Jeff Koons, Bubbles, 1988. Ceramic. 42 x 70 1/2 x 32 1/2 inches
This March at the SXSW Interactive Media festival, MIT's Comparative Media Studies Co-Director Henry Jenkins restated his much-tweeted maximum, “Web 2.0 is fan culture without the stigma.” According to Jenkins, the Internet is now the primary outlet for culturally-accepted obsessions about one thing or another. The statement proves to be true for most of us — who doesn't identify as a “fan” of something — but it made me wonder: where does fan production show up in the fine art world? I drew a blank.
Prompted in part by Michael Jackson's death and the subsequently renewed interest in artworks using him as subject matter (Jeff Koons' Bubbles [above] and Dana Schutz' The Autopsy of Michael Jackson amongst them), I decided I would try to get to the bottom of it. But in order to locate fan production in the art world, I knew a few working definitions needed to be established. After all, who are fans and why are they important?
According to Ivan Askwith, a senior strategist at the digital marketing company Big Spaceship, the term has evolved from those exhibiting a freakish obsession to simply describing an “engaged audience.” Online marketing companies understand the expanding definition represents a mobilizing force likely to result in cash, so at least from a production and economic stand point, it isn't difficult to establish that fans are a powerful force in contemporary culture.
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