What is this space? Art project? Vitrines awaiting development? I have no idea, but perhaps some of you do. I found myself in this underground corridor in Rockefeller Center the other day, trying to find a shortcut from the R train 49th Street exit to my dentist’s office. Quiet, the way museums used to be, but without any wall labels or any signage indicating it might be a “public” artwork. It provided the remarkably sublime and sublimely remarkable experience of absence – absence of advertising, absence of commerce, absence of address, absence of instrumentality. I had forgotten the sensation of release produced by the experience of being in the rare space of abstraction-without-aim. The only other time I’ve had this kind of experience was at the holocaust museum in Washington DC when it first opened, where the Ellsworth Kelly paintings and wall sculptures seemed to me much more affective than the explicit installations. Although perhaps that’s because I already know the history.
I tried hard to find some sort of reference to this space, and only found one today after inventive re-googling (“10 Places to Find Peace and Quiet in Manhattan.)” Interestingly, the journalist didn’t seem to know what it was either (although she refers to it as a “modernist fever dream”).
Not that light inherently defies reification. If you didn’t know that by now, last week’s New Yorker profile on gallerist David Zwirner makes it clear. (Thank you New Yorker, for making the text available for “free” online, in exchange for collecting god knows what personal data and doing god knows what with it…)
I thought one of the most interesting parts of the profile was the discussion of Zwirner’s attitude about the Dan Flavin works. Works that didn’t sell in 1964, now selling for one to two million each; Zwirner tribute-shows staged to lubricate his subsequent posthumous edition deals and sales (challenged by Paula Cooper and Pace Gallery as not being what the artist had in mind); Zwirner’s justification: “‘You can’t tell me it’s not better that there are more,’ he said.”
“A Flavin isn’t a Flavin unless a certificate affirming its provenance comes with it. If you have a Flavin and no certificate, it is no longer a Flavin. It is a fluorescent light. Monetarily, there is little difference in value, at present, between those which come with certificates signed by Flavin and those signed by the estate. ‘Most new collectors don’t care or know any better,’ Cooper said.”
Fluorescent lights: it seems that Zwirner has cornered the market on new replacement tubes, and Cooper the market on old ones.
Actually, it’s even more complicated than that when it comes to famous and generic fluorescent tubes.
Perhaps, like the Ford Motor company, we should rely on “reimagining,” the past. In its new branding program for their Lincoln models, the company is relying on art to generate new customers.
“With ‘Hello, Again’ we’ll commence a series of projects with artists who share our vision of reimagination. And along with you, watch as they explore familiar territory to return with original creations we’ve never met before.” I’m not sure, but those lines may have been generated by an algorithm, without any actual human involvement in the branding.
In a NYT business section article, “In Marketing, Art’s the Thing,” Kevin Kearney, managing director and partner at Alldayeveryday, says that “Although bringing art and marketing together is ‘becoming more widely accepted,’ the biggest risk remains doing it in a manner that is deemed cheesy, tacky or too commercial by the intended audience. ‘It’s totally fine to do if it’s done in a tasteful way,’ he said, in which case it can be ‘beneficial for the artist and beneficial for the brand.’ That would ‘not come across as a selling-out thing,’ he added.”