I’ve written about “Dislocations” before. It’s one of the contemporary shows at MoMA that left a deep impression on me when I first moved to New York. It was in 1991-2 when Rob Storr curated huge, room-dominating sculptures by Chris Burden and Louise Bourgeois, and installations [!?] by Bruce Nauman, Adrian Piper, the Kabakovs, and David Hammons.
I just found this 5yo photo of Hammons’ Public Enemy, which I guess I had looked up because I was deep into photomurals at the time, and really wanted to find (or make) Hammons’ big photocube of the piece’s namesake, Teddy Roosevelt and his Grateful Savages [sic, obv].
In the intervening years MoMA has upped their archival game significantly, by putting a ton of exhibition material online, including the press release, checklist, brochure, installation photos, and a pdf of Storr’s catalogue. [Oh wow, Sophie Calle was in that show? Guess her intervention–removing paintings from the Modern’s galleries–was so subtle, I forgot.]
This was the first work of Hammons’ I’d ever seen, probably the first time I’d heard of him. Which seems crazy now, but reading the show’s time capsule of a catalogue, maybe I wasn’t so far behind. Storr waxes and marvels at what is now known about Hammons’ practice:
Hammons has preferred the city as a workplace and its citizens as his audience and sometime co-workers. Street flotsam and jetsam are his materials. What he brings to the gallery is all and sundry that it traditionally excludes. What he extracts from those materials and brings to the objects and installations that he has created outside the museums are the marvels and mysteries that lie already and everywhere to hand along heavily trafficked thoroughfares, in public parks, and in the so-called vacant lots littered with the evidence of their constant nomadic occupation and use…
“I like doing stuff better on the street, because art becomes just one of the objects that’s in the path of your everyday existence. It’s what you move through, and it doesn’t have superiority over anything else.” [he said in an otherwise unpublished interview which I now think we should unearth. -ed.]
Storr goes on about Hammons’ improvisatory process, “like jazz,” in which, despite a year of lead time, “all options remained open and the result wholly unforeseen” until the artist arrived to install the work. Which must have given MoMA an institutional heart attack.
And which, really? Because you can’t just pick up four huge photomurals or a substrate for them. And those sandbags seem very manufactured and ordered from somewhere. True, if you just work fast enough, those NYPD barriers were all over town, free for the taking. [Do they still have those? For throwback protests?]
What I thought about yesterday was whether Public Enemy still existed, or could be recreated. What I wonder about today, though, is what it’ll take for Uncle Teddy to get the Silent Sam treatment.
In the 80s Hubert de Givenchy and his partner Philippe Venet commissioned Diego Giacometti to make furniture and stuff for a house they bought in BF France, 2 hours southeast of Paris. Last year they sold a bunch of it at auction, 21 lots, including three of the bronze tables above, which have carytids sticking up from all the legs. Together the three tables sold for EUR 11 million, almost a third of the total sale, which is sort of bonkers. But that’s not important now.
[PHILIPPE] VENET: Hubert asked, “Why don’t we have some Giacometti?” We had just sold our chalet in Megève—I was a very good skier and served in a mountain patrol during my military service—so I said, “Why not?” When Christie’s auctioned our Giacomettis [in 2017], we had a ferronnier make us a copy of the octagonal table. There are many homemades at Le Jonchet: a “La Fresnaye,” a “Picasso” that Hubert drew. After selling the big Joan Miró in his atelier to the Pompidou, I told him, “We must make a Léger.” So we did a collage together.
[MOMA TRUSTEE MERCEDES] BASS: It’s very hard to tell the difference between their works and the real things, though they never copied; they made renditions. Most were wonderful collages: Hubert and Philippe would prepare the backgrounds, then cut the paper and create a collage of a painting.
I love this have your cake and eat it, too, sell your tables and paintings and make them again–and still have people describing it in these equivocating terms about copies and renditions. Givenchy studied at the Beaux Arts, and his obituary in The Guardian described his retirement from fashion with, “He had long since set up an alternative life as an ‘amateur d’art.'”
So if your question is, would you rather have a Giacometti table in your chateau, or a remoulade Giacomettian table in your chateau and EUR33 million, my question is, how close do you need to get to the table?
My first thought on seeing this bouquet in a garbage can on the corner of 73rd St & West End Avenue was that it looked like the Lila Acheson Wallace-endowed bouquets in the Great Hall at the Met.
My second thought was that guerrilla flower arrangements should be a thing. And as soon as I saw the credit line spraypainted on the sidewalk “[LMD x NYC]” in Jeffrey Toobin’s picture, I realized it already is.
Lewis Miller recycles flowers from private commissions and events into impromptu, public flower arrangements. They’re instagrammed, and admired for a moment or two IRL–then scavenged and destroyed by passersby.
The old Fountain, a urinal on its side, since lost, was captured in a single photograph by Alfred Stieglitz. The ex-post-facto Stieglitz of our future’s Fountains is @SqueezyMcCheesy. Who did not, AFAIK, attend Betsy DeVos’s niece’s wedding, but did drop by the 2016 ranch dressing pop-up shop for the Cartoon Network comedian Eric Andre.
The ranch dressing fountain appeared at the pop-up shop exactly two years ago tonight, and then, like the urinal a century ago, it disappeared.
That shape. That surface. That material. I mean just look at it. The sound you hear is not the ranch dressing pump; it is Paul McCarthy weeping. He was so close, and yet.
Where the ersatz backdrop for Fountain (1917) was a painting by Marsden Hartley, the new Fountain was shot in front of a banner with Andre’s catchphrase, “Ranch me, Brotendo.”
If we only had ranch dressing Fountain to guide us in making art for the next 100 years, we would be busy. But pretty damn white. Fortunately, there are other Fountains. Behold Fuente de Queso.
What other food can be melted and dribbled in shiny, pulsating skins over a tower of stainless steel domes? What can’t, right? [I just googled ‘soylent fountain.’] Let’s fount’em all. And like our every food, our art will be liquefied and pumped and recirculated through an endless, nauseatingly spectacular cascade. How will we even notice?
That led me to Open This End, a 2015 traveling exhibition from of works from Byrne’s collection, organized by various college museums and his Skylark Foundation. One stop was Ohio State University, which housed most of the show at the Urban Art Space, except for this: “Just off campus on the façade of the former Long’s Bookstore on the corner of 15th Ave and High St, is a work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled(For Parkett) (1994).”
Which made me wonder how that worked? Actually, I’d wondered for several years how Felix’s Parkett edition billboard worked in real life. It comes rolled up in eight big, silk screened panels, and once it’s installed in a site, that’s it; it’s permanent. So far, my attempt, begun in 2012, to document all 84+15AP editions had gone nowhere. But now I had a new datapoint. Maybe. How does a one-and-done billboard in a traveling show from a private collection work?
Sure enough, here it is on Google Street View in 2015, facing the OSU campus entrance right by the Wexner Art Center. Let’s scrub forward to see how it has held up?
I emailed Skylark Foundation executive director Barbara Schwan to find out what happened. She looped in Joseph Wolin, curator of Open This End, to explain. After much consultation with the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation and Parkett, Byrne donated his edition of the billboard to OSU, where it was installed for several months on a building that was slated for demolition.
When the building came down, the billboard came down with it. Wolin wrote:
We were told, I forget if it was by Parkett or the Foundation, that this was one of the very few times, if not the only time, the billboard had been installed as a billboard, so we were pretty excited about that. Blake himself had acquired the work at auction and had it rolled up in storage for many years, so for me it felt rather wonderful, if bittersweet, to be able to realize it as the artist had intended. Apparently, when the work is installed indoors, as in Parkett’s exhibitions, the panels are often just pinned to the wall and rolled up again after.
So many questions answered, so many questions raised. Six years ago I lamented that “Untitled” (for Parkett) is “doomed by its own nature to exist in a state of fungible incompleteness, or worthless realization, or inevitable destruction.”
Which, thanks to a generous donation and successful realization with full knowledge of its destruction, we realize is a feature, not a bug. I hope more owners of “Untitled” (for Parkett) follow Byrne’s lead by realizing their billboards and letting time take its toll in public rather than in storage. It is what Felix would have wanted.
Where to even start? As a huge Charles Sheeler fan from early on, my first reaction was “GET IT.” This 1941 Sheeler photo is unusual so many ways. First off, the subject is a person, though one who is surrounded by the artifacts of early Americana that provided a grounding for the artist’s own modernist and precisionist leanings.
More on this person in a second, but second, this print was just deaccessioned by the Museum of Modern Art, and I missed the end of the Christie’s online auction because I was driving–and I forgot.
The print was a gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, the Modern’s co-founder. It is unsigned. The back has adhesive residue and an accession number. So I guess technically it might have been an exhibition print; back in the day, the connoisseurial taxonomies of photography were obviously less rigid, as were the accession guidelines of the Department, never mind there was a war on.
Anyway, such an illustrious provenance should smooth over any concerns. And yet the Christie’s estimate was only $5-7,000, a tiny fraction of a more typical Sheeler print. And the thing only got one bid, $1,500, and sold for just $1,875.
Maybe it’s time to go back to the first and most obviously striking thing about this portrait: the subject, an elderly African American woman with an apron, sitting in an antique kitchen, who, according to the photo’s title, is “Aunt Mary.” But whose Aunt Mary? Not the photographer’s, presumably, and not Abby Rockefeller’s, right? Well.
“Aunt Mary” turns out to be a character, a fictional enslaved worker in the kitchen of the Governor’s Palace at Colonial Williamsburg, another Rockefeller-founded culture venue that had just opened in 1934. On decades worth of Williamsburg postcards “Aunt Mary”, described as a “servant,” sits, head down, in a placid, domestic tableau.
To his credit, Sheeler photographed this unidentified performer as a person, not as a prop. Who was she? What was her job like? Assuming she’s from the area, southern Virginia, she looks too young to have been enslaved herself, but certainly old enough to be the child of former slaves. Until a push by activists and historians in the 1970s, “Aunt Mary” was one of the very few non-white historical characters in Williamsburg.
But why was Sheeler making it? I know and love his documentary photos from the Metropolitan Museum, but did he cover Williamsburg, too? Last year Kirsten Jensen curated a show of Sheeler’s fashion photography for the Michener Art Museum in Pennsylvania. What other Sheeler series and projects are lurking undiscovered in archives out there?
Guernica is a big painting, 3.5m x 7.75m, which spent much of its early life on world tour, and which was parked at MoMA at Picasso’s request, from 1943 until a democratic Spanish government was able to bring it back in 1981. Including a couple of construction-related rehangs, MoMA packed and moved Guernica twenty times during its stay. Still, for touring exhibitions organized by the Modern in the 1940s and 50s, they sent a scaled down, but still large, photograph of Guernica instead.
Exhibition requests blossomed for Nelson Rockefeller’s authorized, full-scale tapestry replica of Guernica, which he commissioned in 1955. Like the photos, the tapestry became a stand-in for the original, expanding and amplifying its reach.
Two other tapestry versions were eventually produced, which ended up in museums in France and Japan. Rockefeller loaned his to the United Nations, where it’s gone on to have its own loaded history.
[Goshkua Macuga borrowed the Rockefeller tapestry for a 2009-10 show at the Whitechapel Gallery which referenced Colin Powell’s 2003 war speech at the UN where he covered the tapestry while lying about Iraq.]
I have not seen any mention of any of these photo replicas still existing. A full-scale prop version of Guernica appeared in a scene in Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 film Children of Men, and points to the very recent development of printing technology that allows a 3.5m tall image to be reproduced on one panel.
Which, I think I must now do if I can’t find these earlier photo versions. And even if I can.
And here I am starting to feel about headboards-I-don’t-own-as-readymade-paintings like Dan Flavin ended up feeling about fluorescent lights: stuck.
Yes, that’s exactly what it’s like. Can you just imagine the market pressure? Demanding you to keep repeating your greatest hit, to keep churning out every iteration of the formula, to see the concept through to the bitter end, until it’s ultimately the headboard on your own deathbed, stained with your own hairgrease, that becomes your final, ghostly selfie. The hammer drops, the crowd cheers, your kids want to cash out and move your estate to Zwirner, authorizing faux-finish headboards in posthumous editions.
Damn. That got dark fast. And here I’d only planned to point out that this king-size, faux snakeskin quilted pleather number is most definitely in the top ten of the series. The top five, even. If you want it, you have until next week to let me know, at which point it’ll slip from all our grasps.
Liz Deschenes’ current show at Miguel Abreu–both of them–is titled, Rates (Frames per Second). Deschenes’ series of photograms relate to the chronophotographic studies of motion of Étienne-Jules Marey.
The variously reflective texture of the photosensitive paper on display, coupled as the show unfolds with the widening individual panels comprising the works, affords a subtle sensation of gradual embodiment.
It’s interesting that the installation apparently culminates in the human-scale panels, because I assume you have to walk back out of the gallery, too.
In any case, they look gorgeous as usual, and the variations of widest ones even look baroque, relatively speaking, of course.
UPDATE: I have since heard that the works do not have an implied narrative. And that perhaps if there’s a sense of culmination in experiencing the show, it’s as much the 10 windows in the space, a found 10fps as any of the photogram series. This site specificity has now landed the show on my IRL list
My friend’s stories of how people react to and deal with very contemporary art in the professional/academic setting of a business school are awesome, and go way beyond “Art? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯“. There’s the difficulty in filling a wall with SFW Wolfgang Tillmans; the Tacita Dean stills of disaster movie endings that are too depressing for the recruiting lounge, so they were moved to the PhD students’ offices; Claire Fontaine’s neon, “Foreigners Everywhere,” which is harsh enough in Chinese translation to make every prospective Chinese student uneasy. [Apparently only one artist with work in the collection has visited so far, which seems bonkers. It seems like an unusually engaging and sophisticated context for seeing art working beyond the white cube community.]
Anyway, my hands-down favorite piece has to be Cameron Rowland’s Payroll, which consists of four grimy desks the artist bought at government surplus auction from the NYC Office of Payroll Administration, after their own headcount had decreased by 41.
How much sense does this not make? People buy the sheets from Felix Gonzalez-Torres stacks at auction, on eBay, and at various artist book & ephemera dealers, and it just seems…what’s the word here? Hilarious? Sad? Stupid? Embarrassing? Ridiculous? Wrong? Inexplicable?
Well, no. There’s an easy explanation. People sell Felix posters because they want money. And people buy them because they are for sale.
Felix made his first work that includes a stack of paper in 1988, and his first to consist of a stack constantly replenished with “endless copies” in 1989. Then there was a burst of stacks in 1990. By the time of his death in 1996, the artist had produced 47 stacks. Four were declared after his death to be “registered non-works.” One consisted of rubber doormats, which are not to be taken. One consists of an edition of 200 signed, silkscreen prints which together comprise a single stacked work, which are not to be taken. One was an edition of 250 of which 89 were sold separately, and the remaining 161 were sold together as a stack, which are not to be taken. The first one, it is not clear whether they can be taken. One is made of little passport-sized booklets, which can be taken. So that makes 38 stacks made of posters infinitely replenishable with endless copies. Along with a registered non-work stack created with Donald Moffett, three stacks were collaborations with another artist, who provided the image or text: Michael Jenkins, Louise Lawler, and Christopher Wool.
The Felix Gonzalez-Torres catalogue raisonné quotes the text the artist included in the certificates of authenticity for each stack:
A part of the intention of the work is that third parties may take individual sheets of paper from the stack. These individual sheets and all individual sheets taken from the stack collectively do not constitute a unique work of art nor can they be considered the piece…its uniqueness is defined by ownership.
So these are not artworks. Or, they’re not the artwork. But they are something of value, even though they are free for the taking in an endless supply. And people trying to explain and justify the value–or the price, really–use paradigms that the artist himself critiqued, rejected, and sought, to some extent, to undermine. Sellers, including auctioneers like Wright who know what’s up, invoke an edition model, calling sheets “original” “prints” and “lithos” from “an unknown edition size.” This framing resonates with the investing community that has grown up around mass limited editions from print mills like Murakami and Hirst, Kawsian art toys and artist-designed skatedecks, and even Richter-style “facsimile objects.”
Rago, an auction house whose business is liquidating New Jersey’s vast collections of silkscreen editions assembled in the 60s and 70s, gives the sheets made-up names like “Untitled (water ripples)” and “Untitled (The Show is Over)”, and gooses the provenance with statements like “Created originally in 1993 for the Printed Matter exhibition at Dia.”
One eBay seller’s allusions to photography and rare book connoisseurship to justify a $12,500 asking price for a single sheet because it was taken from “the original piece” during a gallery show “in October, 1991,” have not gone unchallenged:
Please note that I have received some comments about this one… that is, since it was conceived of as an open edition, there are numerous ones out there from other exhibitions, and possibly a reissuance from the estate.
That could be true, however, the original litho is a “first” printing; subsequent printings are of a subtlely diiferent (sp) size, color, paper, etc. This makes the first edition the most coveted, and hence the valuation.
That stack, like so many of Felix’s work, known as “Untitled”, was acquired from that show at Luhring Augustine Hexler by the Walker Art Center. And despite being in a public collection and widely exhibited since its creation, the sheets from the Walker’s “Untitled” are among the most frequently and expensively sold separately. Unusually, the Walker’s description of the piece includes the number taken during the work’s public exhibition in 1999-2001: “approximately 660 posters per month.” Frankly, 8,000/year seems low, unless I were being charged $1,000 for one as an “edition”, in which case it’d be insanely high.
Felix wanted as many viewers as wanted them to take sheets from his stacks for free, but this turns out to be not the same as free to obtain or endlessly available. They’re not all in publicly accessible collections. They’re not always on view, and they’re probably not close by when they are. So the constraints and complications of getting in a room with the Felix stack you want have real costs, and the way we weigh these costs against the desire to possess a thing is called money.
Then there’s the reality of the work itself, the stack whose “uniqueness is defined by ownership.” The artist’s certificates also say “The owner has the right to reprint and replace, at any time, the quantity of sheets necessary to regenerate the piece back to the ideal height.” There’s a concept worth studying in a work doesn’t just exist at various heights, but that depletes and is regenerated. If you find that dissertation, please lmk. What jumps out to me is the apparently fundamental link between uniqueness and authenticity and ownership, and the dependence of that existence on a right, not a responsibility.
For all the freedom and openness and sharing of Felix’s work, it rests on a foundation of rights granted to collectors, not obligations assumed by stewards. The market for sheets is thus the trickle-down effect of these private decisions that make stacks scarce through unavailability.
Could the artist’s wishes be better served by adapting his stacks to the digitized world he didn’t live to see? What if the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation made all of the stack sheets available for download and individual printing? It’d be several kinds of complicated, I know, but it wouldn’t disrupt the existence of “the piece,” the uniqueness of which, remember, is defined by ownership. [Having recently pulled out around 100 sheets I’ve collected over more than 25 years, I can say this is not an obviously great idea; stacks vary in size, paper type, and finish in ways that DIY printouts will inevitably get wrong, and the artist’s generosity for everyone else’s shitty reproduction of his work will be sorely tested.]
Letting sheets loose in the wild will result in large-scale printing and distribution, probably at poster-scale commercialization. But a line in an eBay auction seems to indicate this is already happening.
After comparing it to a poster that sold for $750 on artnet, the seller of this $1200 poster “by Christopher Wool & Felix Gonzalez-Torres” notes, “NOTE this is an original edition from the Dallas Museum’s run and not from China.” But something ain’t right. The dimensions of the Wool&FG-T sheet are 37×55, and this one from Dallas is 24×36. Also, there’s a giant border, and it says Dallas Museum of Art on the bottom. Also, the letters don’t line up. Because this is a poster of a painting, a painting [right] the DMA acquired in 1991. Meanwhile, the related painting that became the stack is hanging [left] behind Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner. They gave it to the Whitney in 2014.
Isn’t this the real source of the Felix stack flipper problem: hypeboys looking for cheap Wools? And at hundreds to thousands of dollars a pop, wouldn’t YOU set up a #ChineseWoolMill to meet their demand?
If there is such a thing as capitalist karma, it comes in the form of Erika Hoffmann, the Berlin collector who, with her late husband Rolf, bought the Wool/Gonalez-Torres stack. In March she donated it, along with her entire collection, to the Dresden State Art Collection. It will become one of the most public and publicly available stack pieces of them all.
[This writing of this post was delayed several days by the outraged consideration of the vast preceding and ongoing corruption of the president, and it took place amidst the anguished, mounting fury at the systemic policy of terrorizing and torturing children and families seeking asylum from perils that drove them to flee their homes. The solace of art has its limits.]
A COUPLE OF DAYS LATER UPDATE: I swear I wasn’t planning to do this, but then someone on Twitter feared it was coming, and so it had to happen.
“Untitled” (Ross in L.A.) in DC is now on eBay. It comprises an original Felix Gonzalez-Torres offset print acquired from the National Gallery of Art, and a full-scale, signed, stamped, and numbered certificate of authenticity. It is available in an edition of 2.
“Paint roller through a Picasso, well, there’s your Powerless Structures right there,” I said. “But can it really be that easy?” And then I remembered that Michael & Ingar hadn’t thought so back in 2004 when they put a safe behind a Hirst.
And then there’s this quote, mentioned in the Ganz sale catalogue, from Jacques Prevert, who visited Picasso two weeks before Le Marin was painted, and a month after the artist had been told by the Gestapo he was to be sent to a German concentration camp:
Picasso, more than any other artist, reacts to the things around him. Everything he does is a response to something he has seen or felt, something that has surprised or moved him. (Quoted in M. Cone, op. cit., p. 135)
So yes, I will react. And if you need me, I will be honing my paint roller throwing technique until the #chinesepaintmill Picasso arrives.
update update: Thinking about how to actually make this work, I look back to an even earlier Elmgreen & Dragset performance piece, 12 Hours of White Paint, Powerless Structures, Fig. 15 (1997) [above], where the duo repeatedly painted and washed off the walls of a gallery space. The downstroke is the key. I bet the painter was painting the wall opposite the Picasso and so had his back to it, and on the end of his downstroke he stabbed it. Which is fine, but I had hoped to work a rollerful of paint into the disaster somehow.
I was very interested to see this David Hammons print on silver paper when it came up for sale a year ago at Swann. And now that it’s back at Sotheby’s, I’m kind of interested in what’s up. I don’t remember it selling before, but Swann says it did. [For just $25k, or a $20k bid+premium, against a $30-40k estimate. Maybe it sold afterward.]
For an important approach (face imprinting) to an important subject (spade) for an important artist (DH, prounounced duh), that was only realized in a tiny fraction of the original edition (50 declared, six printed), it seems like it should’ve been snapped up and kept.
Oh right, now I remember why I was so interested in it: because I wanted to finish off the edition myself. There was a Warhol print on silver foil paper, too. Seems tricky to execute.
“When I lie down on the paper which is first placed on the floor, I have to carefully decide how to get up after I have made the impression that I want. Sometimes I lie there for perhaps three minutes or even longer just figuring out how I can get off the paper without smudging the image that I’m trying to print.” [Young, p. 8.]
Then the artist applied a fixative to secure the image to the thin layer of margarine, often, as in this work, with multiple impressions. The artist took this work one step further making a screenprint of a monotype, moving the print across the paper to create a multiple self-image.
This process made me think Hammons mirrored his profile for Spade, but I think they’re actually the two sides of his face, composited.
UPDATE: wow, $100,000. Epic flip. UPDATE UPDATE: Not really, more like epic shop. $100,000 is what a collector pays, and the markup for a collector who did not know or know where to buy this work just a year ago is 400%.
Assuming the seller bought it last year for $25k, their take yesterday after premiums (25% buyer, 10% seller) is probably only $72k. So their net is around $45k. Not bad for one work for a year, but not epic. Combined, the two auction houses got $35k ($7k for Swann, $28k for Christie’s). The original owner got around $18k. Plus 45 years with the work. Hard to say he’s not the winner here.
These nice but unremarkable chairs would go nicely with our humble chair, I thought, but claiming that is the reason to buy them would be a lie. You would buy them–I would buy them–because 65 years ago, the family registrar marked two of the three chairs with inventory numbers: D.R. 53.1758. I am fine with acknowledging this.
I realized that buying something you might conceivably need would violate the spirit of the occasion. Beyond all other auctions, a Rockefeller Auction is pure want. And what is wanted, above all, is provenance.
Could provenance and its auratic power be isolated from the object that is its ostensible vehicle? What object might make that possible? It would not just have to be non-precious, or non-aesthetic; it would almost have to thwart value and appeal. It couldn’t be ironic or sentimental, or hold even a remote association with Rockefeller personally–which seemed a little intrusive–or with the family and their history and legacy.
I love that this puzzle presented itself at the exact same time I was dealing with the Japanese plates Danh Vo bought 11 years ago from the rural Pennsylvania estate sale of an obscure US general with a connection to the Vietnam War and the JFK assassination.Anyway, I did a reverse estimate sort on the 800 or whatever lots in the online auction. I skipped past all the Staffordshire porcelain figurines of shepherdesses. I lingered for a moment over the fireplace tools and andirons (above). I have a thing for andirons of provenance, but then I remembered that the Rockefellers did, too: David’s brother Nelson had a business selling reproductions of his art collection, including his Diego Giacometti andirons.
Then I found it: Lot 1732 An 18th Century English Cast-Iron Fireback, est. $200-400. It was in terrible condition, or rather, it had a rare patina. Like how they gratuitously leave the bird’s nest in the hood scoop of the barn find Ferrari. 1st Dibs lists two nearly identical firebacks [below] with Spes, the Roman goddess of hope, as 17th century Dutch, so Christie’s (and the Rockefellers’) description probably stems from the careful preservation of an inaccurate invoice “from WM. Jackson Co., 1 February 1956.” #provenance.
Oh, weird, what’s this, Lot 1753, Late 17th Century Italian Priedieu, “the base reduced in depth”, est. $400-600? A priedieu with the prie removed is kind of perfect. Not to question the Rockefellers’ faith, of course, just that when you put it in a home, the kneeling part of a priedieu can be a real tripping hazard. The provenance here was distinct, too: “Acquired with the contents of Hudson Pines.” David & Peggy bought Hudson Pines from his sister Babs, who’d built it. So this 10-inch deep, chopped up priedieu has a double Rockefeller provenance. I imagine it holding a tiny key bowl, or blocking an unsightly vent.
But it’s also almost the same dimensions as the fireback. Now I could see these two damaged, useless, clunky antiques together, a found monochrome diptych monument to this liquidity event, a celebration of the massive value accrued around them during the last 70 years of their 350 year existence.
Each of these marred tchotchkes ended up selling for $3000, which answers the question of what provenance is worth. And I don’t have to worry about where to put them.