There was quite an argument over at Artheat some time ago about a William Kentridge tea set, with everyone railing about artistic integrity and the domestication of artists and a general uncomfortable feeling we got when realising that art isn’t really sacred, unless really expensive coffee cups are sacred too. And maybe they are – I certainly can’t afford them, very few people actually use them and they sit in very similar households to real Kentridges (I would imagine anyway). However hypocritical it may be, I think South African readers (myself included) found the art/commerce link leaves a particularly unpleasant taste in the mouth as we view the Kentridge as an artist who used to ‘stand for’ something. It’s the same way we get sad when our favourite bands sell-out, and there are certainly more offensive instances of this, like ‘anarchist’, Kendell Geers’, Fifa poster.
I’ve thought a lot about this recently; and I don’t think I would own a William Kentridge tea set (despite already being the proud owner of an inflatable Munchian ‘Scream’ character and cross-stitched Banksy bag) because it’s just not clever enough. There’s just not enough mediation to make it worthwhile – Kentridge’s work doesn’t make sense as a coffee cup, unless you consider his bourgeois Johannesburg appeal, though somehow I don’t feel he is willing to be that self -aware here. The point is that the subject and the object don’t match up. Personally, if I was going to have an artist’s edition tea set, I would go for this Cindy Sherman one:
Madame de Pompadour (née Poisson). Sure it’s kind of ugly, but it makes sense; the medium, the image, the form all create a piece of merchandise that does not seem to compromise the artist’s ouevre. (Madame de Pompadour was a famous courtesan and mistress of King Louis XV of France, Sherman casts herself as Pompadour, replacing her portrait with her own on this tea set made after the original design commissioned by Pompadour in 1756.)
This brings me to my new favourite website, https://www.othercriteria.com and to my all-time favourite piece of art-commerce, which suggests that consuming art and artists and spitting them out into merchandise can make something as clever, and as astoundingly powerful as any ‘original’ artwork (and I mean, seriously, who uses words like ‘original’ these days anyway)…
At the top of this post you can see Paul Fryer’s Pieta (2006), a sculpture of Jesus in an electric chair, which re-stages the crucifixion as a contemporary death-sentence. Commenting on the work, Fryer stated:
“Just as the cross was the preferred method of execution in the Roman Empire at the time of Christ, the electric chair was the prevalent method in 20th-century America. If the technology had existed then, He would probably have been electrocuted. Had that been the case, millions of people around the world would now be wearing miniature gold and silver electric chairs on chains around their necks.”
And it was so:
Paul Fryer and Other Criteria collaborated to produce this updated crucifixion – a re-statement and extension of the artist’s work and his voice. The only way this could be better, I think, is if it didn’t cost 950 Pounds, not only so that I could afford it, but also the masses who traditionally wear crucifixes round their necks. Either way, I want one.
Also on my want list is pretty much everything ‘by’ Damien Hirst (especially the charm bracelet), oh and the Peter Doig bath towel. And, no, I can’t possibly justify that one, except basically, that it is exceptionally charming in its ridiculousness. (According to the website: Alluding to the self-reflexive and self-conscious nature of the beach towel on which we lie, each design uses either the artist’s portrait or the eyes of one of their subjects as a way in which to make contact with the viewer, the beach-goer or the picnic-maker)
Plus it only costs sixty pounds.