How Does a Museum Buy an Artwork That Doesn’t Physically Exist?

The Hirshhorn Museum’s purchase of a piece by Tino Sehgal reveals a different kind of acquisition process.

Comments: 10

  1. Thank you for confirming that too much of so-called modern art is merely a desperate bid for attention. "Look at me and my "art" performances. I'm so clever and special." If the Times permitted it, in tribute to Mr. Sehgal I would insist that this comment be published solely as a voice message without it being printed. Wouldn't that show how clever I am? Give me a break.

  2. I'm all for modern art but this is too much for me.

  3. I was of three minds Like a tree In which there are three blackbirds...

  4. Haha ok the 'situations' stuff has been parodied to death; Portlandia has a sketch where people are mugged in the street and told "oh, this is a performance mugging for my new work", etc. So what is the deal with Sol LeWitt's instruction-based art work? As far as I can tell, some of his classic colorful wall drawings (e.g. "Wall Drawing #1136" at the Tate) are not actually the drawings. Instead when someone buys the drawings they are sent a set of instructions about how to assemble them ("Draw a red line two feet high and one foot wide. Next to it draw a blue line") and then the person who bought the art hires someone to draw it per the description. Finally LeWitt (or now his estate) looks at the drawing and says "yes, this is what it says to draw" or "no, this is not what it says to draw, it is not a LeWitt". Sometimes, when these wall drawings cease being exhibited they are painted over and vanish; sometimes when they are sold, the old one is painted over and the new one is drawn. So: (1) Now that LeWitt has died, is it possible for any new instruction-based wall drawings to be installed? If they have his estate's blessing but not his blessing, are they really authentic LeWitt works? (2) Is it possible to 'steal' or 'forge' a LeWitt artwork by following his instructions in private?

  5. Possibly one of the biggest and most depressing examples of "The Emperor's New Clothes".

  6. I’ll take two.

  7. Sehgal's art is not worth the paper it's not written on.

  8. Goodness, this description expands my vision of what constitutes art into entirely new realms, most of them involving crime. Is there any way I could get away with peddling a forged Sehgel, and if so, how would anybody know? Could a larcenous curator embezzle large sums by claiming to have acquired a work the existence or non-existence of which can't be proven to evidentiary standards? Could the artist himself accept payment for a work, do absolutely nothing, and then argue that the experience of being conned is the essence of the work itself? If I could get a group of curators and critics to anoint me as a recognized artist, could I get away with just walking into galleries with a gun and sticking up people at random?

  9. P. T. Barnum comes to mind.

  10. I find the concept quite interesting but maybe not too original, remember Yoko Ono's water paintings. Yeah, people were invited to "paint" with water on a canvas. At least there was public participation and a good dose of sense of humor. Buying a concept seems the stupidest thing that the rich can do, but it is their money. Public institutions on the other hand are accountable for the use of public funds to buy a "memory" and a handshake as art.