Value Creation, Curation And Art In The Age Of eBay & Tumblr

Free is the currency we deal in online: free articles, fee movies, free data. The latest show at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, "Free" examines...

Lisa Baldini
Lisa Baldini on January 21, 2011.

Free is the currency we deal in online: free articles, free movies, free data. The latest show at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, Free examines the ramifications of value from political as much as aesthetic contexts during this cultural reformation.

We recently spoke with Hanne Mugaas, whose artistic gesture Secondary Market which highlights the buying, selling and curating of objects from eBay, addresses the very nature of this circulation of value (aura) in the art world through objects that extend it into popular culture. Subsequently, it asks how does perception and authorship of fine art play out in a mass, networked audience if the only relationship to a Picasso painting is from a picture of a t-shirt on Tumblr?

Can you explain the inspiration for your piece in Free?

The project takes its starting point in the secondary market of the art world, meaning art being sold without the artist involved, for instance at auctions. I then looked at which objects are being sold as “art” on eBay, the auction house of the web. The difference between these two secondary markets is of course that in the secondary market of the art world the value usually goes up, while on eBay, where the objects are copies, fakes, beaten down or watered out, value decrease. When I got invited to participate in Free, I started searching eBay for what was being sold as art at that particular time, and bid on objects that represented what was available. I ended up with objects such as a pillow from the Picasso Cafe, a Warhol shopping bag, a page ripped out of Artforum, and a sculpture resembling Haring.There might be an archaeological element involved in me digging into the digital archive of 2D art objects on eBay, bringing them out in 3D at the New Museum. The red shelves could be seen as decreasing graphs, further reflecting on the decreasing value.

How do you think a curator approaches a project like this versus an artist?

The project started off as a curatorial one. I was invited by Ooga Booga in LA to come up with a project for an abandoned store front next to their space. Instead of curating art objects through studio visits with artists, I curated objects off of eBay. I guess the project could be seen in the context of the ongoing discussion about online curating; that we’re all curating online through selecting content, copying and pasting, repurposing, and redistributing. I don’t think it’s important if the project is seen as curation or art; it has been shown in different kinds of contexts; from the store front, via a group show at an art institution, at an art fair, on a website, and finally at the art museum.

Can you explain the interest in secondary markets?

It’s interesting to me to look at how art travels and what art objects become once they’re no longer controlled by the artist, upon leaving the context that the artist intended for their work. One of my favorite things is to visit collector’s homes to look at how they install the art they have acquired; how they organize it around their house in relation to their other art or non-art. Similarly, I’m interested in how the Internet is taking this to the extreme by bringing everything, including art, out of context. On eBay, it’s really the Wild West; everything and anything is available, and there’s no or very little curation or control. Search “Picasso”, and you’ll get anything from supposedly authentic paintings to a 47 piece dinnerware set.

What does networked culture do to nostalgia in these markets?

It certainly makes obscure or lesser known objects instantly available. This is where the whole culture of online curation comes into play; the archeology of the web, where people dig, discover, and display these lesser known objects or images on their Tumblrs, it’s a kind of show-off; “look at this cool old stuff I managed to find”. Maybe in this respect, my installation could be seen as some sort of 3D Tumblr.

So, what do you think your inquiry into secondary markets does for ‘aura’ building of art objects? For instance, do you think there are two perceptions built: a high and a low one?

There is definitely what you could call an “aura” building to the objects I choose; they gain value once they’re chosen. Increasingly so in Free, where the objects have entered the art museum. The distinction is that they have become my work, they’re no longer individual objects, but one entity exhibited under the label ‘Secondary Market by Hanne Mugaas’.

Hanne Mugaas

Free is open at the New Museum through January 23rd.

Image Courtesy of Rhizome and the New Museum.