Diner Dogma 2: Fake is Better

This Diner Dogma concerns the relationship between authenticity and multiple production in visual art and the broader culture. The hoary ghost of Marcel Duchamp gets invoked by ArtLexis co-conspirators L and K as they lunch at New York City's imperiled Jones Diner.

L: So, we’re in the Jones Diner and it made me think we should talk about authenticity.

: (long pause) I can’t think of a thing to say about authenticity.

L: Just in terms of the arguments that people throw up about the ArtLexis model.

K: You mean like in terms of editions?

L: What about the link between authenticy and value.... I had this argument with (sculptor) Bob Wise... why does authenticy always boil down to money?

K: Did you order a shake? (to waiter) I don’t think that’s for us.

Waiter: I thought you said a chocolate shake?

L: I didn’t actually, I said cheddar cheese. It looks like a really good chocolate shake though.

K: It does! (pause) And what did that reactionary bastard Bob Wise say?

L: Okay, his thing was “why should his work be priced the same as another artist who’s really well established”. The idea that the price dictates its value in other words.

K: Well, the model that we’re trying to employ of open edition multiples rejects the idea of the authentic original object. When you instead have something that’s inherently, multiply repeatable - infinite, like a digital file or a book or a song - the value of it arises from the number of copies sold. So when you walk into a music store, for instance, the reason Madonna is rich is not because she charges $70,000 each for her CD’s. It’s because she sells 70,000 copies for every one copy that Bob Wise would sell of his dumb CD. I’m just kidding Bob, if this gets played back to you later.

(Pause, punctuated by the sound of coffee cups banging into saucers)

No one has any problem with that. No one is baffled by the idea of value arising from from the number of copies sold, within the framework of music or within the framework of tickets to a movie or within the framework of any other cultural industry except visual art.

L: Which is viewed differently because....

K: Because of the idea of the authentic original. You have something similar to that when it comes to theater, where there’s a kind of authenticity, it’s repeatable but not infinitely repeatable in the same sense. Every performance is slightly different and there’s the authentic experience of being in the same room with the actors; it’s not like watching a movie. So since you can only have so many seats, since there are only so many people who can be present at a single performance, it’s priced much higher than a movie. They’re getting like what, $200 for a really good tickets to “The Producers”?

L: I think it was even higher than that. I heard tickets were being scalped for $1400.

K: Sure! Whereas the idea of scalping a movie ticket for 100 times it’s face value would be ludicrous.

L: Unless it’s the opening night of the next Star Wars movie.

K: Yeah, or something like that where the authenticity comes from the fact that it’s opening night.

L: Right

K: So that’s an interesting question, where does the issue of authenticity arise and what does it actually mean in relationship to the nature of the work? If you’re working photographically or digitally, grafting or forcing authenticty onto an inherently multiple work is completely arbitrary. But if you’re working with paint or as an actor on a stage doing live theater, it’s inherent to the nature of the work. But to try to force photography or digital work into that model provided by painting or sculpture or even printmaking to a lesser extent, is crazy, it’s stupid, what’s the matter with people?

L (chuckles): So what about that Duchamp work we were talking about the other day where you said he sort of approached the idea of multiples but didnt’ quite...

K: The Boîte-en-valise (a multiple boxed set of miniature reproductions of his work which Duchamp created). You know it’s interesting, I was watching a documentary about Duchamp last night and they had his step-daughter, Teeny Matisse’s daughter, showing one of the Boîtes. She was explaining how he made twenty deluxe editions for certain people, and how each of those contained - as a bonus - one original artwork.

Now, clearly, ready-mades were an absolutely radical demonstration of how cleeply he understood the nature of the work of art in western culture - and yet he lacked, in a sense, the courage of his convictions. When it came to producing the Boîte-en-valise as open edition mutliples, he still tried to invest them with some shred of authenticity, some measure of authenticity through editioning and through this idea that there was a token piece of “original” art.

(Loud banging of coffee cup into saucer) ...since my opinons are after all so deeply valuable.

I was totally struck once again by the simplicity of most the ready-mades and the way that they just effortlessly open themselves up to intrepretation, problematization, trains of thought leading off in all different directions. Because they’re so viral, they’re like these perfect little art-bombs, these little art machines. They’re so simple and you can’t argue against them. I was struck by the contrast between those pieces - like the Fountain (Urinal), "L.H.O.O.Q." (Mona Lisa with Moustache) and Bottle Rack - and all these other pieces, like The Bride Stripped Bare or Etant donnes, the last piece that he did, which seem to be completely arbitary, dense with private allegorical meaning that has no interest to me.

And really, I think that the only people who do care about those pieces are academics and museum professionals. That type of thing is inherently interesting to a scholar, but for people just wanting to experience art I think it’s the other work that’s vastly more interesting. And I think that for all the Large Glass is revered and held sacred in art historcial circles, it’s the Fountain and pieces like that, the simple ready-mades, that people will think of.

So what else did your sculptor friend have to say about the whole authenticity thing?

L: Well that was the main thing we talked about. But I expected that from him because he’s a sculptor, he’s very into the object.

K: Yeah, it’s very hard for them to get away from that. I mean other than the creation of some sort of technology that allows you to have virtual sculpture or inexpensive multiple sculpture.

L: Eventually that will exist but we’re not there yet. Not at a consumer level anyway.

K: Rapid prototyping is sort of like where ink jet printing was 15 years ago, it’s just becoming passable.

L: But that limits the materials and the materials are such an integral part of sculpture, right? The choice of materials is fraught with meaning. Not that it isn’t in 2D work, but I think 2D is a little more fluid.

K: It’s always the case that when you make the jump from original authentic objects to multiples you give up something. You give it up because of the advantages that you gain from working multiply. Theater is in 3D and movies are in 2D. When somebody’s telling a story they have facial expression, intonation, hand gestures - all of which gets thrown out everytime a novelist sits down to write a story. They’re working with only a part of the original formal repetoire of storytelling.

But they resign themselves to that because they also know that if they were trying to tell a story that was 300 pages long, 500,000 words, that they couldn’t do it in one sitting and that nobody would want to pay attention to them for that long anyway. The audience would be very small and the compensation would be very minimal.

And you know, in my experience the people worrying about multiple production in art are the artists, not the audience. We don’t have people writing in to ArtLexis saying, “How can I be guarenteed this edition will be authentic or will increase in value”, no one says that! But many artists agonize about it. They don’t realize that this tradition comes out of the history of the formal constraints of the media that they work in, not out of some natural desire on everybody’s part to equate art with an investment.

People are perfectly happy to consume art as multiples. It’s only a tiny percentage of the population that are interested in the investment value. And those people are the first ones that should be up against the wall when the revolution comes. I’d be perfectly happy as an artist if my audience were everyone except art collectors. It’s the exact wrong audience to be trying to speak to - the status quo. It’s inherently ridiculous to be producing work supposedly intended to problematize and question the conventions of our culture for the richest and most powerful people in that culture. Why should the people with the most to lose be the audience and the patron?

All of which I’ve said a million times to you but not for the benefit of this tape.

L: That was a great burger.

K: That was a great Reuben. Jones Diner is such a great place.