What happens to artwork when it goes unsold, or in fact, is never exhibited at all? I’m talking about those discarded relics, once paramount in the eyes of the artist.
Inspired by a recent occurrence, multi-media artist Julia Sherman profoundly explored this question. After returning home from a trip, she discovered a large shipment awaiting her, a collection of her earlier artworks sent from her parents in their attempt to clean house. This day of reckoning comes for all maturing artists, but the question remains, what to do with it?
Sherman deliberated, “Throwing our work away is deflating. Sifting through it all can be both nostalgic and daunting, some kind of admission of the futility of the act of its making. If we cannot justify holding on to the things we made in the not-so-distant past, how can we justify a future where we make more work, adding to the pile? Do we pull a [John] Baldessari and light [it] on fire? Cathartic as that might be, the gesture is too grand for such a common problem. I think it’s better to sell the work ourselves, disperse these objects/images into the world to have one last stab at some kind of ‘value’ beyond our own personal histories.”
The conclusion was ingenious: host an exhibition/tag-sale/collective purge. Sherman, a Columbia MFA graduate, and no stranger to pioneering art productions, invited nearly 50 artists to peek inside their archival boxes, clear off the dust-bunnies, and bring as few or as many pieces as they like to sell at an “Art Tag Sale,” hosted at the Hudson Community Center last Saturday, just a stone’s throw from Chelsea’s bustling gallery district. Naming their own prices, with a maximum sales tag of $50, participants were encouraged to shelve their uncertainties for one day only, and retail their excess artwork.
Whether there is a current market for these artists or not, there was a general consensus that this problem of excess inventory weighed heavily on their collective psyches. This “Art Tag Sale” offered an opportunity for cleansing.
While there was an element of anonymity to the event, with various contributors selling their wares under pseudonyms like Vladmir Putin, Axel Rosas, and Teeny Duchamp, to protect the distance they have since established from work created in a previous life stage, the room was filled with accomplished emerging artists including Brie Ruais, Noah Lyon, Ryan Foerster, Lauren Seiden, and Jesse Greenberg, among others.
There was little curatorial involvement for the event’s coordination as artists, once getting wind of its objective, digitally flooded Sherman’s inbox with requests to take part. Introducing another layer of ruminative happening, the lack of curation forced attendees to challenge themselves to decide what they liked or autonomously considered “good art.”
This strategy, or lack thereof, proved to be both successful and refreshing. Customers strolled through the venue by the dozens, browsing from table to table, largely unable to discern which pieces belonged to whom. Rather than rely on input from experienced collectors, art-world professionals, or others who buy, sell, create, or curate art, the work was purchased simply based on its appeal to the individual. Although the artists may have determined their earlier creations to be worthless, outdated, or otherwise no longer relevant, the art-hungry, visually stimulated crowds perceived it through a radically different lens. Seemingly both appreciated and enjoyed, perhaps the work exhibited at “Art Tag Sale” was considered by the viewer to be seminal in the unfolding of the creator’s artistic development.