An Excerpt from The Miraculous

In the late 1980s, a series of apparently unremarkable group exhibitions begin to take place in galleries and art centers around France. Each show is presented as a selection from the holdings of a pair of young collectors. Only gradually does the public start to realize that all the artists in these shows, which run the gamut of contemporary avant-garde styles, are in fact inventions of the “collectors,” a duo of artists who have taken the postmodern tendency of stylistic diversity to an extreme end.

Celebrating the mystery and ingeniousness of these human activities which, for lack of a better term, we call “contemporary art.”

Paper Monument‘s first single-author book, The Miraculous, by Raphael Rubinstein, is now available in the n+1 store. For more excerpts, see Paper Monument’s website.

07

In the late 1980s, a series of apparently unremarkable group exhibitions begin to take place in galleries and art centers around France. Each show is presented as a selection from the holdings of a pair of young collectors. Only gradually does the public start to realize that all the artists in these shows, which run the gamut of contemporary avant-garde styles, are in fact inventions of the “collectors,” a duo of artists who have taken the postmodern tendency of stylistic diversity to an extreme end. The pair not only make every diverse painting and sculpture in the shows, but they also invent elaborate biographies for each of their fictive creators.

As the years go by, the two collaborators never drop their mask, continuing to invent personae, to develop “their” work, and to sell it. They describe themselves as a pair of artists who “stopped all personal artistic production in 1985 [to become] ‘operators of art’ who devote themselves to the promotion of the artists they represent.” Many of their creations take their inspiration from Marcel Duchamp, shunning conventional painting and sculpture in favor of objects transferred unchanged from everyday life into the realm of art. (It doesn’t hurt that this readymade strategy makes it easier for the pair to produce work for their stable of a dozen or so artists—imagine if they had to fake that many different painterly styles!) Often, critics knowingly collude with the “hoax,” writing of the fictive artists as if they actually existed. The “collectors” help things along by publishing statements purportedly by the artists whose work they own. It’s a sign of the duo’s success when their artists start being accorded solo shows.


08

An artist takes a blank canvas and paints “$1.00” on it. As well as being the subject of the work, $1.00 is also the price of the painting, and he soon finds someone who buys it. The next canvas he paints reads “$2.00”, which is also its price. This, too, sells, allowing the artist (who is not primarily a painter but a free-ranging conceptual artist) to make a third canvas marked “$4.00.” The rules of the project are simple: each canvas doubles the price of the preceding one and doesn’t get exhibited until the preceding one has sold. As of this writing, the artist is in possession of a canvas carrying the price “$65,536.00.” It has been waiting nine years to find a buyer.


09

Dressed in clothes she has made out of pink garbage bags, an artist visits three New York City parks (Central Park, Prospect Park, and Van Cortlandt Park). In each one she designates a roughly fifty-square-foot area for her project, which is to remove all the white-colored trash within the zone (crumpled paper, cigarette butts, plastic cups, and assorted detritus) and replace each item with a piece of white litter she has picked up earlier and carefully coated with pink paint. The title of the work, Pink Trash, can be taken as a literal description, and the project seen as a whimsical comment on environmental degradation and urban dysfunction, but it’s more likely that the artist, who has been a key figure in the Black Arts Movement, wants her audience to think about race, about the fact that many “white people” might be more accurately described as “pink people,” and, perhaps, how the social construct “white trash” is inextricably bound up with the oppression of African Americans.


10

A 27-year-old Italian artist seals samples of his own feces in small tin cans. He produces ninety such cans whose labels give the title and description of the work in several languages. As in standard food packaging, the label also gives the weight of the contents (30 grams) and the month and year of its production (May 1961). The price of each can is equal to how much it would cost to buy 30 grams of gold.

Within two years the artist is dead. Later, rumors abound that the market is saturated with forgeries of Artist’s Shit, as English-language text on the label identifies it. Another set of rumors suggests that the artist only pretended to have put his shit in the cans. Despite the purported forgeries, the 2-by-2½-inch containers have become so valuable that, like extremely old bottles of grand cru wine, hardly anyone dares to open them.


11

Trained as a chemist and subsequently making his living as a pharmacist in an out-of-the-way town in northern Italy, a man discovers his artistic calling late in life. In his fifties he invents what he calls “industrial painting,” producing long rolls of quasi-abstract canvas through a combination of printed and hand-painted motifs. He also paints canvases designed to completely cover the walls, ceiling, and floor of a room that viewers are invited to enter, treading over a large section of the painting as if it were a carpet.

His masterpiece, however, which is today in the collection of a great French museum, is a seven-by-thirty-two-foot canvas the artist painted in 1962 while blindfolded. During creation of the work, the canvas is laid out on the floor, and prior to beginning work, the artist arranges cans of black, white, yellow, and red paint along its length so that he will have some control over the color scheme.

It takes three days to complete the painting, which he titles La notte cieca (Blind Night). The hardest part, he confides to a friend, is not to look at what he’s done until the canvas is finished. “It’s worse than trying not to smoke,” he exclaims.


12

For this exhibition at a new york gallery a young French artist presents nothing that is easily identifiable as a work of art. Visitors to the gallery, which is in a large, 19th- century office building on lower Broadway, find themselves entering what appears to be the office of a small advertising agency. They see some desks and chairs, potted plants, a computer, a receptionist, and the artist himself. The fictional ad agency even has a name: readymades belong to everyone®. For the length of the show, the artist is available during business hours to answer questions and talk with visitors.

As he passes his days in the “office” waiting for visitors (there are few), he occupies himself by reading and keeping a journal filled with reflections on aesthetics, quotations from the books he reads, and diaristic entries concerning the people he meets. He also keeps track of how his show is faring in the local press.

Two years later, for another New York show, the “proprietor” of readymades belong to everyone® publishes an English translation of his journal. Instead of issuing it under his own name, however, he puts the name of a well-known American collector on the title page. The title of the little book, Insights, is just banal enough for one to believe that it really is the work of a collector whose vanity extends to printing her own diaries, but the contents make no attempt to sustain this fiction. While it is conceivable that some readers might skim the book without questioning its authorship, the tone, ideas, and references (Pessoa, Borges, Blanchot), and, indeed, the narrator’s month of sitting in a mostly empty gallery masquerading as an ad agency, are so incompatible with what we know of art collectors that even extremely credulous readers must eventually catch on.

[7] Collection Yoon Ja & Paul Devautour
[8] Anastasi, William
[9] Hassinger, Maren
[10] Manzoni, Piero
[11] Gallizio, Pinot
[12] Thomas, Philippe

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