Friday, November 16, 2007

Comparing Apples with Apples

This week we saw Billy Apple’s 1965 sculpture Rainbow with waterfall reproduced in two very different places. The first example was as lot 11 in the latest Art+Object catalogue where it was presented as the original 1965 work exhibited in his 1965 solo show Neon Rainbows, at Paul Bianchini and Ben Birillo’s Bianchini Gallery. Apple had famously shown there a couple of years before in the gallery’s exhibition The American Supermarket where he was in the company of artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. The second illustration was being displayed on the home page of Acryform a company who, along with a wide range of other work, fabricate acrylic sculptures for artists. The two objects looked to be the same, as indeed they are. In fact Rainbow with waterfall is either fully, or in part, a reconstruction of the original that has been fabricated by Acryform.

In the context of Billy Apple’s conceptual practice this is no big deal. If Billy Apple considers the reconstructed work to be another iteration of the idea, in conceptual terms it is probably no more or less important than the first example. This is the same thinking that led Duchamp to sign and date the 1964 copies of his lost 1917 sculpture Fountain with the inscription ‘R Mutt 1917’. The art market, however, is usually more conventional and, for the most part, considers works at auction, unless clearly stated otherwise, to be the original object created and exhibited by the artist. And that is why, when displaying the Apple work, Art+Auction are now accompanying it with a note pointing out that the catalogue entry has been amended to indicate that the work being described as the same as the one shown in 1965, is open to interpretation.

So what happens in cases like this? Usually the artist will either redate the work to cover the span of its reconstruction, in this case as say 1965-2006 or, as is usual with Fountain, supply a certificate that makes clear to new owners that the work is from the 1964 Arturo Schwartz edition.

The challenge for a work like Rainbow with waterfall is that for the marketplace, as soon as the idea takes form as an object, the issue of authenticity tends to crowd other ideas out of the room.
Images: Left, Rainbow with waterfall as it appears on the Acryform website, right Rainbow with waterfall illustrated in the Art+Object catalogue.