Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The plagiarist generation

Kelly Sherman plays Sleeping Beauty at Crate and Barrel.

The hot trend in the art market these days seems to be plagiarism. Which is great news for people like me who don't necessarily have the originality to be real artists (yay!). Of course to jump-start my career, I still will somehow have to get friendly with folks like local art doyenne Barbara Krakow, whose gallery is showing the latest from artist Kelly Sherman, who won the $25,000 ICA Foster Prize two years ago for some nice diagrams of wedding arrangements and a few neatly-typed lists. Sherman's new work (above) consists of photographs of her taking a schvitz on some Crate and Barrel sofas. The photos feel somehow recycled - we're sure we've seen something like them somewhere before - but they're not actually bad, and they do sort of morph together Tilda Swinton's 1995 nap in London with the vibe of the current (holy curatorial coincidence, Artman!) Pictures Generation show at the Met.

Only wow, the more you look at that show, the more you notice that Sherman's other works - a series of bridal advertisements with the brides whited out - look a lot, a lot like a lot of the work in it - such as the altered photographs of Richard Prince (below right) and Sherrie Levine. Now I admit I kind of admire Sherman's conceptual chutzpah here - Prince and Levine appropriated other people's imagery, so why not just appropriate them? There's a neat little thrill to be had in that (along with extra points for ripping off those rip-off artists during their big Met show). Of course you have to be careful, and vary things just enough to avoid legal action, like the kind Shepard Fairey visited on those with the temerity to appropriate his own, plagiarized works. I admire this line of endeavor so much, in fact that I am willing to download any of Sherman's works from the Internet for you, and print it out with my signature for $1 less than she's going for at Barbara Krakow. Such a deal! The latest iteration of the plagiarist meme, for a dollar less than going prices! Email me at hubreview@hotmail.com now, this offer won't last long! That is, unless I really get my ass in gear and open a website in which you can both download an essay for your college modern art course and an artwork for the Barbara Krakow Gallery.

Seriously, though, the question that often pops up in my mind when I look at this kind of stuff is, "Why hasn't this happened in the other fine arts?" Of course "appropriation" is essentially what is keeping pop music going, but I've never seen a choreographer replicate someone else's ballet step by step, then stick their name on it. Nor have I heard a composer paste his moniker on a commercial jingle, or a playwright insist that no, he wrote Angels in America.

So why are artists so prone to this particular behavior? Did the invention and propagation of photography make them especially susceptible to it? Or are they simply so much closer to the dying, in-grown world of pop? Or were they actually the harbinger of a deadly virus that spread first to recorded music but will eventually riddle the rest of the fine arts world?

But in the meantime, another question is worth pondering. While I took in the Kelly Sherman show, I couldn't help notice that Andrew Witkin was working behind the desk - yes, that Andrew Witkin, the winner of last year's Foster Prize. (He won the $25,000 for straightening up his room.) What a coincidence, huh! Two Foster Prize winners, from two years in a row, at the same gallery. It's almost like there's some kind of pneumatic tube or something between the Krakow Gallery at the ICA! Gosh, I wonder if there is . . .


  1. About seven or eight years ago I attended a group show at the Berwick Research Institute and the only thing I remember was a rip-off of Yoko Ono's Bottoms except that it was shot on cheap color video and the artist hadn't the courage to ask the subjects to to take off their underwear as in Ono's original film.

    Though, narry was an acknowledgement that Ono had done it before.

    Was that plagerism, or simply lack of originality?

  2. Don't get me started on the Berwick Research Institute (which spawned Kelly Sherman) and their "AIR" ("Artist in Residency") program. (My partner calls it "The Airhead Institute" for good reason.) The Berwick is ground-zero for pretentious mediocrity in the Hub.

  3. Your and your partner's exasperation as to just what the BRI does with the grants it receives are hardly unique on the scene.

    That bit of plagiarism which was memorable only because it was plagiarism has for years served as an icon of everything that is wrong about BRI. It was even more striking because the show followed immediately after the Ono-retrospective that had been at MIT's List Center (as in, anyone in town who cared about visual art post-1960 knows exactly what's being ripped off.)