Greg Allen, Untitled (300 x 404), 2010
Don’t say you think Greg Allen’s Untitled (300 x 404) is smart over twitter if you don’t want to get involved in a long debate about it. Currently available on 20×200, the print above was conceived by Allen after an online magazine was refused reproduction rights for the original. This was a thumbnail-size jpeg of Untitled (Cowboy), 2003, artist Richard Prince’s rephotograph of a Marlboro ad. Repeating a bit of history, Allen declared the copy his own and offered it to the publication.
I like this piece, but I’m in the minority over on facebook. A few excerpts from that ongoing conversation after the jump.
Elaine P Sharpe: It’s a pretty shallow concept. Not smart, merely clever.
Man Bartlett: I’m probably out of my league here, but there’s more to the picture (pun unintended), given Greg’s history. In this case the story of the artist makes the work more compelling and gives it more depth than it first appears.
Sean Capone: I know exactly what you’re saying, Man–but my crack about “hurling yourself down the rabbit hole” was my way of saying, I think this work doesn’t dig deep enough. This territory (the materiality of the digital image artifact, appropriating web imagery) has been explored in depth already. And quoting other artists, especially Richard Prince (who work makes me shrug my shoulders anyway), is super tricky territory, and in this case, appears kind of lazy.
Or not. What do I know. Nothing personal against Greg. I’m simply responding to this specific work, and the gee-whiz artist statement attached to it, which is trying to tell me why I should be interested in looking at basically nothing.
Paddy Johnson @everyone I like this piece because it’s a response to a refusal to reproduce an image with that same history. You can criticize the work for not digging deep enough, but I’d argue that this was never Allen’s intention. He’s bringing to light the actions that made Prince’s work important through his own re-iteration. It’s the understated element of performance I like about this work — it’s a reaction. It would not exist if there wasn’t a reason to make it.
Sean Capone But why do Prince’s actions in particular need to be brought to light? I understand the shift in context regarding image availability and reproducibility between Prince’s time and now (print vs. internet).
But whereas Prince’s strategy (and others working in the field of image appropriation at that time) might have been confrontational and a valid critique, isn’t this issue somewhat banal at this point? Based on the artist statement, it seems like he is expressing wonder in a certain formal technicality (big pixel lust) but attaches Prince as a conceptual hook, or shorthand. “Get it?”
“It’s a response to a refusal to reproduce” a image that is already a reproduction of a media image from 30 years ago..
It’s like, arrgh, how many layers of displacement does the viewer have to sift through to get the point (which was already made by Prince)? Art about art about art.
“It would not exist if there wasn’t a reason to make it.” Come on Paddy–you have slammed people for making MUCH less lazy assertions than that!!
BTW, when I argue these things, it is because I care enough about it to have my mind changed. In arguing through something, often I gain insight and begin to view the work in different ways. So I’m not saying anything here that I wouldn’t discuss with the artist F2F.
P. Elaine Sharpe Appropriation and appropriation of the appropriators is having a tiny moment of resurgence. It’s been happening for a while already. This work brings nothing new to the discourse of post-digital conceptualism. Like Sean, I’m willing to have my ideas shift, but for me there isn’t any rigour in this work except that which I am projecting onto it.
Paddy Johnson: Listen, if you want to call this a lazy response go right ahead, but I’m not the one refusing to engage the specifics of this piece.
I’m saying that the event that prompted the creation of this piece can’t be dismissed as incidental. Allen didn’t make this on a lark, it was a specific response to Prince’s refusal to grant an online magazine the rights to reproduce his own reproduction. Is it deep? No. And I DON’T CARE. The event itself makes clear that the issues are still very relevant. Allen’s remake was the most straight forward and logical way to address the problem, and that’s why I like it. I’m not asking it to be something else, because I don’t want it to be anything else.
This whole debate reminds me of the flack Martha Rosler took for remaking her war collages. She took the same approach because she was still looking at the same problems. To quote myself:
We don't view activist art as successful unless it actually affects change, but are completely oblivious to the double standard maintained when we complain that the form itself is not abstract enough.
There’s no winning that argument.
P. Elaine Sharpe: So is it a significant work, or is it the product of a momentary snit over copyright? Either way, your argument for it is kind of pushing me toward disagreeing with the ‘smart’ assessment vis a vis it being a work of art (cf 20X200′s involvement in selling it). It doesn’t mean to say that you are not smart in liking it. That’s your choice and only you can determine what is smart for you. This is another discussion entirely, based on Sean’s response.
I admit openly to having ongoing bias against didactic work that is trying to teach me something, and I also admit to having more than a passing argument with Rosler over her politics of the image. We had the opportunity to discuss it at length during a PhD residency. She’s certainly the wrong example to convince me of anything. Ha!
Man Bartlett Again, out of my league here, but is back story necessary, or should it be. I’m not saying art should exist in a vacuum by any means, but should there be at least some sort purely aesthetic response limiter?
In my own case, I happened to know Greg Allen enough (online) to pique my interest, and I also recognized the Prince appropriation immediately. Knowing these things, and knowing his history as an blogger and collector added to my interest. Lastly, I enjoyed reading about the process of how it came to be created.
I also think there’s more than a little irony that 20×200 is the platform, which legitimizes it very much as a work born OF the Internet FOR the people.
P. Elaine Sharpe: The irony of it being born of the internet and being disseminated by 20X200 diminishes the concept even further and in no way validates the work as being ‘art’. If anything, it brings to mind the same mechanisms that people complained about re Skin Fruit at NuMu.
Rick Herron I wouldn’t buy this piece from 20×200 because in this case, bigger is almost certainly better. The email that went out about it says as much. If formally, it’s about how now is made up of this riot of pixels we’re to notice, you can’t see them nearly as well 8×10 as you would in a much larger size. Some of the small 20×200′s work extremely well small, the Jorge Colombo’s should be one of the first two sizes I think. But in this case, I don’t think the small print works and I can’t afford the big one. Simple as that.
And while the story is interesting, I don’t find this piece to be terribly smart. Similar ground seems to be covered by plenty of artists. I like this piece well enough, but you’re a pretty damn tough critic Paddy. I’m surprised this is something that gave you a tickle. But I’m not anti. I’m sure a 30×40 of it would look amazing. An 8×10? Not nearly as interesting to look at. If I really got jazzed about the piece, I’d hang two different sizes next to each other.
Paddy Johnson, Another take on “no winning” the debate, is that both critiques are valid. Personally I see the value in both, though I fall on the side of “interesting” as opposed to not. I realize I’m in the minority here, and I’m fine with that. There’s nothing anyone’s said that’s diminished why I like the piece, only arguments that have propped up their own dislike.
Paddy Johnson @P. Elaine Sharpe I don’t think the platform diminishes the concept, nor do I think Man was saying it validated the work. If we believe art isn’t for a general public then even when 20×200 carries art from the fine art world proper it will be unintelligible as such.
This is a different subject, but since everything gets flattened out on the internet, nothing and everything looks like art at the same time. It’s one of the reasons it’s been so hard to migrate Fine Art from the net into the gallery.