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Art collecting 101: The guano should stay put

Thank you, Brother Poverty! Every time I think I have numbered your blessings aright, along comes another cautionary tale to redouble my gratitude. Take, for example, the esteemed Home section of today's New York Times, which today reveals the heavy burden of conservatorship imposed by art in "nontraditional media" upon its affluent collectors. The works of Mr. Damien Hirst seem to involve particularly onerous upkeep requirements, from renewing the fading boxes of anti-HIV drugs in his faux medicine chest (shown fetchingly mounted over the mantlepiece  in a swanky all-black study) to a $100K price tag for neutralizing the formaldehyde when relocating the artist's famous shark-in-a-tank.

We have acquired a few modest pieces of art for the CrazyStable: a hand-painted faux-Colonial Primitive painting of a little girl holding a cat (bought in Savannah years ago from a darling old fellow straight out of Garden of Good and Evil), and a seriagraph by a Japanese guy named Kozo, all delicate shades of grey and lavender, that I purchased on installment in the Village so long ago that I didn't have a credit card yet.  Oh, and watercolors by my grandmother, Fanny Granger Becker, who studied with William Merritt Chase. (The painting of butterflies caught in a sunbeam that hangs over the Child's bed, hung over mine in my childhood.) But I'm sure you see a certain bourgeois sensibility at work here already. Where is the risk, the curatorial daring, the  formaldehyde?

However, the Times article features two patrons of the arts who gave me new hope that the Crazy Stable, should we ever happen upon Bloombergian cash reserves, could qualify as a showplace for the very best that post-modern installation art has to offer--and that we could muster, based on our life experience, the kind of "eternal maintenance" required by such "ephemeral art." 

First, we learn of an "art consultant in Manhattan" who, with his partner (a Sotheby's honcho) acquired an installation piece in 1999 by John Bock, a German artist described as "very important." "The sculpture, which featured prominently in the couple's dining room, involved a series of hand-knitted sweaters, fishing wire, and a constant supply of fresh melons and vegetables. Dinner guests were suitably impressed, but Mr. Fletcher grew tired of maintaining the sculpture, so the couple decided to give it to the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. 'I didn't want to be putting out fresh vegetables every week as those things rotted,' Mr. Fletcher said." 

Avoiding any puns involving "Carnegie" and "melon," I will state only that our experience in the CrazyStable has superbly equipped us to deal with a tangle of fishing wire, sweaters, and rotting melons; at least two of those were probably still in our garage on closing day. It's our turn, dammit.  I  want to leave dinner guests suitably impressed. I want to buy an important German!

If you scroll down to the previous post, you will see how even more perfect for the CrazyStable would be this "conceptual work" by the eminently collectible Matthew Barney:

"A novel quandary presented itself in 2002," recounts the Times, when a hedge fund mogul purchased the "Ehrich Weiss Squite," a Barney installation which includes seven black Jacobin pigeons. (Hey, these are hipster pigeons--what other color would they wear?) Contained in a room with a transparent door, the birds are allowed to perch on a black box intended to represent the coffin of a Harry Houdini-like escape artist. "We were very concerned when we purchased this," said the curator employed full time  to oversee the mogul's "burgeoning collection."  "Pigeon guano is acidic and we feared it would eat away at the acrylic coffin."

Of course, we had this problem often in our early days in Flatbush, but the mogul and his curator turned in their puzzlement to a contemporary art conservator specialist, who consulted with the artist "and decreed that the guano should stay put." After a week of "scientific inquiry," the conservator determined that the guano would remain harmless if it were kept away from moisture, so the whole wondrous work is now in a humidity-controlled warehouse in Queens*, "and the rented pigeons have returned to their coops." 

[* The next time an artist, or anyone, gives you something you just can't bear to hang up or put out on the  credenza or the mantlepiece, remember this line: "We're storing it in a humidity-controlled warehouse in Queens."]

Now, when we faced similar challenges with an important installation of roofing shingles, drywall, wood, human blood, and pigeon guano (created by a team of roofer-performance artists by falling through the third-floor eaves in 1986),  my week of scientific investigation determined that dry pigeon guano, particalized and inhaled, could give you a wicked fungal infection of the lung called psitticosis; we "maintained" that particular installation with bleach and sponges. But then, as the artists said in their statement, "This work--Blood, Guano, Sky--is intended to transgress traditional concepts of "roofing," "contractors," and "skill," and to create a participatory experience for the bourgeois homeowner involving liability, disease risk, and other issues seldom associated with pigeons and home improvement in a postmodern artistic dialogue."

Damien Hirst, we have 3,000 square feet just waiting for you! 

Posted on Thursday, November 10, 2005 at 03:20PM by Registered CommenterBrenda from Brooklyn | Comments2 Comments

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Reader Comments (2)

I had to suffer through a required class on Post-Modernist art history at SCAD. I couldn't have said it any better, and, by that, I mean it's hilarious.

If you're still looking for a something to impress your dinner guests with, I have an urinal that ought to compliment Blood, Guano, Sky nicely. Unfortunately, I'm only half German, and whether I qualify as "important" is entirely up to you.
November 16, 2005 at 02:08PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn
Well, John, it sounds to me, your being from Arkansas and all, (and given your medium is a humble, even squalid, household item), that you qualify as an "outsider artist," and they are very hot while remaining (I am told) a relative bargain for astute collectors. If you have inscribed any gospel verses or folksy ravings on this urinal, my curatorial interest is piqued still further...
November 16, 2005 at 05:43PM | Registered CommenterBrenda from Brooklyn

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