S[edition]. The verdict? Count me amongst the s[educed].

26 11 2012


Tracey Emin, ‘I Promise to Love You’, s[edition].

What do you get the artist who has everything?

A website upon which he (Damien Hirst), she (Tracey Emin) or they (the Chapman Brothers) can blaze a new frontier, and flog inexpensive digital art to eager but financially challenged collectors.

Meet s[edition]. And despite the somewhat snarky tone of my introduction, I actually find the whole idea very exciting. Window into the future stuff. Just like when I was introduced to the street art movement by the first stencils I saw on the Balaclava railway bridge in East St Kilda many moons ago, this feels like it might just go somewhere. Feel free to get back to me in ten years to say “what, in the name of all that is holy, were you thinking?” But for now, this smells big. Or perhaps it’s teen spirit (apologies to Nirvana).

The premise is deliciously simple, and comes to us thanks to the cranium of Harry Blain, formerly of Haunch of Venison, now of Blain Southern, and probably the art world’s most effective innovator. He’s an artrepreneur. Is that a word? If not, it should be.

So how does it work? Some of the biggest names in contemporary art issue large edition (up to 10,000) digital artworks. They are offered for sale on a sliding scale – if you buy an early edition, the price is low – as little as $8 for some artworks. As the edition proves more popular, the price rises.

Once you have made your purchase, it is stored in your own digital ‘vault’, and you can view it on suitable computery-smart-iThings and devices. You’re issued with a digital certificate of authenticity, complete with scanned signature and the edition number. Although there is no mention of it on the site now, when s[edition] was launched, there was talk of setting up a forum on the site through which collectors could buy and sell their digital artworks.

So, I’ve put together a small collection of my own – initially as a means to demonstrate cutting-edge art marketing to my postgraduate students.

But I think I may be hooked.

What’s most interesting, and not at all surprising, is that some marquee artists (I’m looking at you, Damien Hirst) tend to phone it in. I bought a Hirst spot picture as one of my first purchases – I wanted to do the “names, darling, names” thing in the demonstration to my students. And it is… well… a stationary digital picture of spots. Also not surprisingly, Hirst is responsible for the most expensive artwork on the site – a rotating view of his diamond encrusted baby-skull, For Heaven’s Sake that’s priced at A$800.  Well, it does sparkle. And spin. Yawn.

But as more artists have hitched their wagon to the Blain digital train, there have been some very interesting things turn up. Some people get the digital medium. Others? Not so much.

Matt Collishaw has made some exquisite pieces, as has Bill Viola, and recently Jacco Oliver added two texturally sumptuous artworks to the site.  I’m transfixed by my copy of Collishaw’s Burning Flower. Can’t look away. The best digital art really does take us beyond the physical restrictions of two-, or even three-, dimensional art. With the technology available to make and view digital images moving apace, who knows where this will all end up?

From a market perspective, it’s groundbreaking. What does it mean for the concept of the ‘original’ when an artwork exists as a string of code, and can potentially be reproduced simultaneously, and an infinite number of times, anywhere in the world? Is this the true democratisation of art? You can take your Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin onto the train with you.

And what does this mean for value in the art world? It’s fascinating, and might well be the start of something big. Watch this space.

(Image of Tracey Emin’s ‘I Promise to Love You’ via www.culture24.org.uk)


Exit Via the Red Carpet: Will Banksy Turn Up at the Oscars Tonight?

27 02 2011

Direct from sell-out shows in litter strewn alleyways and shabby walls across the globe, heeeeerrree’s Banksy! The Academy are all aflutter about what to do with the street artist überstar, who may well be set to win the Oscar for best documentary for his/her hilarious film, Exit Through the Gift Shop. The film won the Oscar for best editing – according to Slashfilm, this is a good indicator of a pending victory because all but one of the most recent best documentary films were successful in that category.

So what if he/she does win? The Academy declined Banksy’s request to appear at the awards wearing a monkey mask because they feared a deluge of copy-cat party crashers. Not to mention, who’s to say that the monkey in the mask who mounts the stage to accept the award if the film does win is actually Banksy? It’s probably too late now, but perhaps the Academy could collaborate with the artist to create a one-of-a-kind monkey mask so that Banksy could stand out from the crowd of would-be Banksys. Hilarious.

Works purporting to be by Banksy, and documented on the website, www.banksy.co.uk, have been appearing around LA in recent days, including the two shown here. Mickey and Minnie – living la vida loca in LA. Heh heh. As an aside, the fate of these stencils highlights everything that’s been said before about the commodification of this art form – ironically captured so effectively in Exit Through the Gift Shop. According to an account on Slashfilm, one of the stencils has been removed and sold on eBay (video of said removal is posted on YouTube), the billboard poster has been taken down and is to be displayed in Las Vegas, and the occupants of the building upon which the third has been painted are lobbying their landlords to clean the defaced stencil and protect and preserve it. This may just be the most effective Oscar’s campaign ever – the truth of the message conveyed by Banksy’s film enacted in the streets of LA.

All of this creative activity has been fuelling the frenzied speculation about whether or not he/she’ll attend. My guess? He’ll get Shepard Fairey or Mr Brainwash (whoever he may be!? One of the theories is that HE is Banksy) to collect it on his behalf. Let’s hope I’m wrong, and that he/she – or they, for that matter – does show up in one incarnation or another. Could be the one thing that saves the annual snooze-fest that is the Academy Awards ceremony.

(Pictures via http://www.banksy.co.uk)

Obey! Shepard Fairey Plasters Hosier Lane

11 06 2010

And so, another instalment in my series of poor-quality photos – this time taken in the rain with my phone. But, I couldn’t help myself. Until Never (the gallery) is running an exhibition of noted American street artist Shepard Fairey’s work at the moment, and the wall that leads from the corner of Hosier Lane to the gallery’s entrance is completely plastered with a veritable gallery of Fairey’s most iconic images. It’s quite a sight to see.

The juxtaposition of the posters in their natural habitat with their presentation in the 2nd floor, white-cube gallery space, is curious and telling. On what was a chilly, drizzly Melbourne afternoon, the posters in the lane, which as you can see have already attracted the attention of taggers, were torn, discoloured and peeling off the wall in places. They have a texture and immediacy to them – you know they will continue to deteriorate, exposed as they are to the elements and the activities of other makers of marks on walls. Wait much longer, and there won’t be much left to see. And what better way to speak of commodification, dehumanisation and the industrial machine than to  churn out images on paper intended to be pasted on walls in the urban jungle and destined to end up buried under layers of street-art detritus, painted over by diligent council clean-up teams, or squished into great, coloured gobs of soggy torn paper? Knowing that these artworks are ephemeral makes the messages they communicate all the more powerful. And then, upstairs in the gallery, posters are transformed into commodities. Not that I should be complaining – I couldn’t resist buying an Obey Giant print. Yes, I can be a nasty, acquisitive beastie. But watching the transition of street art from the cobbled laneways to the austere confines of the commercial gallery space is intriguing. Relying, as it has, on subversive means of communication and guerilla tactics, how will the movement adapt to a radically altered environment?

Does Sam Leach’s Wynne prize entry suck? The art of appropriation.

15 04 2010

File:Boatmen Moored on a Lake Shore 1668 Adam Pynacker.jpg

Well, yet again we find ourselves in the midst of a full-blown Australian art prize pickle. Not since Bill Dobell caused a fracas with his Archibald prize-winning portrait of Joshua Smith in 1943 (is it a portrait, or is it a caricature?) have so many newspaper column inches been dedicated to a debate about what, exactly, constitutes ‘art’. For your consideration – on the top we have Sam Leach’s winning entry, Proposal for landscaped cosmos. Below that, Adam Pynacker’s 1668 painting, Boatmen moored on a lake shore.

Anyone who knows anything about Leach’s theory and method would not be at all surprised by the nature of his Wynne entry. A cursory glance at his website makes it very clear that he is appropriating (for that, read ‘borrowing’) imagery directly from the great Dutch painters of the 17th century to pass comment on the nature of affluence and, to a lesser degree, the close relationship between the workings of the art market today, and the boom in the art trade that took place in the Netherlands during the 1600s, coinciding with the speculative lunacy of tulipmania where single tulip bulbs were selling for the price of a house. Sound familiar? Leach isn’t the first person to draw parallels between our very own recently deflated stock market bubble and the irrational exuberance of the 17th century Dutch economy. Which also ended with a crash, by the way.

But there are a couple of questions that I’d like to throw into the ring. One is the question of copyright – clearly not an issue in this instance as Pynacker is long-deceased and so not in a very viable position to prosecute Mr. Leach. But, on a broader level, it is an issue worthy of consideration. Reproduction of a work of art or literature is permitted under law if it can be shown to be subject to ‘fair use’ – so, for example, for the purpose of research, criticism and reporting news. Seems pretty straight forward. But, what if an artist takes an image made by another artist, alters it (however imperceptibly), presents it as his or her own, and accrues financial gain from said activity? Although market commentator, Michael Reid, has said in an article in The Age today that “artistic licence lets you cross any copyright boundaries. It’s open slather”, the same is certainly not true for other art forms. The case in the music industry is very clear, as witnessed by the enormous payments made to musicians when another artist ‘samples’ their work in their own – most notable recent-ish example (showing my age, now) was when The Verve was forced to pay The Rolling Stones all of the royalties from ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ for using the hook from ‘The Last Time’. And things for visual artists may also be-a-changin’. In the US of A, artist Shepard Fairey, who made the now iconic Obama ‘Hope’ election poster, is embroiled in a far from straight-forward legal case with Associated Press, which claims he infringed copyright by using an AP photograph as the basis for his artwork. Borrowing an observation from a colleague, why are the visual arts treated as different when it comes to issues of copyright? I’m not saying it’s wrong, necessarily – just suggesting that it’s a question worth asking.

Final thought –  Pynacker spent three years studying in Italy before returning to the Netherlands and settling in Amsterdam. He became one of the most renowned Northern painters of Italianate allegorical scenes inspired by the Italian Baroque. He painted landscapes such as this one, showing a romanticised genre scene infused with warm Mediterranean light, and framed by verdant foliage, informed by plenty of plein air excursions in the footsteps of Claude. But the setting itself is, most likely, allegorical and imaginary. So – can a scene conjured up in the imagination of a 17th century Dutch painter qualify as “the best landscape painting of Australian scenery in oils or watercolours … completed during the 12 months preceding the [closing] date …” which, according to the Prize website, is what is required of the winner? Perhaps the rule itself is rather archaic and silly. But, it’s a rule nonetheless and one that, presumably, the other entrants stuck to. Again, it’s a question worth asking.

(Images: top – Sam Leach, ‘Proposal for landscaped cosmos’, via: http://www.thearchibaldprize.com.au; bottom – Adam Pynacker, ‘Boatmen moored on a lake shore’, via: http://commons.wikimedia.org)

Appropriate this: Artists’ intellectual property rights through the Looking Glass

7 04 2009

I’d really like to hear Sherrie Levine’s take on this one. Or Marcel Duchamp’s, for that matter.

Everyone’s favourite poster-maker, Shepard Fairey, was responsible for one of the more enduring images from the 2008 election campaign – the Obama Hope poster, pictured at left. Fairey used a photograph taken by an Associated Press (AP) photographer, Manny Garcia, as the basis for his artwork. AP alleged copyright infringement. Fairey retorted: “Fair Use!”.

That legal fracas is still to be resolved. But, ironically, it seems that Mr. Fairey may be surprisingly thin-skinned when other artists dare to appropriate his own work. In April 2008, Fairey’s lawyers threatened an artist by the name of Baxter Orr with legal action after Orr appropriated one of Fairey’s best-known works, Obey Giant, embellishing Andre the Giant’s face (the subject of Fairey’s work) with a face mask and a new title: Protect Yourself.

This isn’t the only case where Fairey seems to have been more inclined to dish it out than to cop it on the chin. According to Gawker, Fairey’s legal eagles landed a cease and desist letter on a Steelers fan in Pittsburgh who dared to sell little kewpie-doll Steeler mascots using the phrase “Obey Steeler Baby”. 

Fair use as an exception to copyright law exists for a reason. And a very good one at that. Without appropriation, whether informal or deliberate, a good swag of the art produced during the 20th century would have been illegal. And for a reason as mundane as trademark infringement. Appropriation in one form or another has been going on since our earliest ancestors began daubing on their cave walls.  It seems highly inappropriate to mess with it.



Shepard Fairey, ‘Obey Giant’; [right] Baxter Orr, ‘Protect Yourself’.”]pols_feature18.jpg

Images: Fairey ‘Obama Hope’ poster – Wikipedia; Steelerbaby – Gawker; ‘Obey Giant’, and  Baxter Orr’s ‘Protect Yourself’ – The Boston Globe