private collections.

It's not what I recommend, but I see it all the time anyway.

2/14/2007 12:37:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

We're getting away from whether or not a collector has a right to expect their purchase to show up in the catalog raisonne...

I agree. I was responding to your comparison of collectors to movie producers.

I think the analogy is problematic on all levels. Insuring and caring for something you've bought is more commitment than a moviegoer makes, but far far less commitment than someone who is responsible for getting a film completed makes.

As far as the issue of Prince disowning his work, I can understand why a collector might be upset. But his doing so also continues the ongoing conversation about what is art, what isn't art, and who gets to decide. Isn't that part of what the collectors are buying into?

2/14/2007 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

But his doing so also continues the ongoing conversation about what is art, what isn't art, and who gets to decide. Isn't that part of what the collectors are buying into?

That's a compelling (and very cute) argument, David, but let Prince try it with the collector who paid $1million for a photograph recently and see how well it goes over. Moreover, see what happens to his prices.

2/14/2007 01:12:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

That's a compelling (and very cute) argument, David

Thanks! Happy Valentines Day :)

2/14/2007 01:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

David I love your example of a collector buying the whole cinema.

That's one thing I hate about video artists, that they sell 3 copies of their work, as if the collector buys the film, when we are dealing with easily reproduceable materials. I think there is a lot of dishonesty in there from the part of the artist. Printing a large copy of a photograph is expensive, but copying a dvd is a joke. Thanks to youtube, for providing a harder time for artists who still believe in the material value of single projection video art. I was so mad once at Perry Rubenstein, they were showing many videos in a crammed room with bad reverbarated noise and whitout a single chair to sit on. Bullocks !!! Show this in a cinema!!

As for Prince.... You know we could go to court with this. It could come to this. I think the only "right" that Prince holds on is to prevent catalog repros from up to 75 years after his death (if his heirs are still battling on).

There is no way he can come back and unmake what was once sold as art. Actually, I think he deserves...We should go in a gang
of 10 people photograph the problematic art and show it on Flickr. I doubt him and their gallerist have the means to sue 10 people. Than you deal out the problematic of repro and al this bullshit. BECAUSE IT IS BULLSHIT, UNDERSTAND?? Mr PRINCE??

Grrr...No wonder artists hide and never confront their public.

Cheers,
Cedric Caspesyan
centiment@hotmail.com

2/14/2007 01:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

that was Jesper Just, at Perry. I want the artist to feel bad.

Cedric

2/14/2007 01:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my memory's a little foggy on this, but bear with me . . .

when robert morris was in his early duchamp/johns phase, he got into a spat with a collector (it may even has been phillip johnson) over a piece that i believe he was still owed payment for . . .

morris issued something like a 'certificate of aesthetic withdrawl' for the disputed work, which claimed removal of any artistic or aesthetic qualities, thus negating the disputed piece . . .

but turning the certificate itself into . . .

anyhow. the richard prince brouhaha seems as if it has a little of the smell of a stunt around it. the exhibition catalog with the blank pages and the captions may be the best 'richard prince' piece in quite awhile . . .

with the obvious exception of the whistling spongebob sculpture, of course.

lately i'm finding these neo-appropriationist stunts like this one and the exhibitions at triple candie to be pretty, pretty interesting . . .

2/14/2007 03:57:00 PM  
Anonymous ml said...

I think this instance sounds like a stunt. It is Prince's right to refuse reproduction rights, but it's still his work and as Cedric pointed out, that copyright goes public in x number of years. (Not sure if it's 75 in the US). At that date, Price (or estate) doesn't have the right to block reproduction.

Slightly off topic: if the work has degraded because of sun damage or water damage or defacement, would you have the same concern? Just curious. All work ages. When would it cease being a bona fide work?

2/14/2007 04:47:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

I just can't wrap my head around this problem, except to say that it seems a sophomoric gesture. I would want such a philosophical stunt to reveal something larger than the artists bad boy self image. Work that trades in the slightness of the content doesn't appeal to me, though it seems to be all the rage. I want something I can chew on for a while, that holds my attention, that makes my brain percolate with excitement. Otherwise what's the point. Prince makes work that is all studied reference and nothing we haven't seen a thousand times already. the bad boy part is just an element of the outfit, so boring already.

There has to be virtuosity at some level. This guy is rehashing. Like a prodigy pianist with no soul. The dis-attribution is another of these tricks learned in school. Enough gruel, time for dessert!

2/14/2007 05:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps RP is interested in these early works staying put and not moving around in the market.

Good or bad, it's nice that the artist at some stage in their career has the chance to wave the magic wand.

Remember the British school that was trying to raise funds by selling a collaborative work with a name behind it, Tracy someone? Tracy was really offended that someone would take advantage of her gesture and want to cash in.
Whatever the reason a live artist has some say in some things:) And sometimes that decision may not make obvious sense other than to the artist.
Pretty sure though RP doesn't want those early things moving, drawing any more attention than they have too.

Sorry Ed if you are the owner of them. But think you still have the art, despite its zero value. And what's more important, in the end? Immortality in the mere mortal world, or something to that hinge.
In my Ivory tower, I want to be able and look down and see proof of that I was the one that sold the people, not the people who sold me.
AW I think understood this the best, and made it work.
it was a funny light article some years ago written by Prince the obvious [dis]similarities between AW and RP. I think the really powerful one was Richard went to bed very early.

2/14/2007 06:39:00 PM  
Anonymous eleventh hour said...

the whole thing has a very 'david hammons' feel to it. you get to a point where it is unclear whether you are dealing with a genuine statement made by an artist or a very clever marketing startegy made by a nondesript collaborative.

2/14/2007 11:11:00 PM  
Anonymous markcreegan said...

11th hr- i think you mean Triple candie, not David Hammons.

2/14/2007 11:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Anonymous:
>>>Good or bad, it's nice that the >>>artist at some stage in their >>>career has the chance to wave >>>>the magic wand.


Err...Anonymous? We're saying that he CAN'T. The only thing he can do is retain rights for reproduction (in magazines and books).

There is no way any judge in court would refute a collector's right to present as art a work that was once bought as such and fully signed by the artist.

As someone said, the only thing an artist can do is re-buy the work and destroy it, but that won't prevent repros from finding their place in books if they exist.

Cheers,

Cedric Caspesyan


PS: I'm angry that an artist attempts to spit on collectors and gallerists that first encouraged them. I'm glad if the spat can't reach them.

2/15/2007 04:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cedric, isn't it a little more complicated than that? If not then I apologize for getting it wrong.
The artist is virtually rending the pieces worthless. I think that is Edward's beef! Does an artist have the right to do that? I say yes, in the case, of a very early piece. Scholars may come in at a later day and reposition the work(s) as important, and if they can be traced back via transaction documentation, so on, the collector or museum hold something fortunate and rare. If not the piece will yield no profit or hold any monetary value.
If the art product does hold value it can be sold and replaced with another product that can yield greater return at some point, and at the same time serve current ends, whatever they might be.
Bear in mind:
Hoaxing, too, is delivering the art experience ( touched upon here via TF and the E-experience, argued out by Chris. BTW I am a big fan of TF). Where does the hoax start and when does it end.? I think an artist is able to decide that, or at least be an active player! Risk is good! It's been done! It'll be done again! TC are waking us up in an entertaining way, which reaches out to artists whose only current fix is to make it in the economic zone, whatever their art packet is.
But I MIGHT HAVE IT ALL WRONG, ...

2/15/2007 05:54:00 AM  
Anonymous eleventh hour said...

i never believed that triple candi was solely responsible for the hammons show. although he is theoretically against the grain, shows like the one currently at l&m arts ultimately benefits the works market value. the situation with richard prince echoes these same strategies.

2/15/2007 07:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Anonymous:
>>The artist is virtually rending >>>the pieces worthless. I think >>>that is Edward's beef! Does an >>>artist have the right to do >>>>that? I say yes, in the case, >>>of a very early piece.


We're talking pieces, unless I'm mistaken, that were once exhibited as "art" and sold as such by gallerists.

What mr. Prince think they are worth is only good for magazine interviews (and his prevention from catalog publishing, which I think is ridiculus).

An artist has a right, if works are discovered in an old closet, to call them unfinished or studies. Studies still hold some value for collectors, though they aren't official works, but the artist can simply refuse to sell them.

But if you have done an official exhibit and sold your art through it than it's too bad for you if you hate that exhibit back. You can't eras it from history, and as I repeat, it's insulting to the gallerists and collectors to insist that you can. It's very rare that I take collector's side so I know this time mr Prince is not right.

I think it's clear from the present Prince exhibit that his only power was to prevent the works from being published in the catalog, so why are you even questioning his right to dishown his work as art? He can't. It's being exhibited.

Cheers,

Cedric Caspesyan

2/15/2007 09:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric said...

Art is not just artist intention, you know ? ;-P

Cedric

(PS: eras = erase)

2/15/2007 09:13:00 AM  

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