Monday, December 17, 2007

Economics and Art, Quite Literally

I ran into a piece of art the other day by economics graduate Tino Sehgal without really knowing that I had run into art at all.

I was walking through the Walker Art Center (reason number 521 why to marry a lawyer: often their holiday parties are at really cool locations with great food and drink and, in this case, very nice extracurricular activities: docent tours through the Frida Kahlo exhibit!) when, out of nowhere one of the guards started singing. Loudly.

My immediate response was that she was either bored or crazy.

And then I text'd HFRM#1 to tell her that one of the museum guards in her workplace was, clearly, intoxicated.

Turns out that it was work created by Sehgal and that other people have reacted similarly to his work. Yasmil Rayomond, the curator of the Walker show described a visit to the Biennial in Lyon, France where she also did not realize that a piece by Mr. Sehgal was on display. I quote from an article from the New York Times:

"He had a Dan Flavin, a Larry Bell and a Dan Graham in the corner," she said. "The minute I entered the space, the guard came in and started stripping. I slowly crawled behind the Dan Graham. I was so embarrassed I didn't know what to do with myself. I wanted to know the title of the piece, and I had to wait. At the end when he takes of all this clothing, he says the title and then puts his clothes back on. It was called 'Selling Out'."

The artist is 31 years old and lives in Berlin. He creates what he calls "staged situations" that include the following:

"This Is New": where an attendant quotes a museum goer a headline from the day's papers and only a response from the visitor can trigger an interaction between the two, concluding in the work's title being spoken.

"This Success/This Failure": kids play in an empty room and attempt to draw visitors into their game. Only the kids can decide whether it is a success or a failure.

"This Is So Contemporary": where a uniformed museum guard dances around the room singing "This is so contemporary contemporary, contemporary."

"Kiss" where a couple in an unbroken embrace recreate kisses from familiar works of art.

His work does have some interesting economics to it, both literally and figuratively.

His pieces can be sold (and in fact, have received five-figure sums!). But he stipulates that the exchange cannot involve the transformation of any material in any way. No written instructions, no bill of sale, no catalogs and no pictures.

The artist claims political influences from John Kenneth Galbraith, Walter Benjamin, Bruce Nauman and Felix Gonzalez-Torres.

He studied dance and economics and says that a touchstone belief is that his generation must 'come up with alternatives of producing in different ways'.

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