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Thursday, April 17, 2008

“Exhibition Copy”

posted by on April 17 at 10:35 AM

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.

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it is a stunning show at the gug. their are some striking originals in the show, which have been re-imagined for ny and the current times.

one piece that comes to mind is the wolves bashing themselves against a "wall", which in ny is made of glass, and originally, in berlin, was a chunk of the berlin wall.

and the giant sunken ship ashore on a beach of broken porcelain is wholly an original, with photographs to prove it.

there were some interesting copies however in the room with the river and yak skin boat.

the show in ny is a stunning success, wish it would come here, but nothing interesting EVER comes here...

Posted by terry miller | April 17, 2008 10:40 AM

Terry Miller:

You're missing my point. My point is that there is a difference between copies and "exhibition copies."

This sort of thing drives me crazy: when radical ideas in art, through co-option, become lazy ahistorical excuses.


Posted by Jen Graves | April 17, 2008 10:58 AM
Posted by Bek | April 17, 2008 11:02 AM

This is the most important work of art since the Mona Lisa

Posted by Jeff | April 17, 2008 11:07 AM

All art is conceptual and copyable. Furthermore, it is the art world's fetishization of originals that is the only thing that makes art economically feasible.

Posted by F | April 17, 2008 11:12 AM

Oh darn. When I read the first paragraph of your post I was all excited that the Seattle Art Museum was getting a break from this pointless piece of shit while it was being exhibited elsewhere. No such luck.

Posted by Emily | April 17, 2008 11:17 AM

it looks better there.

Posted by infrequent | April 17, 2008 11:30 AM

@6 +1!

Posted by infrequent | April 17, 2008 11:31 AM

@7 I hope so. Maybe I wouldn't hate this piece so much if it made more sense in its surroundings. That's why I think the Cai Guo-Qiang piece installed on Broadway is more successful.

Posted by Emily | April 17, 2008 11:40 AM

The sculptor Barnett Newman created 3 iterations of his work "Broken Obelisk" in 1963. One of them is in Red Square on the UW campus. None of them was labeled as the original copy and they were always meant to stand alone, which was a point Barnett was making about the purposelessness of numbered editions in an industrial society where identical things are easily manufactured.

Posted by inkweary | April 17, 2008 11:55 AM

@9 i wanted to scold you for not understanding our surroundings at broadway either, but i was too busy laughing.

Posted by infrequent | April 17, 2008 12:27 PM

It also looked better at LACMA four years ago.

Posted by Catman | April 17, 2008 1:24 PM

@10 But there are more than 3 "Broken Obelisk"s! The text on the sign at UW prominently talks of it as an edition of three, with the others in NYC and Texas.

But did you know there is an "exhibition copy", created in 2004 and rather permanently installed in Berlin, as well?

Posted by Brad | April 17, 2008 1:37 PM

hey jen, i get what your saying,

also does the fact that it's place differently, vertically instead of horizontally, make a difference? the one at the gugg ends with the car on the ramp heading downwards as if it's going to start the crazy loop all over again. something you can't actually see in any of the photos of the work at the gugg.

Posted by terry miller | April 17, 2008 2:59 PM

And the Hammering Men, too! There's simply scads of 'em.

Seattle: By and By, We'll have One of Everything!

Posted by NapoleonXIV | April 17, 2008 3:57 PM

Terry Miller: Here's my thinking on that: Differences in configuration are super-common; the piece at SAM is not the same as it was at Mass MOCA. Granted, the Gugg installation is the most different, but that could still fall under the site-adaptation rule. The piece is still exploding cars in a row inside an institution. Not sure that relates to the question of the "exhibition copy."


Posted by Jen Graves | April 17, 2008 4:10 PM

Imagine my surprise last month when I walked into the guggenheim and saw this piece hanging. "oh fuck" thought I. not a fan of it. But still felt kind of proud that the guggenheim borrowed something from little ol' us.
The rest of the exhibit is really quite incredible. Cai won me over and made me come back to "inopportune" to give it a second chance. This is when I noticed the little "exhibition copy" note and the year of the copy. I couldn't help but wonder what having a copy of the piece does to the value of the piece in the SAM. I still think this is one of Cai's least impressive pieces. And I really wish the gguggenheim could have done a trade with us - like baseball players - we give them Inopportune and they give us Head On (the wolves).
oh! there was another piece in the show that was the subject of another "copying" debate. I think it's called Rent Collection... maybe that'll add to the debate.

Posted by stacy | April 17, 2008 8:41 PM

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