Monday, 13 March 2023

Write the fine print.

This was going to be a post about the complications that may arise from the creation of a foundation, or stichting in Dutch, by artists or art organisations.
However, upon reading the legal text, it quickly became clear that the law actually provides quite a lot of freedom in how the statutes of such a stichting should be formalised.

Yet in my experience, art organisations quite often get in trouble down the line as the organisation changes in ways that were mandated by their own statutes. This happens even if they could theoretically have written almost anything they wanted in the statutes.
So instead of a cautionary tale about the intricacies of law, it will be a plea to please consider your statutes carefully and make sure they provide guidance and protection for the artistic and non-artistic integrity of your organisation as well as a continual focus on its core values. Because right now, a lot of you are simple copy-pasting some vague and generalised words that are considered good governance or common practice and in just as many cases those principles don't apply to what you do.

Friday, 10 March 2023


Today I had a dentist appointment and I lay back in the chair, facing the ceiling lights.
I was looking at my dentist's hands and I naturally couldn't see what she was doing. But I felt her pinky on my cheek, gently supporting the weight of her hand, as her ring finger, index finger and thumb manipulated the tool that was scraping along the surface of my teeth.

As I lay there, a bit nervous about how she would judge my final appareance, I realised that this is what it must be like to be a painting.

Sunday, 12 February 2023

Deep Regrets

I recently visited an exhibition that was accompanied by a little booklet. On the back of the booklet there was the text 'Do not throw away! This is a collectible item!'.

If only my grandma's wedding ring would have had the same inscription...

Thursday, 9 February 2023

Age Old Mysteries

Over time I have seen some publications that ask themselves the question why artists generally have low incomes, including 'Why Are Artists Poor?', the PhD-thesis of Hans Abbing, who's probably the most famous Dutch theorist on the economics of art. That 300 page document has a reasonable understanding of economics, but almost zero understanding of contemporary art and thus unsuprisingly doesn't come to any satisfying conclusion.

Yet it shouldn't be a big mystery why artists are poor and knowledge of art or the art market isn't necessary to understand it either.
An artist's practise is an R&D heavy, thus capital intensive, business, that commonly produces a limited output to a market that is limited by definition because the goods it produces will always defy the common appearances of whatever other goods are sold at that time. *

That by itself should be enough reason why most artists aren't turning huge profits and then we haven't even talked about the lack of reliable information on goods or the vast supply surplus or any of the other ways the market fails.

But please continue to wonder why artists are poor and I will continue to wonder why people with negliable knowledge of the field they work in can obtain professorships. 

* Even in his thesis Abbing notes that painters and sculptors pre-19th century had generally decent incomes.
That's because those businesses produced a single style, had an output that was similar to the craftsmanship still present in many other markets and its products where relatively clearly defined, so that a functional market of informed buyers could arise.
The explanation he gives for the change, a strong need for authenticity in art since the 1850's, however is such a dull and ill-informed cliche that I don't even know what to say about it.

Wednesday, 25 January 2023


All artworks are the result of deliberate actions.
This perhaps seems like an obvious statement, but it's a simple fact that is glossed over all too often. Perhaps in fringe cases it's difficult to define exactly what a deliberate action is, but there is no arguing with the fact that anything that enters into a museum, gallery or 'the artworld' is the result of somebody somewhere making a decision to do so.

This fact also lies at the heart of how we ascribe meaning to artworks. Somebody has done this thing on purpose, so there must be a purpose. Even the purpose of showing how purposeless it all is, is a purpose. This in turn is the basis of any institutional theory of art. And a consequence of that line of reasoning is that anything can be seen as more meaningful inside an art context than outside an art context, because another underlying assumption is that an art context always adds meaning.

We can see this at play in works like Empty Shoebox by Gabriel Orozco and other such 'objets trouvés'. The reasoning is thus: 'object a is commonplace, but if object a is placed in an art context it's no longer commonplace but special and worthy of our attention'. Again, the underlying premise of this statement is that all actions that result in artworks are deliberate and therefore worthy of consideration. This shoe box didn't end up here on accident, its presence is deliberate, and therefore it must be meaningful.
As humans we will try to provide a reason and an explanation for any object that is found in an unusual place. If you're not willing to take that statement at face value, I suggest you put a rock in your refrigerator and wait for the inevitable questions of your spouse to come to you.

All of this serves as background information for something I encountered recently that struck me greatly:

And the reason it struck me is because this is a rare example of an object that would lose significance or meaning if placed within an art context. 

This object; a shoelace that, presumably, fell into the shape of an ampersand on accident, is a remarkable occurrence. It's not something that would have existed without humans, like a bird's nest or the northern lights might have, yet it's also something that is somehow not the result of a deliberate action. As a deliberate action it would be trivial, but it likewise seems just complex enough to be the result of an accident. And this is what gives this object its impact.
Imagine for a second that it wasn't shaped like an '&', but instead an 'S', a '9' or even an 'R'. While conceptually similar, being a shoelace has taken the shape of a recognisable and common symbol, it appears to us as if those particular shapes would be far more likely to be the result of a random set of circumstances. An 'S' is a less specific shape than an '&' and therefore is a less remarkable occurence. Yet at the same time, an '&' is more ambiguous in its connotations than an 'S'. An ampersand by itself is about as empty as a symbol can be, but it's nevertheless universally recognised and often seen as a complex shape.

Which brings us to the art world.
If we would encounter this shoelace ampersand on the floor of an art institution, I doubt any of us would be as struck as I was when I saw it on the pavement.
This isn't because a piece of string lying on the floor has no place in contemporary art. The examples of string-like squiggles range from Richard Tuttle's Ten Kinds of Memory and Memory Itself to Mark Manders' Current Thought and Carl Andre's 3-Part Bent Short. What all these examples have in common, however, is their seeming carelessness. These works are at first glance simply strewn on the floor, with the artists accepting whichever form they might take. This was even the explicit aim in the first work of this kind, Marcel Duchamp's Three Standard Stoppages.
If artists on the other hand don't wish to accept this kind of arbitrary form when working with objects that aren't of their own making, they instead tend to do the exact opposite. By carefully ordering found objects, they bring a new way of looking to the commonplace object that before had little meaning. A good example is Markus Raetz working with eucalyptus leaves to create stylized and expressive portraits.

Yet our ampersand doesn't adhere to either of these extremes. If it were placed deliberately on a gallery floor, its shape is too trivial and its symbol too insignificant for us to ascribe any greater insight to it. Yet at the same time, its shape would be too specific to register as an uncontrolled or unintentional accident, even if it were factually so.
The presumption of deliberate actions in art would thus give this shoelace ampersand less of an impact within an art context then if it would be encountered accidentally on the street, as I have.
What's interesting about that is that it is a direct counterexample to theories of the readymade and institutional theories of art. This shoelace ampersand would be less eligible as a 'candidate for appreciation', as George Dickie would put it, if it were made by an artist than when it isn't. And through proof by contradiction, this shows that the premises of any institutional theory of art are false. 

Through this chance encounter we can thus come to the conclusion that a large chunk of art theory is demonstrably false and this personally made me quite excited.