Hark at the golden age of DIY counterfeits.
Had things worked out differently and I’d become insanely rich, I would spend all my money on works of contemporary art. Conceptual visual art in particular has opened doors in my mind that remain closed to other forms. I may be of the generation that grew up with the visionary ad people of the YBAs, and so inherited the grand gestures of Marcel Duchamp as reinvented by this rambunctious crowd, but it was when The Face magazine gave away some stickers of Jenny Holzer’s slogans that I was first hooked by the speedball fix of the concept: art that takes a simple and clear idea and delivers it in visually arresting fashion, like a dried flower affixed to the canvas so that it might blossom again in the mind of the viewer.
Increasingly, I think I could really dig experiencing that in my own home without the itchy guy who stands next to you in a gallery and announces, uninvited: ‘It’s all just bollocks, though, isn’t it?’
I love art, but – break out those tiny violins – much of the art I love is inordinately expensive.
I find this strange and upsetting, but it is true. It is upsetting because it is largely to do with a market in which global wealth treats these works as tokens of status or stores of capital, rather than acts of awesome creation that make a doomed shot at transcendence. It is strange because the producers of the works traded in these markets have traditionally had very little control of, or ability to influence, the value of their works, and indeed have created them specifically in opposition to these kinds of fetishisation and marketisation. Duchamp’s Fountain, the manufactured ceramic pissoir signed by R. Mutt in a gesture that literally invited anyone to declare themselves an artist by dint of exhibiting something, has sold for £1.3 million. Copies of his L.H.O.O.Q., the Mona Lisa with a moustache added, now go for £570,000. Without wishing to get into debates over the failures of the historical avant-gardes, this is a bitter irony. These are ideas that want to be free!
How to deal with such emotional turmoil? The answer seems obvious: to follow in Marcel’s footsteps (you know what they say: not being an oligarch is the mother of invention). So that readers of The Fence might join me in breaking down the hypercapitalist barriers of the auction house, I’ve researched and trialled workarounds that require little more than a few clicks or phone calls to produce approximations of seminal works, and promise unbelievable savings into the bargain. Caveat emptor: these really are very approximate copies.
Marcel Duchamp – Rotoreliefs;
Value £43,600 – cost £40 approx.
Often described as the first multiple, this set of six two-sided discs were designed to be played on turntables at between 40 and 60 rpm to produce optical illusion-like effects when rotated. Duchamp printed up 500 sets and tried selling them himself at an inventor’s fair in 1935. He didn’t shift many units but when two public schoolboys playing hooky rocked up at Antiques Roadshow with a set, it was valued at around £30k.
Source images of Rotoreliefs online. The Carnegie Museum of Art has a full set and arthistory.com has nice large images of the first two. The Ernő Goldfinger house at 2 Willow Road in London has a set so you might always make an appointment to photograph them yourself.
Colour-print the images – Duchamp used card, but if you want something more robust you could always go plywood. A4 should do the job because it’s just over 7″ wide. Cut out the images.
Obtain a turntable. A record player is ideal – again, Duchamp used the motor from a phonogram for his original, so that’s in the spirit. Argos do a retro-styled Bush number in a case that feels quite Duchampian for about £35. I signed mine ‘R. Mutt’ in silver pen – mash-up! And when you tire of your Rotoreliefs, you can pivot to vinyl.
Trevor Paglen – Symbology;
Value £20,800 – cost £100 approx.
The artist Trevor Paglen, best known for his research-led images responding to covert military infrastructure, has collected hundreds of patches awarded to participants in US black or grey ops, bearing sinister iconography and slogans. He documented these in his 2010 book I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have To Be Destroyed By Me. A framed set of 20 patches, titled Symbology (2007) sold at auction in 2016 for £19,800.
Many of the patches in Paglen’s book are available to buy on Etsy and eBay from sellers such as Mike’s Military Machines: in tribute to Paglen’s concept and his research, I selected seven of my favourites.
I bought the longest and shortest box frame I could from www.pictureframesexpress.co.uk at a total cost of £80.
I mounted the patches in the box frame (I’m feeling guilty because Trev is still alive, so should point out that there is an official limited edition of five patches that retails at £600 – more well-heeled readers may wish to consider buying that!)
Yves Klein – Venus Bleue;
Value £100,800 – cost £2,000.
Yves Klein is most famous for trademarking a colour, International Klein Blue, a deep ultramarine. As a conceptual gesture, it was rather wonderful: practically and legally, largely unsound. Besides, you can buy the pigment directly from the paintmaker with whom he developed it, Edouard Adam in Montmartre, in a kit along with the medium used to achieve Klein’s finish.
I’ve had the good fortune to see his Venus Bleue in the flesh in a private collection: the edition of 300 was produced from his concept by his estate some 20 years after Klein’s death. Pieces auction at in excess of £100,000 and a French gallery currently has one for €180,000.
Download a 3D scan of a Venus. The Musée Saint-Raymond in Toulouse has distributed open source a 3D scan of its Venus torso as part of the Scan the World project.
Print from the scan. A 3D printing company local to me, Fluxaxis, costed the job of reproducing the Venus and colouring it in Klein’s Blue, or as close as we can get it.
Mount it on a sideboard and stagger your friends with your secret wealth.