POST BY KAREN ARCHEY
Christoph Büchel Socks, 2009. Pair of dirty socks of the artist on the floor. Copyright Christoph Büchel, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Is artist Christoph Büchel simply a surly art world prankster or does his work effectively question the mechanisms of the art world? The Swiss artist, whose stunts have made multiple headlines over the past few years, most recently put a pair of his dirty gym socks up for sale at Hauser & Wirth‘s Frieze booth for a gross â‚¬20,000. Reportedly Büchel doesn’t mind if the garments are “kicked around a bit.”
Büchel’s most headline garnering exploit, his explosive lawsuit with the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, began in 2007. In a nutshell, the museum commissioned the artist to create a gargantuan installation made of recycled material, including an airplane fuselage. After Büchel repeatedly went over the museum’s budget, Mass MoCA eventually pulled the plug on the project, to which the artist denied authorship of his unfinished installation. The Massachusetts institution sued for the right to show the work, prompting a vitriolic public debate between the artist and museum. (Click here for a full re-cap of the escapade.) While critics may take the position that Büchel is little contemporary art prima donna supporters will say the artist simply explored the role legalities play in determining authorship of one’s work. Certainly the squabble seemed in step with 2007′s tumultuous and bloated art world, when the discipline’s professionalization seemed at its peak. Most recently, Büchel presented a key to his apartment as a work of art at this Summer’s staging of Art Basel, a stunt also garnering multiple headlines in art publications.
So, are the pair of dirty gym socks worth â‚¬20,000? As any gallerist will tell you, the work is worth whatever a collector will pay for it, though at that price we’d guess they’re overvalued. But perhaps that’s the point. Büchel’s bag is highlighting peculiarities in the art world by creating their most absurd versions. In the case of “Socks,” the artist questions the readymade and “mystic aura” of the artist. “Socks” is rendered art by the magical touch of the artist. (And aided, no doubt, by a bit of his own foot sweat.) A viewer wonders if Büchel truly tries to pull a fast one on the art world, given the artist’s lack of obvious craft or labor in comparison with the work’s extreme price tag. And perhaps he has–ArtInfo reports Frieze’s opening day for VIP members brought two offers matching the work’s reserve price.