Stop Mentioning Andy Warhol

by Will Brand on April 28, 2011 · 10 comments Opinion

One thing experience has taught me: just because you can relate everything to Andy Warhol, doesn’t mean you should. Carol Vogel’s article about Hans-Peter Feldmann’s plans for his upcoming exhibition at the Guggenheim is a good example. Feldmann, who as the winner of the Hugo Boss Prize receives both a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim and $100,000, plans to pin the money in $1 bills to the walls of the museum. I’m torn about the concept – accumulating a bunch of identical objects and lining the gallery with them is pretty old hat – but the humility that drives it is, I think, honest:

“I'm 70 years old, and I began making art in the '50s,” Mr. Feldmann said in a telephone interview from his studio in Düsseldorf, Germany. “At that time there was no money in the art world. Money and art didn't exist. So for me, $100,000 is very special, it's incredible, really. And I would like to show the quantity of it.”

Importantly, they’re all going to be used bills – bills that have bought food, bills that have bought clothes, bills that have seen real use once and will see it again. They’re not dollars as images, they’re not dollars as symbols of imperialism, they’re dollars that someone is going to spend to buy nice things. Vogel goes to a decent amount of trouble to point this out, quoting both the artist and the curator handling the show. She then immediately compares the project to Warhol’s 200 One Dollar Bills. 200 One Dollar Bills, of course, is the furthest thing from Feldmann’s project. This isn’t complicated: 200 One Dollar Bills is a painting, and images of dollars don’t mean the same thing as dollars. They’re almost precisely as similar as Van Gogh’s Chair and Kosuth’s Chair. So why bring it up at all? So you can mention auction results, of course!

One obvious image that comes to mind is Warhol's 1962 silkscreen painting “200 One Dollar Bills,” which sold for $43.7 million at Sotheby's two years ago.

What’s the use of this? Are we supposed to use this data to extrapolate how much Feldmann’s work is worth? The problem isn’t this article in particular, really, it’s that throughout popular art writing we use auction figures as filler where we can’t think of anything relevant to say. What’s worse, the desire to throw in those flavorful yet empty little morsels can lead even experienced writers, writers that should know better, to draw financially successful artworks into discussions they don’t belong in. It’s not a new issue, so harping on about it isn’t going to help. Instead, what I propose is action: we need to come up with somebody other than Warhol to bring up all the time. Somebody with a broad enough oeuvre, but who doesn’t turn everything into a discussion about money. My proposals? George Condo (he’s begging for it!) or Bruce Nauman (he’s done everything).

  • naomi

    will no one mention Zoe Leonard’s One Hundred Dollar Bills (2000-2008)? http://projekte.leokoenig.com/artist/workview/2002/12790

    • Will Brand

      Depends, how much did it sell for?

      • Anonymous

        Maybe art historians, writers, the whole wide world of all of us in the arts just need to stop with the constant comparisons of artists to other artists. I’m guilty of this all too easy action, but I place the blame on the entire slide comparison training that we’ve learned. Comparing artists to one another does have a purpose, especially when that purpose is to point out that comparing everyone to Andy Warhol is just wrong – and lazy. As for Hans-Peter Feldmann’s exhibition, I hope that people start stealing bills off the walls. The desire to steal individual sheets of currency just doesn’t exist with a huge canvas that’s been silkscreened with dollar bills. Let’s try to aim for less talk about artist-to-artist comparisons and more talk about comparing actions.

  • http://momardi.com Tuesday

    the intention is honest but the product is bordering on extravagance.

  • kalalaumango

    so does that michelangelo priceless?? as your header is hilarious especially when thinking of how UPTIGHT jane holzer’s worth avenue happens to be…….i’d stick to michelangelo as undermentioned when life becomes to stuck to soup cans.

  • Noah

    For me, maybe the ultimate money piece is by the K foundation. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=611972753567740682#

    With all the BS on Wall street in the last few days- which is intimately connected
    To art auctions where it goes to laundry- watching lots of money burn is a must -see.
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=611972753567740682#
    Another artist on this theme: Dread Scott
    http://heartasarena.blogspot.com/2010/06/love-that-burns.html

  • NicknameH

    Richter. Seems like writers purposefully avoid him.

  • http://twitter.com/jenninat0r Jennifer Chan

    And Duchamp, and Picasso, and and and…

    How about we introduce some self-absorbed and confident women to refer to as self-as-artstar masters?

  • http://www.criticismism.com Mark Sheerin

    Although I’ve never got tired of references to Warhol, I think there’s a tendency in Western culture to elevate one name above all others. In music it’s the Beatles. In literature it’s maybe Joyce. Or you can go further back and look at a world dominated by Leonardo da Vinci, Mozart, Shakespeare. Sure, they are all geniuses, but they don’t imho tower above everyone else in the way conventional wisdom suggests. It could be a product of monotheism!

  • http://www.cameandwent.com/tgnprojects.html Trong Nguyen

    How about Ashkan Sahihi’s 2005 project in Akureyri?:

    http://www.e-flux.com/shows/view/1733

    Hans-Peter Feldmann’s not-so-exciting proposal could be more interesting if he made a cash dispenser at the entrance where people can use his prize money to pay for their entry tickets… After it’s all gone the show closes…. Or a million other ways…. So he didn’t make money in the 50’s (when he was in his teens!)…. but what about the 60’s?????

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