Art shows can be a strange event, attended by unusual people and intellectuals. I have attended many shows and curated my own as well. I like cutting edge art and have shown art that sometimes confuses the general public. I have been asked the question, "Has an artist ever submitted a blank canvas and called it art?" Well the answer is no, I have a hard time with conceptual art. Its hard enough to sell original art it's even more difficult to sell an idea. Recently, I was at a show at the Zepf Alt gallery downtown where one of the artists sold a shadow. It wasn't the artists own shadow, it was the shadow of a sculpture he made.
The artist, Bret Barrett, a sculptor and painter had made a piece, called "What the Nug?". A spiny, alien creature with a fork and knife for arms, a mouth that opened and closed and two legs from a rubber chicken. The piece was mounted on the wall and motorized, the arms and legs moved as well as the mouth, which looked like it was trying to bite you.
A viewer was asking about the piece and was showing interest so He was introduced to the artist. Their conversation went something like this.
The man says,"I like your piece and I am interested in buying it's shadow." Barrett is taken back by the unusual request and replies,"If you want to buy the sculpture, I would be happy to include a light so you can produce the same shadow at your home." The man replies,"No, I don't want to buy the sculpture."
The night before, while setting up the lights, another artist, bd Dombrowsky had commented on how he liked the shadow that the sculpture was casting on the wall. Barrett's work is out of this world on its' own, the shadows that they create can be even stranger.
I wasn't there for the entire conversation so my quotes are not word for word. I don't know much about the buyer either. I met him and spoke to him briefly. He was a very intense older man, almost a dead ringer for the actor, Kris Kristoferson. Long grey hair, artist type. He was dressed head to toe in "post apocalyptic" leather gear,looking much like Mad Max from the movie "The Road Warrior".
_ The man approaches him again, "I really am serious, I want to buy that shadow." He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet."I will pay you half of the purchase price and you can keep the sculpture." Barrett responds,"Well, I could film the moving shadow and make a DVD for you." The man seems to be happy with that and gives him a deposit.
_ The show ends and the artist has the task of capturing the shadow and delivering it to the buyer later. A few days pass. I am not really thinking about the event. I get a phone call from another artist, Dan Allen who was also at the show. He is one of the most spiritual artists I know. Normally a soft spoken person, on the phone he is giddy with excitement about the sale. He tells me that this is a first in art history. Apparently, the other artists who have studios at the Zepf Alt Gallery have been talking about the sale of the shadow, I start to hear an entire art history lesson from Dan, about shadow puppetry and shadow artists, but no record anywhere of a shadow being sold separate of what created it. He makes a comparison of the shadow sale to an artist who sold an "invisible" painting.
The Artist Yves Klein was popular in the 1950s and 60s. Klein was painting monochromatic paintings, canvases painted one solid color.He eventually started focusing only on the color blue and developed and patented his own shade of blue called "International Klien blue".
Klien held an exhibition at the Iris Clert Gallery in April 1958 where the whole gallery was empty except for a large cabinet that was painted white and contained "nothing". The artist claimed that his paintings were now invisible. He sent out over 3,000 invitations that were marked with his own blue stamp. He bribed the post office to mail them. He had also bribed the French republican guard, or police to guard the front entrance of the gallery the night of the show. The window was painted blue along with a blue curtain that hung in the entrance way to the gallery. Thousands of people showed up. If you didn't have an invitation with the blue stamp, you could pay 1,500 francs to get in. Inside the gallery, patrons were served tinted blue cocktails. They made their way into the empty gallery. To see the invisible painting housed in the "empty" cabinet.
The French press called it a scam, but the art world loved what Klein had done. He truly was part showman part artist. Over his lifetime Klein sold 8 of these invisible paintings or as he called them "Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility". The first one was bought in 1959 by Peppino Palazzoli. The artist sold the painting for 20 grams of gold. He gave the buyer a receipt and encouraged them to go through an artistic spiritual ritual which involved him throwing half the gold into the river and the buyer burning the receipt after the sale.The event would be photographed and witnessed by a gallerist and two other people. The buyer also had the option of giving Klein all the gold and keeping the receipt, but wouldn't receive the "authentic immaterial value" of the art.
The whole time Dan is telling me this story and I am asking questions like," did they pretend to carry the painting from one room to another? Did the buyer claim it was hanging on a blank wall?" He further explains to me that the painting is not invisible but as Klein called it a, "zone of immateriality". Mr. Allen understands Klein's' concept of showing empty space. There was no pretending, just an absence of anything there.
Oh those crazy Frenchmen... selling invisible zones and throwing gold in a river. Its known in art history as one of the first examples of conceptual art. The concept being immaterialism.
It makes you wonder what the buyer gets out of the whole experience of purchasing an invisible piece of art. The event of selling the zone is photographed and witnessed. The buyer becomes part of the artistic process. I don't think Klein thought that his zones would sell, the first zone sold a year after the show. Klein had had a falling out with the gallery owner and stopped showing his work there. Klein doesn't ask for money, but instead comes up with the ritual, which is much more different than the original concept. The first sale is significant because it makes Klein take the artistic process a step further by developing the ritual. Selling seven more zones after the first makes me laugh at the foolishness and the elitism of the French art world at the time. Kudos to Klein for selling eight works of art that he created solely with his imagination and showmanship.
A quote by Klein...
"Believe me, one is not robbed when one buys such paintings; it is I who am always robbed because I accept money." Yves Klein
In the end, the artist collective offers us more than paintings or works of art. They share with us the ability to catch things that you and I overlook. Their gift of vision. Granting us their perspective on life and their surroundings.
If you are interested in seeing more of Bret Barrett's shadows and the sculptures that cast them, his work is on display at The Alexander Salazar Gallery located at 640 Broadway, Downtown.