Dangerous Commodity

Playing with the concept of commodity in art can undoubtedly be a dangerous endeavor. Having a personal affinity for classical theory, I frequently find myself coming back to Kant’s contention in his Critique of Judgement that art should be “useless.” I understand this more in the sense that the artistic design on a Greek krater is not useful in an earthly, utilitarian sense, and hence can be considered “useless” to the function of the krater, rather than the idea that whole krater has to be useless in order to be art.

While reading Alan Artner’s review of the Jeff Koons retrospective at the MCA Chicago via MAN, I not only thought of Kant, but also the words of Baudrillard in his essay “Towards the Vanishing Point of Art”:

“There is a ‘true’ simulation and a ‘false’ simulation. When Warhol painted his Campbell’s Soups in the Sixties, it was a coup for simulation and for all modern art: in one stroke, the commodity-object, the commodity-sign were ironically made sacred…But when he painted his Soup Boxes in ’86, he was no longer illuminating; he was in the stereotype of simulation. In ’65, he attacked the concept of originality in an original way. In ’86, he reproduced the unoriginal in an unoriginal way” (in The Conspiracy of Art, p. 108 )

Koons’s work has a relationship to commodity in terms of the role “value” plays within its meaning. Critique and criticism may have been the concepts behind this use of value, but as Artner’s article suggests, Koons may be better remembered for the inherent presence of commercial value in his pieces rather than its absence. In response to this, my question is how will we remember objects such as this:

The Limited-edition “Neverfull bag”: a Louis Vuitton and Takashi Murakami collaboration,
Photo courtesy of Takashi Murakami, Kiki Co., MoCA, and Louis Vuitton; image from Out of the Way

And this:

” Joke Bag”: a Louis Vuitton and Richard Prince collaboration; image from bagbliss.com

Have Murakami and Prince succeeded in achieving Baudrillard’s true illusion, or are they empty simulations of simulations, commercial creations that can be traced back to the kitsch Artner identifies in Koons’s practice; the same kitsch Baudrillard saw as a definitive component of postmodern art and as instrumental to contemporary art’s “death.”

While the purses of Murakami and Prince can be argued as making art accessible to the masses while critiquing the commercialization of both art and present lifestyles characterized by mass consumption through shopping excursions to both high end retail facilities and street knock-off sales, I see their outcomes as questionable.

In comparison, I have an affinity for editions and coin-operated art purchasing. PDL’s Earl art vending machine at The Hideout, Art-O-Mats and 20×200.com all bring one’s interaction with art within the same plane as buying candy bars and books from the ultimate superstore amazon.com. When purchasing from an Art-O-Mat, one exchanges $5 for a token and then exchanges the token for a cigarette-box sized work of art. Somewhere in this process (as well as when using Earl or shopping on 20×200.com), the act of purchasing art becomes more about accessibility than commodity. In contrast, it may seem as though Murakami has permanently transformed the museum store Vuitton bag in the art world’s eyes at the present moment, but will this image persist independently of its product in twenty years as the Soup Can image does now, or will we reflect back on these handbags the way some have begun to look back on the work of Jeff Koons?

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