An honest-to-god list of works of art that I have touched when no one was looking:
Mary Cassatt's The Bath
Van Gogh's Room at Arles
Skull with Burning Cigarette
Roy Lichtenstein's Meat
maybe a Rothko or two
a very old bust of Nefertiti
We all have ways of giving release to our sense of anomie. As a child—young, eager, completely overwhelmed by the systems of power that sanction value among inanimate objects—I exercised a feeble sense of power by touching anything that I was told expressly not to touch during school field trips or my mother's myriad efforts to expose her children to great works of art. I was thrilled at the depth of violation that quick, subtle act apparently embodied.
I'm still bewildered by the logistics of value distribution in the art world. At least now I have the manners to respect them, although I did take way more than my fair share of candy from Felix Gonzalez-Torres' rather generous-seeming Untitled (A Corner of Baci), 1990, a pile of chocolates visitors were welcome to pillage. Somehow it took the edge off.
Copy of the flyer for the inaugural exhibition of Will Brown; Courtesy Will Brown, San Francisco.
Naturally, I fully endorse the illicit nature of the gallery Will Brown's inaugural exhibition, Illegitimate Business. The advertised artists on the flyer were downright intriguing, even though as it clearly stated, "This exhibition of artworks and ephemera with peculiar provenance investigates the ways in which works of art are acquired outside of galleries and auction houses." I had a brief, fantastical vision of Chuck Close, Kara Walker, Catherine Opie, Harmony Korine, et. al. working in cahoots to stick it to the man. Turns out they were getting it stuck to them. Sort of.
Upon entering the basement of the gallery, accessible only by ladder, I was met with a motley collection of objects. Here more than ever, the information cards that accompany each piece, outlining its provenance, are fun to read. Instead of a litany of foundations through which the piece has ceremoniously tread, there is an entertaining anecdote from the anonymous lender, usually involving a late-night dumpster raid, rescuing of a "bad" or "ruined" test print, or a palmed bit of installation. The most poignant piece of contraband is perhaps the little resin head, cut out of a Martin Kippenberger painting by Kippenberger himself and insistently given to a nervous journalist as a thank you for a wonderful interview. "I was horrified" the placard reads, "This was so against a million rules." How long did it take them to realize what a small, wonderful thing had happened to them, because they were too scared of the rules to appreciate it at the time?
In the end, it's all junk. What's interesting to me is the lenders themselves, all of them hardworking, art-loving, ostensibly young and fresh to the art world when their acquisitions were made. Most are completely open about the fact that their burned DVD or swiped print is sort of fucking up the integrity of the edition. And no one seems particularly apologetic about it, and it did little to check my excitement at seeing a "real" Sol LeWitt on the floor, or watching a rare-ish Jeremy Blake video piece in its entirety. The proprietors of the gallery expressed worry that visitors would try to steal the works during the crowded opening, which would be poetic and transgressive and funny in its own way, but also counter to the whole alternative system of value that it centers around the junk in the first place. No one stole anything. That's the beauty of it. Why would anyone steal this stuff? It's worthless, but at the same time worth so much to anyone who would take the time to leave the house and actually visit it. We're all working on the same subjective wavelength here. The variations apparent only in the presentation: the care with which each piece is hung seems directly proportional to the individual owner's affection for it. Some were already riddled with pinholes at the corners, others carefully framed.
Some have really nice frames.
(Image at top: An installation shot of the Will Brown basement; Courtesy Will Brown, San Francisco)