What if we at least aimed to get rid of those that find no audience? This is the ironic premise offered by French artist Anne-Valerie Gasc, who vows to eliminate any of her artworks that cannot find collectors. And if we listened to her, our depots would be much emptier.
In 2008, French artist Anne-Valérie Gasc developed an art exhibit in which she appeared under the name “Gasc Demolition EnterpriseTM”: Seven white blocks presented on stands, unclear whether or not they were generic architectural models or sculptures. The exhibit followed a rigorous procedure: Every two days, unless interrupted by a sale, one of the Blocks would be destroyed. The project lasted fourteen days. One of the exhibition rooms was dedicated exclusively to their devastation1.
The online journal Paris-Arts commented on the exhibition2: “Anne-Valérie Gasc appropriates processes fundamentally distant from the art landscape when it comes to notions of conservation.” Indeed, the destruction resulting from a non-sale presented one major inconvenience and two great advantages. The inconvenience: Only the works that saw public success were left in the wake. The artist’s catalogue is incomplete and will remain so. But this could also be seen as an advantage: All that remains are artworks that elicited interaction. They alone deserve to survive. Anne-Valérie Gasc’s destruction of unsold works has another sizeable advantage: No storage necessary. Works are either acquired or destroyed. The artist leaves without any baggage.
Art, economy, value. How do they relate? Are there any artworks without monetary value that remain valuable for art’s sake? The answer is clearly yes. But what of the opposite? Can the absence of monetary value act negatively on an artwork, to the point of overshadowing it? In another Subtraction Chronicle, we mentioned the Salvage Art Institute, a New York research platform dedicated to deteriorated artworks that have lost all value and been locked away in the storehouses of the insurance groups that reimbursed their unfortunate owners.
We all want to appreciate art for art’s sake, and not only is this possible, it is desirable, but that also means forgetting “what sets the price” and “what the prices do”. A seminar was held in Paris from 2014 to 2016 entitled “Choses de prix” (Price matters). According to its initiator, French philosopher Patrice Maniglier, “Choses de prix is the result of a collective work that united art practitioners (artists, curators, critics, collectors, etc.) and practitioners in the human and social sciences (sociologists, anthropologists, economists, philosophers, art historians and historians of literature) to meet for two years about the price of things, or more precisely, what prices do to things.” Maniglier continues: “We asked ourselves what it means for things to have a price and to pass, for example, from gift to merchandise, collector’s item to relic, free sample to waste. It seemed to us that art objects were a special laboratory for observing these mechanisms, due to the particularly obscure price-setting rules in art.”
But back to our topic, Subtraction: In 2019, value aside, is it still relevant to make works of art? It just seems that there are too many of them. But there are many scenarios in which artists annihilate their own work. So many that we can even legitimately speak of an alternative art history, one that echoes the Gnostic adventures described by French writer Jacques Lacarrière, “A shadow-history, a counter-history whose successive pages make a desperate attempt to deny history itself.” The Gnostics,” writes Lacarrière, “laugh at posterity, perenniality, the future, and all those snares and pitfalls of time in which man allows himself to be caught.” What they preach “is immediate flight, a desertion of the world and the demarcations of time.” Patrick de Haas, senior lecturer of Contemporary Art History at the Sorbonne, additionally comments that there are “two ways to prevent a disturbing artwork from producing any effect: either destroy it physically, if possible down to its memory, or museify it, if possible until complete anesthesia.”
Let’s end this chronicle by looking at a different phenomenon, that of artists who quit art. Here too, there is an abundant century’s worth of scenarios. The reasons are extremely diverse.
Take the case of conceptual artist Alexander Melamid, originally from Russia and based in New York. According to the New York Times3, from 2004 onward, after a prosperous period in which he “celebrated and skewered mass culture” together with another Russian-American artist, Vitaly Komar, Melamid quit the official art circuit in order to “go underground”. He claims he “lost faith”. When for a long time there was no sign of him, some even wondered if he’d simply abandoned art altogether. Where did Alexander Melamid go? A few years later, in a 2014 New York Times interview with journalist Penelope Green, Melamid, still around, confesses: “Art is not only physical pollution, it’s intellectual pollution. Spiritual pollution. (…)We were promised salvation by art. I was a passionate believer, until I realized it was one of those allegiances, like spiritualism or theosophy. All of this kind of semi-religious teaching, like Mary Baker Eddy or Madame Blavatsky” (one of the founding members of the Theosophic Society). The interview goes on with his call to those trying “to get rid of the affliction of being in art. Why not introduce a new curriculum? Introduce a course of plumbing or electrical work.” It sounds like a joke, but Alexander Melamid is serious. At the end of 2014, he draws attention for his incongruous project “Melamid’s Institute of Responsible Re-Education”4. Created in New York, the Institute is a collaboration with Phillip Gulley, about whom we know next to nothing, except that he’s a contractor. What does the Institute propose? To re-educate all artists who wish to quit art. Its mission statement, formerly available on the Internet, spoke on behalf of “all those who attended art school” and whose dreams were torn apart by the harsh reality that they would not earn tons of money but have a future of poverty, not see monumental success but failed opportunities. For them, ‘we offer the possibility to complete certification in the following professions: appliance repair, car repair, AutoCAD, carpentry, daycare, landscaping, grooming, plumbing, security, etc.’ The strangest thing about the case? Only five years after its creation, not a single trace of the Institute could be found.
THIS WAS: Forbidding oneself from making art objects as subtraction.
Translation by Maya Dalinsky
Cover: © Anaïs Enjalbert