Visual Art “Exhibition Copy”
posted by April 17 at 10:35 AMon
The star show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York right now is a solo exhibition by explosion-happy Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang. The show’s big centerpiece, snaking all the way up inside the Frank Lloyd Wright spiral, is Seattle Art Museum’s Inopportune: Stage One.
Looks good, no?
But wait—the same piece is up at SAM right now. How’s that possible? Is the piece editioned?
This morning I ran across this little caption under an image of the installation on the Guggenheim’s web site: “Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Robert M. Arnold, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2006. Exhibition copy installed at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2008.”
Now hang on.
I’m imagining that the defense for doing this is that the work is conceptual. Essentially: that the art is an idea that can be executed over and over again, rather than an idea that rests in specific materials—in this case, the white Mercurys and Ford Tauruses—themselves. The museum’s text describing the piece says as much: “The concept of Inopportune: Stage One has been reconfigured…” (emphasis mine).
But if that’s the case, if there is no physical original, then why is this one called a “copy”? And why not make exhibition copies for every work in the show, rather than going to the trouble of gathering together originals? (See the curatorial model of Triple Candie—unauthorized retrospectives and copies all around!—for the truly radical take on this idea.)
More likely than any artistic motivation are career-based, logistical, and publicity justifications. The artist and the museum probably simply wanted the spectacular piece (first created at Mass MOCA) to get a New York audience. That’s fine, but let’s not confuse it with theoretical reasoning. Sol LeWitt, to my great dismay, is dead, and the practice of artists, galleries, and institutions using conceptualism as an all-purpose cover needs to die, too.