Thursday, November 10, 2011

...but there’s a prize for every one we show

Last week, a cleaner at a gallery in Dortmund scrubbed a stain from a trough, thus ruining – or perhaps enhancing – Marcus Ostwald Martin Kippenberger’s installation When It Starts Dripping From The Ceiling. Much hilarity ensued at the revelation that Ostwald Kippenberger’s piece had been valued at 800,000 euros. It is not real art, we were informed by a phalanx of Sewell manqués. A child of five could do it, harrumphed the people who Know What They Like.

This week, Roy Lichtenstein’s 1961 painting I Can See The Whole Room!... And There’s Nobody In It sold for US$43 million, a record for a work by the artist. In this case, no voices were raised complaining that it’s not real art, although it does have something very significant in common with the Ostwald Kippenberger work; the fact that it relies on a joke. It’s a perfectly good joke (did you hear the one about the people who go to an art gallery to look at some pretty pictures and are forced to think a little bit harder about what they’re doing there?) but it’s not particularly new, and Duchamp and Magritte and Manzoni told it earlier and better.

To be honest, the existence of When It Starts Dripping... would almost certainly have passed me by had the unnamed cleaner not been so zealous in her work, which did make me more than a little suspicious of the whole story; in fact, I’ve long wondered whether such brouhahas as the attacks on Marcus Harvey’s Myra or even the Momart fire that destroyed so many BritArt pieces were not discrete events beyond the artists’ control, but a necessary aspect of the art works themselves. Maybe that’s what the difference is between Lichtenstein and Ostwald Kippenberger: although they tell the same joke, the latter needs someone else to deliver the punchline.

Oops. Ostwald is the name of gallery. 


Garth said...

Cleaners of that calibre are hard to come by in these lowest bid wins the contract days: cleaners in the building hwere I presently work seldom see fit to mop the floor.

Tim F said...

Yes, but how well are you served by your building's in-house conceptual artists?