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Friday, June 6, 2008

Copying Art, Part I

posted by on June 6 at 9:38 AM


Remember when I wrote about the Cai Guo-Qiang tumble of cars at the Seattle Art Museum that was also, somewhat mysteriously, at the Guggenheim in New York at the same time?

It turned out that the one in New York was an “exhibition copy” made by the artist.

It delivered the same experience as the original, was created painstakingly by the artist, and was made of basically the same readymade parts.

So why wasn’t it an original again?

I answer that question and raise lots of others in a new story in Newsweek.

This was one of those stories that was really fun to report. Curators responded with great tales of their own experiences with copies. I couldn’t fit them all in the piece. Here’s one that got cut but that I love:

For an exhibition including Allan Kaprow’s “activity books” at the Getty, curator Glenn Phillips wanted visitors to be able to handle the books, to read them—not just to look at them as sculptural objects.

So, he set about having copies made.

But the technology was almost too good. When he got the facsimiles, they felt to him like ethical hot potatoes.

“They were so shockingly good that my first inclination was that we had to ensure that they would be destroyed” after the show, Phillips said.

He also decided to have the word “COPY” stamped right on their covers.

One of the best parts of my research for this story was a symposium the Tate conducted last year, called “Inherent Vice: The Replica and its Implications in Modern Sculpture,” and you can read all the papers presented there, along with a thoughtful series of after-commentaries, here.

I’ll be back soon with more great copying stories, including a tantrum thrown by Carl Andre and a pair of curators who made shows entirely of copies…

RSS icon Comments


This was totally boring, so I'm going to link to this. Enjoy.

Posted by Mr. Poe | June 6, 2008 9:50 AM

Philosophical questions: Why is the "original" important? Why is the "authorization of the artist" important? Does this mean that "art" is not the piece itself, but rather the social agreement around the piece? Is it therefore impossible to appreciate (or set a price for) a piece of art without knowing its social context?

Posted by David B. | June 6, 2008 10:05 AM

Just saw the car tumble at the Guggenheim. Meh. I prefer his army of wolves.

Posted by Paulus | June 6, 2008 10:28 AM


Congratulations on your well-crafted Newsweek article, and, I must say, I enjoyed reading about this's not one I've spent much time on beyond the notorious Warhol copies by Malanga, et al.

This is what I wish you would do more of versus those (often) insufferable Currently Hanging joints. I say this with love in my heart...

As for Mr. Poe, I am currently toiling in my basement workroom to copy him animatronicly...right now, I'm at an impasse as the computerized voice chip refuses to say anything more than "keshmeshi is a ****." Work continues...

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | June 6, 2008 10:30 AM

While you're at it, make me a copy.

I won't be needing the voice-chip, tho.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | June 6, 2008 11:02 AM

I add my congratulations on your Newsweek article. Hadn't given the topic much thought so it was interesting to learn about it.

Posted by PopTart | June 6, 2008 11:10 AM

@5 -- Computer says, "no."

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | June 6, 2008 11:31 AM

Make me one, too.

Posted by Mr. Poe | June 6, 2008 12:00 PM

@8 -- I'm making you a mechanical Juif!

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | June 6, 2008 12:03 PM

I don't need a mechanical Juif. I have the real one. You can keep that one for yourself. I need one of me because I want to experience what it's like to have the best sex in the world.

Posted by Mr. Poe | June 6, 2008 12:16 PM

Oooh! There's going to be a service-pack upgrade?

Posted by NapoleonXIV | June 6, 2008 12:37 PM

@10 -- Hmmm...I'm speechless. All I can say is there is one lucky Juif out there :-)

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | June 6, 2008 12:43 PM

I found your Newsweek article well-written and thought provoking. Good job!

Posted by I can't even draw stickfigures well | June 6, 2008 2:15 PM

was at the Tate last week- no point, just bragging. nanana.

Posted by ams | June 7, 2008 4:19 AM

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