Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Value of Nothing and The Dare of Anonymity

Matthew Bown has a lengthy, but very interesting essay on the price versus value of fine art objects at the high end of the spectrum over on that I'm sure I'll get multiple blog posts out of it (seriously, you have to read it). After reading through it a few times, I think it would have helped me had he framed it initially with a paragraph he saves for page 3 (of the print-out version):
[T]he general disarray of economists when faced with the art market is not new. The founder of modern economics, Alfred W. Marshall, believed that no "systematic explanation" was possible for the price of art and other rare goods. Adam Smith noted the disconnect between the cost of production and selling price of paintings and put it down to the whim and means of the buyer. David Ricardo saw art as an exception to the labor theory of value and also put price formation down to the "wealth and inclinations" of the buyer. W. Stanley Jevons found art to be an irrational exception to his theory that prices were driven by demand.
There's so much food for thought throughout this piece, none the least of which is the connections he draws between fine art today and religious relics of Medieval times, but I wanted today to discuss this part of Bown's piece:
Ask an art historian for his or her take on the question of the cost and mystique of artworks and he will almost certainly refer you back to the emergence in Renaissance Italy of a number of related phenomena: to the new humanism which took art out of the churches and into secular spaces; to the concept of individual genius, which began to be attached to artists (in particular by the art-historian Vasari, in his Lives of contemporary Italian artists, to Michelangelo); ...
In walking around Chelsea the other day, Bambino and I were discussing the prices of the work of certain artists under 35 years old and how branding has so horribly complicated the challenge of carving out a mental space for new collectors in which they can begin to train and then trust their own eye in a less anxiety-provoking arena. How do you send a message to new collectors that you truly believe it's ultimately about the art and not just marketing of the "concept of individual genius"?

I landed on an idea that I'm more intrigued by than Bambino was convinced would work: a group exhibition of strong (but not undeniably recognizable) work by good artists, but with absolutely no names attached. The Anonymous Show.

But, wait, you're thinking...there are anonymous art shows or benefits in which you don't know who the artist is when you make a purchase. Yes, I know. But most anonymous art shows that sell the work without revealing the artist's name do let the artists sign the back of them or later give the collector the relevant info. I'm talking no signatures anywhere on the work, no names on the checklist, no way for the collector to learn who made the work. The artist would of course receive payment for any sold work, but that's all. No press, a contract stipulating they can't add the show to their resume, nothing but the Art... The central question of the experiment being, of course: Is it about the art (for both the artist and the collector) or is it about name recognition, branding, prestige, etc. etc.?

Bambino's first impression based on his truly keen observations of how the art world works was that you'd never get a group of accomplished artists to agree to this. Some have no interest in experimenting to create work that isn't obviously theirs. Others will hate the idea of not receiving credit for their accomplishment. Moreover, he said, you'd never get any collectors to buy without knowing who created the work. I'm not so sure. In fact, I'm not sure it hasn't been done before exactly as I imagine it, but even if it has been it obviously hasn't been done too much.

Still, as many folks here have readily insisted, despite my asserting the opposite, if there's value in anonymous opinion and anonymously offered gossip (putting it out there for the "general good" of the art community with no repercussions--good or bad--coming back at you), wouldn't there also be value in anonymously presented artwork? True personal sacrifice for art's sake?

Consider this an open thread on "the concept of individual genius" and the cult of personality versus Art for Art's sake.

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Blogger Lady Xoc said...

"Some have no interest in experimenting to create work that isn't obviously theirs."

Funny you should say this. Bambino may be wrong.
I just wrote a brief post about this very issue. As it is I am not a brand-name artist, but I have been around the block (I guess this makes me a has-been). And I struggle daily with public expectation vs. my own inclinations.

5/27/2010 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

Your suggestion is so outrageous it can only be likened to nuclear disarmament... :)

5/27/2010 10:18:00 AM  
Blogger markcreegan said...

Interesting! Assuming the works would be for sale (otherwise how would the experiment work), would the prices be similar? The reason I ask is I wonder if collectors would use the variable price ranges as a deciding factors when all other aspects are kept secret?

Also, and I know this wouldnt have any bearing on collecting, but what if this experiment was basically a whitney biennial? The artists AND curators anonymous, only the institution of the museum and show is available to add legitimacy to the works. And the thought of several artists and curators taking part in this and not being able to get credit is mind-bogglingly perverse!

5/27/2010 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

would the prices be similar

Very good question!

I think they would have to be, yes. Of course that raises a whole debate about value.

5/27/2010 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Lady Xoc, Bambino noted only that "some" had no interest, not all.

5/27/2010 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger Ben Will said...

Very interesting indeed. There are so many questions that come to mind. ie. Would it force collectors to make more conservative choices? Instead of buying from an artist that has a proven record of conceptual innovation or engagement to someone that makes pretty things? Or if there is some push toward making known artists work outside of themselves in order to reinforce anonymity, why wouldn't the artists in this show be complete unknowns to begin with?

5/27/2010 11:11:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

This could be my big break! Wait, how many breaks can you have?

5/27/2010 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

why wouldn't the artists in this show be complete unknowns to begin with

Some could be, of course, but if you frame it that way it changes the challenge.

5/27/2010 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

There were a lot of propositions in that article but all of them are just trying to catch the horse after it's out of the corral. The impulse to collect is an innate human characteristic with a survival value which has a clear roots in mans prehistory.

I think what is vastly more important than justifying a high price is understanding how an artist, and their artworks, are anointed into a system which makes the high price possible. Look around, the art world has adopted the Hollywood (music or movies) star system. It's not such a big deal, just like coming up with a hit song.

Art which is anonymous fails. Identity matters and is not the same as "branding".

5/27/2010 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

George says:
"Look around, the art world has adopted the Hollywood (music or movies) star system. It's not such a big deal, just like coming up with a hit song.

Art which is anonymous fails. Identity matters and is not the same as "branding"."

Absolutely true.
And also part of the human survival method of accumulating wealth/fame.

5/27/2010 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Art which is anonymous fails.

Well, there goes that whole self-contained vessel notion. :-)

But why would identity make or break a work? You can contextualize a work without necessarily revealing its author.

5/27/2010 11:57:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

I'm not sure what George meant, but what I understand from "Art which is anonymous fails." is not that the art itself fails, but it fails to get recognition and validity.

5/27/2010 12:09:00 PM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

I love the show idea, and hope you - or someone - will do it. But I'm also trying to wrap my head around the dilemma of gallery branding. Would not the curator, or space, or gallery, need to be well-"branded" enough that artists would be willing to participate, and that collectors would show up? Some may see that as antithetical to the basic premise. Perhaps hiding the identities of the organizers might be worthwhile, too? Perhaps a non-person orientated space (like no longer empty or apex) - though their lack of commercial appeal also works against the premise of the exhibition.

I'll say I'm ambiguous on this part. I think I have just enough lack of cynicism to believe that due credit is different than branding (in this case especially, for a curator or gallerist or space and their ongoing reputation across many different artists), and so it might be OK anywhere. But it's worth bringing up and thinking about, at least.

Either way I believe that the idea, and its implications, are worthy of pursuit. I'd, personally, come with my credit card. Besides the potential for some wonderful art, and showing appreciation for the broader idea, any of the work could be a great conversation piece and ongoing puzzle in my small collection.

5/27/2010 12:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Ryan said...

Seasoned collectors want more than just an artwork. They want the history that comes with it. The maker is inseparable.

Simply having a show where the only fluctuations are price and quality will show 2 things:

1. Seasoned collectors will not buy a thing unless there is some hint of the artist's identity.
2. New collectors will not buy a thing unless there is some hint of the artist's identity and if the price reflects the lack of artist's identity.

It is not just about the art. Unless one can attach a history to a work than the work will not command the price a Chelsea gallery would need to charge to stay in business.

I can understand the interest in the experiment, but why is the artists identity always the first thing to go? A more worthwhile experiment would be to have a normal group show of known, accomplished artists and sell everything for a dollar. Would the regular collectors take the bait?

5/27/2010 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Totally confused Ryan. What would your idea seek to explore? What bait? A dollar for a work of art, meaning the artist makes 50 cents...what is that demonstrating?

And I already explained why in this instance the artist's identity would be hidden, but I don't know why you would extrapolate that to suggest "the artists identity [is] always the first thing to go." When else is that the case?

5/27/2010 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

Ryan brings up a good point. Is it possible to conceive of a show in which each piece has its own provenance that might be shared, even without the artists' identities revealed? I think so, but it'd be quite a task, and it may also prove difficult to then keep the artists forever concealed.

I think all this is part of the fun!

5/27/2010 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

@Iris - NO, the works fail completely and are forgotten.

@Ed. I've noticed that all the art in modern history (last 100 years) has some mark of identity, the little something that clicks and you recognize who the art work is by. Of course much of this is reinforced by exposure but I think what underlies it is the strength of the artists personality working its way to the surface. This doesn't mean that all the artists works will be identifiable (signature style etc) but when you find out you make the connection.

Further, one may respond to an artwork by an unknown artist, without knowing anything about them at all, and do it again for similar reasons, thus discovering the identity and attaching it to the artist.

When artworks fail at this, we recognize it, typically by making strong associations with someone other artist, but also lumping the art works into some generic category like "monochrome paintings" or "fourth generation beadwork" etc.

So I don't think the artworks in the show have to be presented anonymously to make the point you are suggesting. Any well curated group show in a single medium would point out the strengths and weakness of the participants. I think the real problem occurs when the viewers cannot discern why one artwork is better than another, why Monet is better than Olitski or Rich

5/27/2010 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Here's another one. What's with the Hirst polka dot paintings, or the butterfly paintings? They are kitsch beyond comprehension and one of each would have been sufficient to make a conceptual statement. So we must assume they pander to the market sector which buys Gucci bags, the ones with the GG brand patterned on them. Yet collectors have probably collectively paid well over a 100 million for them, how stupid is that?

5/27/2010 12:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Ryan said...

What would your idea seek to explore?

Exactly what you were looking to explore:

How do you send a message to new collectors that you truly believe it's ultimately about the art and not just marketing of the "concept of individual genius"?

The $1 dollar price tag is really just an exaggeration, but price is the major factor, in my opinion, that most relates to how the "concept of individual genius" is perceived.

Maybe a better pricing method would be the cost of materials and labor. Each artist charging the same for labor.

And I already explained why in this instance the artist's identity would be hidden, but I don't know why you would extrapolate that to suggest "the artists identity [is] always the first thing to go." When else is that the case?

Mostly fundraisers for art institutions. I'm sure a lot of artists who read your blog can attest to being invited to shows that hide the identity of the maker until the work is purchased. It's been a gimmick I've seen used a lot.

5/27/2010 01:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Patrick said...

Nathaniel has a point. The artists may be anonymous, yet the gallery would not be, and therefore some validation other than the collectors' habitual or learned taste remains. Who chose the artists for the exhibit? How do you neutralize that aspect in order for the art to be judged on its own merits? You're really talking about the institution of art collecting and therefore have to consider all of the players.

5/27/2010 01:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

ask an archaeologist about context and they might respond that it is all. Find a relic in a locale at a certain strata sitting next to two pieces of known items from a given era and ... its totally different from finding the same item in the street gutter in front of a trinket factory in a metropolitan center.

The difference? The items are identical and made with the same original intent. The difference is that in one circumstance you can cross reference your summations and insights and impressions. You can make reasonable judgments on your conclusions and insights based upon inferences and cross checking within the given context. Whether your rational was based on emotion or reason, the "context" gives you the ability to better cross reference your judgment.

Change the context and you don't change the meaning, you change the viewers ability to cross reference and make reasonable judgments.

Unsigned art - with peoples bias towards authority, that might allow a more desired ability to cross reference other and different aspects within an art exhibit.

5/27/2010 01:15:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The $1 dollar price tag is really just an exaggeration, but price is the major factor, in my opinion, that most relates to how the "concept of individual genius" is perceived.

I disagree. I think "brand" is the major factor.

5/27/2010 01:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

Link to an intriguing take on brand as a motivator for innovation (as per fashion and their inability for copyright ownership)

gives pause for thought...

5/27/2010 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Ed's right "brand" is the major factor. It's not quite how I would explain it but the artists work is identifiable, good (innovative etc), and sufficiently promoted to be identifiable, or synonymous with the artist, is what establishes price.

At the same time, what makes the artwork visible is someone else recognizing that it has merit and exhibits it. Secondly, it takes a collector who is willing to spend the money initially, getting the artist and artwork into the recursive loop of the artworld.

I've noticed that many artists want to "explain away" the success of other artists based upon this or that reason. Most of the time these ideas are totally erroneous and the artist has succeeded based upon the strength of their artwork, current tastes and a certain degree of business acumen.

5/27/2010 02:15:00 PM  
Blogger ellen yustas k. gottlieb said...

Go for it Edward, your shows are so unique that they are turning into artworks to collect.

5/27/2010 02:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why wouldn't you make it an auction and let buyers determine the price of the works?

It does seem like an interesting concept, though at the same time, if you never found out the identity of the artists, how would you ever be able to determine if it was about the art or not? It seems like you would need a control for your experiment.

5/27/2010 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Would be curious which artists reading would participate in such a show. Care to share? Perhaps easily with a ranking system?

1 = highly interested
2 = would depend on other factors (mostly the other artists)
3 = wouldn't participate
4 = wouldn't even go see such a show

5/27/2010 03:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed, how about also providing grab bags by named artists whose contents are sealed until after purchase? Bypass your eyes and let the artist and the gallerist select something fabulous. All sales final.


5/27/2010 03:27:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Well, that would kind of defeat my ultimate goal of encouraging collectors to train and trust their eyes and not rely on their ears.

5/27/2010 03:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed, I just thought it might help drive the point home. I love that your idea encourages self reliance, self knowledge and direct communication between the art and the viewer. I love the initial purity of it. Money can get in the way of trusting the training of one's eyes though, it can make the collector more vigilant but can also distort perception.


5/27/2010 04:00:00 PM  
Blogger Pam Farrell said...

1: highly interested

I wouldn't hesitate to participate. I am all for live experiments and explorations of human behavior and think it would be fascinating to see what happens.

5/27/2010 04:09:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

Ed, you are referring this question to established artists, right?

5/27/2010 05:07:00 PM  
Anonymous John Legweak said...

Other than a few big names I tend not to know who contemporary artists are until I see work that interests me and I do some research into who made it and what else they’ve done. Does my ignorance help me appreciate the work I see or hinder it? All I know is that I feel like my insight into work is almost always increased by talking to the people who made it or, failing that, reading what they say in interviews and other writeups. I’m not a collector so I’m not making buying decisions, I’m just exploring my interests.

WRT to the anonymous show, will there be artist statements or other wall texts, or will the pieces be completely stripped of identification, like John/Jane Does in the city morgue?

5/27/2010 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Evertson said...

This is really about collectors, not artists; which I find fascinating. The decision to purchase at a show like this would certainly take a leap of faith for an art buyer. Trusting your eye - what a concept.(An example of a conceptual work by a gallery owner?)

ps- #1 very interested (because I'm still anonymous so what's to lose)

5/27/2010 05:29:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

@ Iris: What just established artists? It's more interesting when everyone's in the mix

@ Ed: Interesting idea. Put me down as #2.

But I'd like to propose a twist. Why should only the artists and dealers take the risk? Up the ante for collectors, too. So . . .

Anonymous work, all the same price, say $2500 or $5000 or $10,000 whatever. Sale price is contractually non refundable. After the sale the artists's documented selling price is revealed. If the collector has chosen work by an up-and-comer whose price is actually lower, she receives the difference between what she paid and the artist's current price for that work. However, if she has selected work by a more established artist, hoping to snag a bargain (and you know who you are, dear collectors) then the collector antes up the difference between what she paid and the artist's most current established retail price.

Oh, and no "courtesy" discounts for this show.

5/27/2010 06:08:00 PM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

Like Iris, not sure if I qualify as established enough, but I'd say 1: highly interested.

5/27/2010 06:31:00 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

I think George's comment about the Gucci bags is right on the money, but only for a certain type of collector... there are just as many who simply buy what they love.

I think your exhibition is a brilliant idea, for many reasons. I've always wondered why these kinds of experiments were not conducted, because there are so many artists who cry discrimination, only to be answered by those who claim they are simply (and indiscriminately) choosing works of "quality". With the current system, there is no real way of knowing how much of it is actually about the work.

Perhaps the artists in question could be asked to do several pieces each, going in some direction that they have been wanting to explore. I'm sure that some established artists occasionally feel locked into their "brand".... this could be a testing ground for them without fear of public failure.

5/27/2010 07:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...


But my profile name is my name, so I'm not anonymous and If I created a work that was not recognizably as mine I might not consider it my strongest work. Besides- who gets in the show? (were it to happen) Would it be juried, a select call, or fully open?

Hudson at Feature did an event close to what Ryan brings up. The Power to the People show on MayDay. Everyone who knew of the show could submit a piece and all of it was given away for FREE (one piece per person). The most amazing thing was that instead of chatting and ignoring the art as usual at a reception the people were actually looking at the work for a good find. No wall labels, but pieces were signed and/or had a name stuck on the back of the piece. Not quite like Edward suggests but it was an interesting concept and the goodwill that emanated from the show was very inspiring. An artist had to be willing to give up a piece though, but it provided a good way to network and it also brought favorable attention to the gallery.

The way Edward frames it- it seems the gallery benefits the most for hosting the show and bringing real art to the people (rather than brand names) The artists' sacrifice getting attention for their endeavors.

Hudson's concept allowed for artist acknowledgment, though after the fact.

5/27/2010 08:03:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Leonard Watts (kaneko 金子) said...

As an artist I would definitely be interested but that may just be because I class myself as emerging and don't feel I have as much to lose. I would actually enjoy the chance to exhibit anonymously something which I wouldn't normally show in the fear that it would confuse the 'identity' I was trying to establish.

For people advocating named artists selling at a low price they should check out the Photography Sell Out, organised by Craig Hilton, 15 photographers selling limited editions of 15 for NZ$15 which occurred last year in New Zealand. The implications of it are still being discussed here and I know some people are carefully watching the auction houses to see what happens when one of those works comes up for resale.

5/27/2010 08:11:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

It's silly time in the art world with Brown's article, Kuspit's piece and the Observer leading the way. Seems like another 100 Million dollar sale has addled peoples minds as they try to rationalize why.

Art is about the "individual genius", and it is about the personality cult. We love stars, look how much time we spend watching them. Why should the art world be any different, artists are stars, the modern equivalent of the hero, standing alone against the world to do their thing.

Count me out.

5/27/2010 08:24:00 PM  
Blogger ryan said...

Sounds like a CRL show in the works! And definitely a worthy experiment.

Of course names (and the aura of genius that surround them) influence collectors' decisions. Probably too much so, and one could make an argument that the salability of work by big name artists discourages creative risk-taking, which in turn leads to bad art-making. But a name only goes so far, and I think most 'seasoned collectors' out there buy with their eyes leading and their ears nearby for support.

5/27/2010 09:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I've used anonimity for artmaking quite a few times. I would participate in an open-ended (no cv, no personal bio) exhibition, but because I need space, it is unlikely to happen unless I organize something on my own.

You can make art while keeping a certain distance with identity. People can identify anonymous art if you are persistent. It's just an extra challenge.

There are projects also that are so politically sensible that anonimity becomes almost the only viable strategy.

Cedric C

5/27/2010 10:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I'll make anonymous art and put George's name on it.


5/27/2010 10:20:00 PM  
Anonymous John Legweak said...

Everything that I've heard from and read about collectors is that no matter how much they trust their "eye" they want to see some degree of vetting and validation of the work - what Pierre Bourdieu called consecration - before they buy.

I can see how simply getting into the show would count for something, but would it be enough for the not totally fearless and foolhardy checkbook wielders?

Would Edward's core concept be completely subverted if the show were done as more a masked ball, and the artists revealed after the sales (for what sold), be they new or established? Or is this just the charity event without the charity?

5/27/2010 11:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course branding is hugely important in contemporary art. How many Artforum ads have we all seen with just the artist(s) name and no image? why do you think they do that?

5/27/2010 11:51:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

I didn't get a chance to read all the comments yet, but before I do I want explain my previous question - I asked if Ed referred his question to established artists because I can't think of any reason why an unknown artist wouldn't jump at such an opportunity to show their work. I agree with Bambino saying it would be more difficult to bring established artists to participate. However, if you do ask everybody then hell yeah, number 1 for me!

5/28/2010 12:24:00 AM  
OpenID thepurposeofart said...

I can appreciate and experience art just fine apart from my knowledge of the artist, but there is definitely something to the mystique of a work as it relates to the artist's identity.

A Pollock isn't nearly as powerful without the story behind it; And I don't want to see anyone's shit, but Manzoni's gesture cannot be denied. Basically, I think that much of the perceptual power of art comes directly from its relationship to the creator and the circumstances of their life and time. You can ascribe this to the tortured genius phenomena, but more than anything I think it is a fascination with the genesis of art as it comes into being from the individual creative impulse.

The notion of art operating as a relic is very compelling to me, I've always found Monet's Palette more fascinating than his paintings and Bacon and Brancusi's studios overshadow any of their individual works. Ultimately, I don't care what art sells for as long as it can be experienced; the true value of art is not expressed in monetary terms. In the end, I don't think artists are after money, as much as they are after influence and autonomy; but then again, I can only claim to know my own intentions.

5/28/2010 01:21:00 AM  
Anonymous matt said...

L'art pour l'art ... empty meaning or not?

5/28/2010 03:58:00 AM  
Blogger gnute said...

Registering as 1 = highly interested

But why would identity make or break a work? You can contextualize a work without necessarily revealing its author.

It's nice that you believe this, Ed, but I do wonder if it's true. What's the difference between institutionalized art and Outsider art, for instance - is it that institutionalized art is art that has a conversation with all the other art that's been, whereas Outsider art sorta doesn't?

If we came to an artwork 'blind', we'd have our own points of reference and create varied contexts for it just depending on what art conversations we're currently participating in. We wouldn't then be reading the work within the context of the artist's practice. To me, that's like watching just one Ang Lee or Werner Herzog movie, when their entire body of work is so diverse and rich.

5/28/2010 07:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

But why would identity make or break a work?

Because few people have enough independence of judgment. The growth in the size of the art market over the last thirty years depended on finding ways of involving people who don't possess high visual discernment. This has pushed a lot art into the verbal realm, which more people have access to than the visual. The vitality of such work lies in discussion, analysis, commentary, the narrative of the artist's life or intentions, social buzz about the artist - things that lend themselves to writing and talking. Thus we have an art world full of people who walk around on crutches as if it were the usual way to walk.

You're correct that this show you have in mind will force people to use their eye to a degree that is not typically called for, and I think you should do it for that reason alone. There are people who look at art like this anyway, even when there are labels. Maybe someone will discover that they are one of them, to their great benefit. Everyone else will wander around sulking.

5/28/2010 08:23:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

@George 12:42, 12:51
Great art can be unseen by anyone, a great book not published and not read by a soul except for the author, and is still great and in that sense successful, by it being a good piece of art. But I think I understand what you mean, art that is not seen/heard fails it's purpose, because it does not have any impact on the world. However, there is a lot of 'successful' art such as the kitsch you've mentioned, made by well known artists, would you consider it successful or failing?

5/28/2010 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Iris : I asked if Ed referred his question to established artists

I should clarify that I think it could be a mix of established and emerging artists, but that it should be clear that some of the artists are indeed very well established (but who they are should not be pointed out in any way by the gallery).

What's the difference between institutionalized art and Outsider art, for instance

Good question. And a can of worms that I think I'll back away from for the can opener rattling in my twitching hand....

5/28/2010 08:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

Ed your offer is interesting. Rank my interest at a #2. |My concern is Im interested in connecting artwork to collector more then simply being in an exhibit. And although I have a few pieces that likely fit your clientele's current tastes or interests, the works in question are already signed (although its unlikely anyone would recognize the signature)...maybe this isn't the right opportunity for them. Anyway #2 possibility.

Ed, I like that donors can be anonymous (same with voting), and yet I like that donations to political parties need to be explicit and not under the table ... Is not slander a category that makes anonymity fall into one case versus another? Your concern with anonymity and its negative effects, might it not be a category/situation specific call?

5/28/2010 08:47:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

@ Franklin 8:23
Franklin says: "The growth in the size of the art market over the last thirty years depended on finding ways of involving people who don't possess high visual discernment. This has pushed a lot art into the verbal realm, which more people have access to than the visual. The vitality of such work lies in discussion, analysis, commentary, the narrative of the artist's life or intentions, social buzz about the artist - things that lend themselves to writing and talking."

Yes. And if you haven't yet, here's a bit of art-critique history that will help you connect the dots. Its part of a lecture by the critic Peter Schjeldahl where he tells about how 20th century art was dictated by no other than poets!!

It's a long lecture, see specifically minute 36:36

School of Visual Arts Contemporary Perspectives Lecture Series: Arts Critic Peter Schjeldahl

5/28/2010 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

This is the kind of idea that makes for an interesting thought exercise but would be destructive to any blue-chip artist who gets involved. Here's why: Artists work for years trying to come up with something unique that will distinguish their work from the "masses". It's accepted that these "masters" have something special, a touch, an idea, an attitude, a state of grace. As one who's looked at a lot of art, in many cases, I can tell who it's by without looking at the name tag. Why would a collector want a work that doesn't embody the uniqueness of the artist who made it? If a collector thought they could get a Schnabel instead of a Jane Doe for the same price, why would they buy the Doe? Why would an established artist want to be in a show that would repress anything that distinguishes their artistic uniqueness? An artist's perceived value is not only derived from the actual artifact, but the myth they've created as well.

Perhaps a show with a theme like "Everyone paint a black square 12 x 12 inches" might work for exploring these areas.

You could put me down as a 3 (I'd be interested in seeing what big-time artists would be willing to trash their careers to prove the point that their work is undistinguishable.)

5/28/2010 09:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This idea has been done for years as a fundraiser at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. Called "Incognito," it is a group show of many artists, all the work is 8"x10" and signed only on the back. Priced at 300 dollars each, one might go home with a Raymond Pettibon, Ed Ruscha or a complete unknown.

It's a very popular and fun event.

5/28/2010 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

This idea has been done for years as a fundraiser

I've noted that a version of this idea has been done for years, but went to great lengths I thought to clarify the signature anywhere, no way of finding out...etc.

5/28/2010 09:29:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Hey Ed, I'm confused, what's the purpose of this exercise?

You say " how branding has so horribly complicated the challenge of carving out a mental space for new collectors in which they can begin to train and then trust their own eye in a less anxiety-provoking arena.

Could you elaborate on how "branding" has complicated things?
a. from your point of view as a dealer, and
b. from the point of view of the collector.

5/28/2010 09:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Greg said...

I'm #1.

5/28/2010 09:44:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Could you elaborate on how "branding" has complicated things?

That was my typically long-winded way of saying that so much emphasis is placed on "brands" in collecting contemporary art (i.e., pressure to have work by the hot artists everyone knows and is talking about) that we in the gallery spend most of our time talking about anything put the work of art in front of the potential collector. They want to see their bio and their press, they want to know who else has collected them and which museum shows they've been in, they want confirmation that they're not alone in liking the work.

Attempts to bring them back to just the work in front of them often fall flat. If there were nothing but the work to look at or later research, it would be a different experience for many of them. Hopefully an experience they would like and take away with them.

5/28/2010 10:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Ed's good idea for an anonymous art show has stolen the show for comments in this post. No one has said a word about the Matthew Brown essay, even though Ed raved about it. I'm sure this comment will seem out of place amongst the others, but here goes:

I did enjoy learning more about medieval relics and the comparison to the contemporary art market,even if the comparison was a little overdone in some ways. Personally I feel like Brown puts too much emphasis on the labor theory of value as it relates to the art market while in alternate breaths doing an excellent job explaining how value in art is created in a rather complex manner that can't be reduced to many economist's theories. Labor theory of value clearly doesn't work for the art market, (or a lot of other markets for that matter), so I don't understand why he keeps coming back to it in the essay? Gabriel Tarde made some interesting criticisms of the labor theory of value that would work well with this essay. Basically Tarde said that while labor was important for production, the only thing absolutely necessary was the 'model', meaning the knowledge of how to make the thing, or the means to invent the thing to be made. Therefore ideas were primary capital, labor was secondary.

To me, the following quote from Tarde, if investigated further, could offer a lot of insight into many of the ideas that Brown brings up in his essay:
“The abstract quantity is divided into three main categories which are the original and essential notions of shared living: truth as a value, utility as a value, and beauty as a value.
The quantitative nature of all the terms I just listed is just as real as it is scarcely apparent; it is involved in all human judgments. No man, no people has ever failed to seek, as a prize for relentless efforts, a certain growth either of wealth, or glory, or truth, or power, or artistic perfection; nor has he failed to fight against the danger of a decrease of all these assets. We all speak and write as though there existed a scale of these different orders of magnitude, on which we can place different peoples and different individuals higher or lower and make them rise or fall continuously. Everyone is thus implicitly and intimately convinced that all these things, and not only the first, are, in fact, real quantities. Not to recognize this truly quantitative- if not measurable de jure and de facto- aspect of power, of glory, of truth, of beauty, is thus to go against the constant of mankind and to set as the goal of universal effort a chimera.
…And yet, of all these quantities, only one, wealth, was grasped clearly as such and was considered worthy of being made the subject of a special science: Political Economy. But even though this object, indeed, given its monetary sign, lends itself to a more mathematical- sometimes even illusory- precision in its speculation, the other terms also each deserve to be studied through a separate science.”

And lastly, if an opinion is posted anonymously, is there really no repercussions coming back to the poster, good or bad? I would argue that's not true, but still I will sign,


5/28/2010 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

If there were nothing but the work to look at or later research, it would be a different experience for many of them. Hopefully an experience they would like and take away with them.

You nailed it right there. If that's what it's about, then I think my questions about the gallery, etc, are moot. Of course, I'm sure at least some of the questions you point out above (who else is interested, etc) will find their way of playing out regardless of how well you set the whole exhibition up, but I can imagine some great success for at least a few collectors/individuals, and some tough questions being asked (and not just hypothetically).

5/28/2010 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

Apparently this is post-post Dada era (or is it post-post-post dada?)

While dada stripped art leaving only the artist, we are now stripping the artist, leaving only the art. In a way, it serves the same purpose, of making us face the abyss, feel the danger, feel alive again, which is what art always tries to do anyway.

5/28/2010 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Ed replied, ...of saying that so much emphasis is placed on "brands" in collecting contemporary art (i.e., pressure to have work by the hot artists everyone knows and is talking about)...

Ok, I see "branding" as the modern word for the artist's "style", which given the proliferation of art forms and media may not necessarily be a visual style but a conceptual style or approach.

"Hot" is about what is in fashion at the moment and has about a two to three year life cycle. What's hot and what's not, may represent something intrinsic about the nature of the culture at the moment, or just what was most successfully promoted.

So I guess I would ask, as a gallerist do you see "branding" differently, say more connected with what's fashionable?

ps. my last two captchas:
patio brunch

5/28/2010 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Not "style" so much as simply their name and credentials. Style you can judge just by looking at a's all the other information collectors want that have nothing to do with that that leads them to trust "brands" they've heard of.

5/28/2010 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Ed: Wiki for "brand"

What you are referring to is "validation" which I would agree has a relationship with pricing and implied quality.

5/28/2010 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


from your definition : "A brand can take many forms, including a name,"

I am referring to a "brand."

5/28/2010 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

ok. I just wanted to be on the same page as you.
Then I would say to the collectors, if you are buying an artwork for less than say $5,000, it's a gamble. You should trust your eye (brain or dealer) over everything else because regardless of the credentials, the collector/dealer with an eye has the edge. (Think, Castelli, or Paula Cooper, the Sculls etc)

5/28/2010 12:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Matthew said...

I'm jumping in for number 1.

5/28/2010 12:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In regards to "the new". In this case, the show is "the new" and the artist's works are not. Although the idea for this show - how better the art world. It is mostly taking the value of spot light off any particular name and simply placing it on the curator, gallerist and show.
People would still look at the art and some of them might sell but the spot light and press would be on the show its self. Especially with no identifying title. Artists that have untitled works would have nothing for people to talk about because art must be seen. "Did you see the untitled piece at the -you must be 35 to exhibit show??" ... "oh yea i heard about that show"..
I think that in relation to branding, the gallery is the brand is creating separate smaller brands (artists) and coming up with shows like this as taglines (advertising terms).
On the topic of brands and taglines, there are too many and advertisers had to change because there were too many brands.
Over the last decade, consumers (especially young consumers) have become less and less likely to connect brands with taglines. Why? Simply because there are too many of them. Too many brands, too much information, and to be honest—it's just screams "advertising". Effective brands realize what it's all about—being vs. claiming to be. We've switched to a time where people come to define your brand's "claim". What they say about you and how they feel when they've purchased from you - all come together to define what you're selling. Your brand's tagline today isn't written—it's lived. Your service, the experience/dialog, and the personality of your gallery team all come together to write your tagline. You can only learn more about how you're received from asking your collectors and doing research like for any business. This starts with some in-depth research that open's a dialog with your potential collectors today.

5/28/2010 12:20:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I would hope that the spotlight would be on the goal of the show, and not the show (which is different from the space it's held in). Not dismissing your's valid, but I disagree that in today's market galleries are necessarily bigger brands than their all the galleries who show Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons work.

5/28/2010 12:26:00 PM  
Anonymous John Legweak said...

This is a really interesting discussion. Two quick points, if you all will tolerate them.

First, I thought Olav Velthuis did a pretty convincing job in his 2007 book, Talking Prices: Symbolic Meanings of Prices on the Market for Contemporary Art, of showing that the (monetary) value of art cannot be reduced to any simple economic model, that it’s at least partly cultural. Do people in the art world buy his analysis or do they think he missed the boat somehow?

Second, I thought some art philosopher, maybe Arthur Danto, presented the predictable conundrum of the zombie artist who makes art just like a real artist but they don’t have any ideas or feelings or any awareness of what they’re doing, they just crank it out like an automaton. The question being, does the work they produce have value as art? It seems to me that the anonymous show implies that the value is in the work itself, independent of its origin. Isn’t this the equivalent of saying that the hypothetical zombie artist’s work would have value (as long as it was “good”)?

5/28/2010 12:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Bill said...

If the goal of the show is as Ed said earlier":
"...If there were nothing but the work to look at or later research, it would be a different experience for many of them. Hopefully an experience they would like and take away with them."

I like the idea/premise: Count me in as 1 = highly interested.

What will the parameters for inclusion be?

5/28/2010 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

Adding to my previous thought: dada stripped art leaving the artist, but it was never intended to be about the artist as 'celebrity', a term which is contradictory to the intention of dada.

To reply to John's question, I think the intention would be to show the value of the work of art as independent of the 'celebrity status' of the artists, not their humanity, although having work made by a zombie among others would be an interesting addition :).

5/28/2010 04:40:00 PM  
Anonymous John Legweak said...

Finally actually read the Bown article, see he discusses Velthuis's analysis at some length. Apologies for doing things backwards.

I also went through his account of relics. Think he's missed a big part of the story, but I'll save that for when Edward gets to it in his blog.

5/28/2010 04:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you're able to convince established artists to include their work in this exhibit, they'll probably hope that they'll be recognized (by style, handling, themes, etc.). And that would be a lovely thing, right? Validation. But I don't see how this show would benefit an emerging artist, one whose work is not known, especially if he or she is required to sign a contract that specifies that he or she must remain anonymous. What would be in it for the artists? To just be grateful to be in an exhibit, one that they can't tell anybody about?

It's likely that you would receive a lot of third-rate work...or worse, work about the exhibit itself.

Also, I wonder if the artists involved would be able to stay anonymous, especially if their works are purchased for high prices by prominent collectors. If the art undersells or doesn't sell at all, well, mum's the word of course.

5/28/2010 05:26:00 PM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

Anon 05:26:00 PM: I don't see how this show would benefit an emerging artist, one whose work is not known, especially if he or she is required to sign a contract that specifies that he or she must remain anonymous.

1. This assumes that any given artist's only reason to participate in a given exhibition is purely careerist. What if they simply believe in the project and want to be a part of it, personally / professionally, despite that others mightn't know about it?

2. You forget the potential of monetary gain: their work might sell.

5/28/2010 06:04:00 PM  
Anonymous George Lechat said...

I am the epitome of anonymity, and I like it. What's a name, after all?

5/28/2010 06:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Edward, the exact examples you give are right on. You mention Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, both of which are at Gagosian I believe. Gagosian seems to understand not letting their own brand out shine that of these artists. Always having the name of the artist out front which might be why they are so well known.
That particular gallery name has a very high risk of shadowing their artists but they seem to keep the artist out front. Though I don't know much about Mr. Gagosian, I'd guess he has played it very close to his chest so as not to eat up any press that could be put towards a particular artist's market (brand) whatever. For smaller businesses they have different set of problems because setting up the gallery as a model that is known for it's prestige and being a confident forum for art presentation and merchant, is important and can be a challenge when you want the individual artist to get the attention.

5/28/2010 07:21:00 PM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

I keep thinking about this post! What appeals to me most about the show is that it's a perfect response to your last curatorial experiment, #class. There, Jen and Bill (not that we are on a first name basis) asked artists to rethink art, practice, career. Here, you are asking that collectors do so, but also issuing a follow-up challenge to artists. You want a meritocracy? It's not about fame? Well, here you go then - show me what you've got. And this goes way beyond what you started with the "shut up already" exercise.

I agree that it may be harder to understand certain work outside of the specific artist's context, but it's a compromise I think many would be willing to make, given what is at stake here. This show is about looking, but regarding much more than, if you'll forgive the pun, meets the eye. It doesn't just have the capacity to train collectors how to look and think and engage, but to have artists remember to do said same with each individual object outside of the "branded" over-arching statement/trajectory/career that defines them and their objects at large.

I'm reeling. What if I approached my studio practice as if every piece were intended for a show like this? While much of my art is conceptual enough that I wouldn't want to actually and only exhibit this way in perpetuity, the pretense would certainly push me to my limits in ways I will be unable to comprehend until I try it. And I intend to.

Awesome. Really.

5/29/2010 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Kate said...


As others have said, a fantastic follow up to #class.

It would not diminish established artist's careers if everyone truly remained anonymous.

Don't most artists make things that fall outside of their "brand" from time to time? I have lots of artist friends who make secret work, or work they don't quite know what to do with, because it doesn't fit into the system.

If they don't, they are not growing as artists.

5/29/2010 12:10:00 PM  
Anonymous John Legweak said...

Iris: Yes, thanks, I see your point. The work is still being done by real, human, trained artists, presumably as sincere expressions of what they are trying to do with their art. Very different from philosophers' zombies.

I'm still concerned about the consecration issue though. if the gallerist sets the prices, as Edward indicates would be the case, then the gallerist is certifying the value of the work at least to that price.

Why not shift the responsibility for assessing value completely over to the collectors by running the show as an auction with nominal minimums and transparent bidding (say, real-time list of bidding history with bidders identified by numbers, which could be different across pieces)? I.e. give them a way to say, "I really want this." Too circus?

5/29/2010 03:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Wiklemann, I think it's a damn fine and original idea, but alas, due ones exposure via the Internet, some other Galerist has probably now stole it and will now claim it as their own.

5/29/2010 04:25:00 PM  
Anonymous John Legweak said...

I’m still having trouble with this – armchair trouble I admit, but still trouble.

I have definitely heard collectors say that the work must stand on its own, but they always say it in a context that implies it’s a necessary condition, not a sufficient one for appreciating and maybe buying a piece.

One of the things that they seem to always want to know, at least in the case of contemporary, is, is the work representative of what the artist is about, or is it a fluke? This may be because they’re wondering if there is - or, more interestingly, will be in the future - more, comparable work to consider and maybe buy, but it may also be because they are wary of the “accidental masterpiece” (something that photography is particularly prone to due to the relative ease of production) or maybe, more subjectively, of seeing something in a work that is not really there.

I think this issue is related to style. For me, a style is “the distinctive way an artist does what he does” and really needs to be seen across multiple works to be confirmed. You can guess what an artist’s style is from looking at a single work, but you have to see more to know for sure. Style is a big part of branding, but it is not the same as branding. You can take all the branding stuff away and you will still have style. (For example, there are people who do photography purely as a hobby - i.e. with no serious thought of selling - who have very definite styles.)

Both of these things relate to how much a work of art really can stand on its own and how much information the collector needs to evaluate the work.

5/30/2010 12:30:00 PM  
Anonymous enda said...

Whatever about anonymous exhibitions.....

Thanks Ed for the link to Matthew Bown's essay, just finished reading it and I found it to be a great comprehensive take on the whole discussion of the value and price of art. The comparison to relics is really quite insightful and one of the best explanation I've ever come across to describe the way the game works. And this comparison could possible be taken further, looking at contemporary artists re-working the creations of artist from the past, such as the Chapmann Brothers and Goya for example.

5/30/2010 05:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

I believe the difference between illusions, daydreams, nightmares, delirium, drug induced states ... and art, is that arts suspension of reality is entered into knowingly and temporarily. The "artinado" remains in control of the suspension of reality, allowing them to return at will to their ground of this world.

When art no longer declares itself to be art, when it wants to become your reality (versus a temporary and voluntary shifting of reality) it has moved from allowing the artinado the means of trying out differing social paradigms of life without risk, to tricking and deceiving them into a being "reprogrammed" as a automaton via propaganda . (trompe de l'oeil is at the limit of this boundary, that a step to the side destroys its illusion gives the viewer back their control of the situation )

When Duchamp placed R Mutts urinal in the gallery, he explored how art may declare itself, not by form nor by an artists signature nor by subject matter, simply by its lieu. The same item with the same name in the washroom, does not declare itself to be art, and so cannot be experienced as art. It remains a piss pot.

When a blog purports to be art without first declaring itself to be such, it cannot be experienced as art, and so cannot offer us the fruits of art. Regardless if it is founded on a praxis of art, it will remain a propagandistic manipulation of perception.

Art is founded on trust, as the suspension of reality that all aficiandos undertake is inherently a risk. In a time of augmented reality, where we are blurring the lines between reality and data and deception, art needs to strengthen its trustworthiness, and strive to openly acknowledge that it is a temporary alternate reality that if one wishes, one may enter into. Obligation is not part of art.

For the only outcome of deceptively induced dream worlds, of art camouflaged as being this reality, can only be a propaganda program moving towards its viewers becoming totalitarianism automates.

In order to give us the art experience, Art can never be anonymous. There are many ways for it to declare itself, allowing the artist to remain behind a mask of anonymity if they desire.

A distinction between an artists anonymity and anonymous art needs to be recognized.

5/31/2010 06:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

++The same item with the same name ++in the washroom, does not ++declare itself to be art, and so ++cannot be experienced as art. It ++remains a piss pot.

Who says so? My interpretation of Duchamp is that I can visualize an urinal as an art object if I want so.

Cedric C

6/01/2010 03:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

more power to you cedric if every time you piss in public you have an art experience.

To visualize something as an art object, you need to experience it as art. If you go into a gallery and piss on the floor and afterwards say why is everybody so annoyed, This is art- Is quite a different experience then if prior to pissing you qualify and declare by some means that this is an art "event". Then it can be experienced and judged as art (good or bad). Trying to claim it to be so afterwards won't make it so.

R mutts urinal is art as it declared itself to be os by being in a declared exhibit in a gallery. The same model urinal in the galleries washroom has not openly declared itself to be art and so and won't be experiecned as such.

6/01/2010 08:28:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Franklin said " This has pushed a lot art into the verbal realm, which more people have access to than the visual." Um, I don't think so if this is any example of the verbal realm...

"Who says so? My interpretation of Duchamp is that I can visualize an urinal as an art object if I want so."

6/01/2010 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

@Iris 8:38,
"Successful" and "great" (or even good) are not equivalent. I don't mean "successful" in the commercial sense, rather as "to succeed" or "to fail" in an artistic sense as defined by the culture. We can posit the existence of the "hidden genius" but in todays world it would be a rarity.

For an artist the difficulty is that their personal vision is based in their reality, their perception of the "real world" which others may share only in part. Therefore they make value judgments which may be true only to them. Hence, one might dismiss offhand "verbal art" (conceptual art or its equivalent) as insignificant, in spite of the total opposite perception by another viewer.

This means that aesthetic judgment is not as cut and dried as some would suggest but rather the result of some collective agreement by the culture at a point in time. One factor in the making of these aesthetic judgments is "identity" which is a property that allows one artists work to be visible in a mass of similar works.

For example, there are a number of artists who make impressionist paintings which we might agree are reasonably good. Yet they lack the ability to be differentiated from the past impressionist masters, or the ability to be inserted into the present aesthetic dialogue. This is a case where "good paintings," with good being viewed as using some past aesthetic tradition and craft, lack an identity which connects the art to the artist to the culture.

Moreover, think of it like popular music. In the moment it is fashion driven, with a lot of similar approaches. Artists or entertainers become successful because they are promoted well and they are promoted because they are successful (have identity) within the culture. It is all intertwined and linked together.

6/01/2010 11:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Duchamp was no conceptualist. He was a meta-aesthetician. I don't care if he didn't realize that himself. He was.

Cedric C

6/01/2010 11:39:00 AM  
Anonymous kim matthews said...

Speaking of Duchamp's Fountain, just ran across this:

6/02/2010 03:47:00 PM  
Anonymous John Legweak said...

A recent column “Untitled” by Jordan Carter, in the Spring 2010 issue of The College Hill Independent (a magazine put together by Brown and RISD students) says some things about the 2010 Brucennial which made me think of Ed’s Anonymous project. Here are a couple excerpts:

When I asked whether the Bruces produced any of the pieces, she responded: “I cannot disclose that information, as the BHQF has collectively decided to remain absolutely anonymous in order to elude the ‘art star’ phenomenon and direct attention toward the art itself.” 
“But doesn’t this extreme level of anonymity only serve to promote a ‘collective star status’ due to the heightened intrigue of the public and press?” I replied. 
She responded vaguely: “This is a dichotomy that artists must navigate.”

Authorship does not detract from an art object’s social relevance or impede its ability to induce participation. Fleshed out wall labels provide patrons with a practical context they can choose to read or dismiss. Unnecessary secrecy, however, shrouds not only the artist, but the work, placing myth and legend above the legitimacy of the product.

The whole article may be found on the web at:

6/07/2010 12:13:00 AM  

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