May I speak plainly?
I hate that stupid pickle.
Pickle, Comedian, every “Bored Ape”, and all of the other decidedly hollow pieces that ring of the same artless ventures. It makes me so vehemently, existentially bored with the art world.
For those unaware, Pickle is a currently on-view creation by Australian artist Matthew Griffin that consists of a pickle from a McDonald’s cheeseburger he threw at the ceiling of the Michael Lett Gallery in Auckland, New Zealand. It is now going for NZ$10,000. Discussions of the piece circle around the idea of it stoking ideas of how we create value in objects and one another.
A readily-available connection to draw is to that of Maurizio Cattelan’s $120,000 Comedian—a banana duct-taped to a wall. Cattelan, a facetious creator of sculpture and installations, has been abuzz in the art news world almost constantly since the piece went up in 2019, and was similarly omnipresent in conversation with his solid gold toilet America.
But when we have had Duchamp’s Fountain for over a century, what makes these artists think they are saying anything?
Let me state for the record that I do not in any way hold any aspect of the art industry sacred. I am the first in a room to defend against a naysayers belief that modern art is “lazy.” My tastes are of the obtuse, the strange, the brutal, the flippant, and the surprising. Which is perhaps why these works fall so flat for me. With all of their purported intent of creating conversation in the art world, poking fun at the system, and challenging paradigms, they feel decades behind on the discussion and add little to nothing to it.
There are certain ideas that have been executed so perfectly in seminal explorations that future derivatives are doomed to be nothing but. Take two examples of early modern performance art showcasing human action without accountability: Cut Piece and Rhythm 0. A decade apart but both rich with significance for participatory art, Yoko Ono and Marina Abramović tapped into important ideas of audience and artist, freedom from consequence, and humanity’s capability for violence. These works are icons of performance art, so much so that their approach are a standard of replication to extremely watered down degrees. The methodology might change, but it is hard to wring a new message out of those scenarios, and knowing what the result tends to be, it is a troubling concept to return to.
Similarly one can look at Yves Klein’s Zone de Sensibilité Picturale Immatérielle and Andy Warhol’s Invisible Sculpture. Klein’s playful yet ritualistic approach to Zone from 1959 to 1962 was a brilliant piece of early conceptual art steeped in the immaterial and ephemeral aspects of life and exchange. Warhol’s Invisible Sculpture in the front of the Manhattan nightclub Area (which itself can also be likened to Klein’s 1958 piece La spécialisation de la sensibilité à l’état matière première en sensibilité picturale stabilisée: Le Vide) was a clever exploration of fame and value, and a notably vulnerable position for the elusive pop-artist. It is an idea that has been replicated verbatim, most recently by Salvatore Garau, and it puzzles what is unique about this venture in the modern context.
And of course, Warhol taught us that context is everything. It is not simply the work or the artist or the place or the time—it is all of these and more that create what is cherished in art.
And so I can’t help but ask: in what context are these works meaningful? These pieces of produce laid bare until some wealthy collector chooses to buy that certificate of authenticity; these DeviantArt calibre cartoons serving as status symbols for crypto-playboys; these varying quantities of literally nothing. In a world where so many of us have so little and those creating and trading in the art world have far too much, what is clever about this stale cycle of currency?
It’s a joke. And I get it.
But it’s a bad one.