Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Treasures And Trash on Prince and Spring Streets

When I first had the idea to write some neighborhood stories I also began photographing what I saw on the streets before it was all swept away by gentrification. The first thing I saw was all the graffiti, street art and old storefront signs which were starting to disappear. I also saw a lot of old refuse, junk and trash on the streets which would be rapidly collected as the neighborhood filled up with tourists with money to spend. Some of it was quite beautiful. I was reminded of the paper collages of Kurt Schwitters and the use of newspapers, oilcloth and real rope in some of the paintings og Picasso. And of course there was the aesthetic bombshell of the Readymades of Marcel Duchamp which changed everything. These were found objects of no aesthetic merit which gained prestige as soon as they were shown in an art context. Later there were the real objects affixed to the paintings of Robert Rauschenberg. Even torn movie posters were taken down , framed and became works of art by virtue of being shown in art galleries by Mimmo Rotella. In the 20th century trash, rubbish, junk and found objects were slowly making their way up the aesthetic ladder and finally found themselves in the museums and auction galleries with some very eyebrow raising price tags on them if they bore the correct signatures. More and more modern artists climbed on the bandwagon and were finding their new materials in garbage dumps, on the streets or in junk shops. At one point junk sculpture became all the rage.

On a more mundane level, before the old Salvation Army Store on Spring Street between Lafayette and Crosby closed and a boutique opened, you could find good used leather coats and jackets there for $25.00 and up. The first Ralph Lauren store which was on Mulberry Street between Prince and Houston Streets had similar old black jackets with the Lauren label in them going for about $900.00 and up. What they are selling for now at the new Double Ralph Lauren store on the corner of Prince and Mott Street is anybody's guess.

Treasures or trash? You be the judge. What are material objects really worth? Do they have any objective value? Apparently not when they are linked to the art world or the fashion industry. Meanwhile I had been picking up pieces of paper trash that had been left to rot on the street and had been photographing them. After I had taken the picture I threw the originals away. By March of 2008 I realized that I had been making a terrible mistake. Here is how it happened.

I was pricing some photos for a group show at the Artbreak Gallery in Williamsburg and told the Director that my work usually sold for anywhere between $400.00 and $8,000.00 depending on the size, the edition and where it was being sold. I told the Director that he could sell the two small framed pieces for $200.00 each considering that it was a new gallery. The Director replied that he did not want anyone to to think that he was selling trash and promptly put a price of $1,000.00 on each of the two pieces.

If one small photograph, which was only a copy of an original object in the real world, was valued at $1000.00 , what, for example, would a real piece of trash be worth? After all, the latter was not only a unique original but it had the added virtue of not being a reproduction, a replica, a copy or a duplicate. It was not a photograph but the thing in itself. It was the real McCoy. From that point on I decided to keep the trash I had been photographing and put them in frames and price them at $10,000.00 each. I had found discarded and unrecognized treasures right here on Prince Street.


Steve said...

An object's price is merely what someone will pay for it! But that's different from its intrinsic value, I think. A lot of times I see things that have value yet I wouldn't want to pay for them.

Also, I'm not sure framing a cigarette package is as artistically significant as framing a photo of a cigarette package -- because the photo shows the photographer's vision of the object, not merely the object itself.

Allan I ludwig AKA Elisha Cook Jr. said...

Almost everyone agrees that reality, whatever that is, is better than a facsimile of it, or a virtual copy. People complain that in a world of media we are losing touch with the real thing. Photography,film and now digital imagery sit right in the center of that controversy.

Personal photographs have always been cherished because they are memories of the past which keeps slipping away. I can't help but think that no matter how much vision is poured into a photograph, having the real thing is still better.

Think of film. How most of us lust after the images of the gorgeous stars we see up there on the screen. Would you not like to have one of them in reality rather than looking at a flat moving image?

I would agree, however, that having a piece of trash is far less alluring than having a real movie star.

In any event the real test is to see if I can sell one of the framed pieces of trash for $ 10,000.00.My own opinion is that is most unlikely. Most people would settle for the copy or nothing at all.

Anonymous said...

On the subject of the value of things, consider this allegory:
A Wise Person and a Disciple happened on the rotting corpse of a dead cat in the road. Lifting the maggot infested corpus, the Wise Person asked: "What is the value of this dead cat?"
The Disciple answered: "Nothing. No one would buy a dead cat."
"Ah," the Wise Person answered in the way of all Wise People. "It is the most valuable thing in the world. Why? Because it HAS NO PRICE!"
The Wise Person then tossed the dead cat to the side of the road and the duo proceeded on to the next aphorism.

Allan I ludwig AKA Elisha Cook Jr. said...

Well, that is one way of looking at it. That is just the point. What makes value? There are many answers. I was thinking in terms of originals versus copies. Here is an example. The painting of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo would be worth far more than any copy of it. So why not apply this logic to any original?