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).