Sunday, May 30, 2010

Wrong vs. Right Part 2

Eva & Franco Mattes
"Stolen Pieces", 1995-1997
mixed media objects
unique installation
via Postmasters Gallery

Once upon a time last year I wrote this entry on illicitly acquiring pieces of artwork from installations in museums and the moral issues that arose when doing so. Last week I encountered an article entitled "Stolen Pieces" by Janaya Williams about the artists Eva and Franco Mattes who in 1995-1997 collected fragments of famous artwork. They were silent about this activity for the obvious reasons but are now exhibiting them at Postmasters Gallery in Chelsea. They are able to show the art because the statue of limitations has run out on the original theft.

From Williams' article: “We wanted to prove that these works were alive,” Mattes says. “We wanted to revitalize these works that were so powerful and so revolutionary and so subversive. We thought that by stealing a little tiny piece of it, somehow we would be putting back new life into these works." The pieces taken by the couple include a piece of shoelace clipped from a Claes Oldenburg sculpture, a porcelain chip from the urinal of Marcel Duchamp's famous "Fountain," and a manufacturer's label peeled from the aquarium in Jeff Koons' 1985 work, "One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank."

I disagree wholeheartedly with destroying the work that already exists by the physical removal of a chunk that will leave evidence but for some reason, I am fine with sneaking a small piece that is part of a larger whole (i.e. a toothpick from a Tara Donovan sculpture). I know both are wrong but one has more lasting repercussions than the other.

The most interesting quote in the article follows: “People tend to see all art as a kind of relic which has this superpower, something that’s almost beyond comprehension, and that is something I’m trying to question,” Mattes says. “These works are not holy. They’re not relics. It’s way more dynamic than one would think, and I don’t think that we should look at art with that kind of reverence.”

This is precisely what Nancy and I are attempting to do when we proceed, as Toby Kamps told us, in "taking these artists [Smithson, Heizer, etc.] down a notch." Ultimately, I have to applaud Eva and Franco Mattes for doing this though I don't necessarily agree with how it is done.