Proof Reading

Read a critique of the “In Deed: Certificates of Authenticity in Art” exhibition, on view until August 26 at SALT Beyoğlu Istanbul, published in Mumbai Boss


It might seem peculiar that you’d be able to buy a discussion or even a gesture, but artists have successfully managed to sell the intangible and the obtuse for at least the last 50 years. As a new show at Mumbai Art Room, which opens on Friday, January 13, neatly demonstrates, it boils down to one document: the certificate of authenticity, that single sheet of paper that gives you, the buyer, the right of ownership over an artwork, even one of immaterial value. There’s much fun to be had in examining the certificates of authenticity on display in “In Deed: Certificates of Authenticity in Art”, where curators Susan Hapgood and Cornelia Lauf have pulled together facsimiles of some of the kookier ones from artists like Marcel Duchamp, Sol LeWitt, Yves Klein, Dan Flavin, Yoko Ono, David Shrigley, George Brecht and closer to home, Sharmila Samant, Raqs Media Collective and Hemali Bhuta. The show, incidentally, comes to us from New Delhi via Venice and the Netherlands, and will travel to Rome, Chicago, Istanbul and New York after.

Together, the works hint at the lunacy of the art market, its vagaries and peculiarities, the ambivalence of ownership and that age-old conundrum: what constitutes a work of art? The CoA, surprisingly, only entered mainstream practice as late as the 1950s and ’60s when artists began bucking conventional paint and canvas for the conceptual and occasionally physically-nonexistent. When “readymade” pioneer Marcel Duchamp issued his “Tzanck Check” drawn on the fictitious “The Teeth’s Loan & Trust Company, Consolidated” to pay his dentist for services rendered in lieu of money, he very deliberately accorded the CoA a value befitting a work of art.

More cheeky but no less funny was Robert Rauschenberg, the great American pop artist, who when he was unable to make it to an exhibition of his work in Scandanavia in 1961, sent instead a telegram with the words “THIS IS A PORTRAIT OF IRIS CLERT IF I SAY SO” (raising the very pertinent question of whether he was actually saying so). Some like the French Fluxist exponent Ben Vautier gave certificates to attest that he had kicked the buyer “in the posterior with my special shoe and that this very kick must be considered as a work of art”. Heimo Zobernig actually sold just a certificate as an editioned print to raise money for an exhibition at a gallery in Basel that was selling the certificates themselves. Yoko Ono and Sol LeWitt both issued instructions on their certificates that will in fact be executed on location at Mumbai Art Room (we don’t want to spoil the fun; go and see for yourself).

Emerging Italian artist Cesare Pietroiusti, mocking the meticulous detail often recorded on CoAs (like paper and medium), very carefully noted that he had spilled Union beer on a sheet of Modigliani paper, which he then instructed should be passed on by the buyer to anyone who requested it (Hapgood says don’t try asking for the work at the Mumbai show; this is a just a facsimile of the original). Our personal favourite, however, is one by American artist Dan Flavin. Flavin made a marker pen drawing of one of his fluroscent light installations, typed out the specs (title, date, medium) and then scribbled in pen, as a warning of sorts to unscrupulous buyers that might hock the certificate, that “This is a certificate only. It is not a drawing of mine”.

From Mumbai Boss

Thomas Büsch

Filmmaker, Founding Member and Secretary General of diyalog, promotion of cultural exchange with Turkey. Since 2012 he is also project manager of InEnArt.

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