Conceptual Art gets a bad rap in the photo world. It’s easy to understand why. A colleague of mine in graduate
school once made an 8 ft white pedestal that she called “My ideas are above you,” and I think that about sums it up. Many photographers equate the art world with inane video installations backed by dense press releases packed with large words that bludgeon the average viewer.
I must say, I find the whole divide a bit tedious. I once had a respected photo professional comment that he liked my photographs, but had no use for them because he didn’t like conceptual photography. And look no further than the recent E-debate about the brilliant photographic-artist Thomas Demand. “Is he a photographer?” Does it even matter? For the record, I’ll call anyone who clicks the shutter a photographer. And that includes my mom, who can’t seem to figure out the auto-focus on her $100 Nikon.
The art world plays by a different set of rules, and I think that can boil photographers’ blood. Artists view everything as fair game. The rules are there are no rules. And this can often lead to sophomoric bullshit, like Vito Acconci jerking off beneath the floorboards. Or Richard Prince so blatantly ripping off some Jamaican portraits, slapping them on canvas, and marking the images up 10,000%. Then he had the gall to claim it was his right, as the source material wasn’t creative or original enough to merit copyright protection. Seriously? That’s like the school bully stealing your bologna sandwich and then taking a crap on it in front of the whole school.
Conversely, I think his thievery of Sam Abell’s Marlboro Man was pretty excellent. Those photographs, at least Prince’s, had the stones to criticize the Cigarette industry, and corporate America writ large. They critiqued America as nothing more than a facade of the Wild West propped in front of a bunch of fat cats drinking single malt scotch and lighting their cigars with dollar bills. And while I’m sure Mr. Abell was upset, and many people continue to bitch about said appropriation, let’s face it, even Don Draper figured out that dealing with Big Tobacco leads to bad karma.
Speaking of dollar bills, I’m very curious about the new show opening up at the Guggenheim Museum in New York later this month. (May 20 to November 2, to be exact). Hans-Peter Feldmann was awarded the Hugo Boss prize last year, which bestowed upon him this show, and a cash prize as well. A $100,000 cash prize to be exact. Mr. Feldmann is a German multi-media artist who sometimes uses photography. Is he a photographer? Well, he once did a photo project called “Pictures of car radios while good music was playing, ” and another called “All the clothes of a woman,” which was a series of photos about…take a guess. He also showed “100 Years,” at MOMA/PS1 a few years back, a series of 101 photographic portraits of people, aged 8 months to 100 years.
For the Guggenheim exhibition, Mr. Feldmann is exhibiting his booty for all the world to see. 100,000 used $1 bills, pinned vertically to the wall. Boo-yah. I wish I had the time to photograph the line of ticket buyers who’ll plunk down $18 to go stare at 100 Grand. To be honest, I’d love to go see it for myself. It’s an audacious, elegant idea, certain to offend. But it’s also so gosh-darn honest. The art world reeks of money and power. I think this sense of exclusivity is what pisses so many people off. So Mr. Feldmann is really just documenting his life, like when Nan Goldin started shooting photos of fancy, pretty people galavanting around Europe. No more, no less.