How to Sell Nothing for Fun and Profit

I’ve recently been reading about the work of Felix Gonzales-Torres, an artist in the 1990’s who made a big splash in the art world. Like many artists, he really loathed the art world and the system of galleries, museums and universities but he ultimatey realized you have to deal with the world of art professionals if you want an income or recognition for your work.

So how do you make art that will sell but at the same time says f*** you to the art world? The solution: create works of art that literally will disappear but sell the right to reproduce the work. Two of his more well known works: piles of posters that gallery visitors can take with them or chunks of candy the viewers are encouraged to eat. I always wondered how you can make money with such art, until I learned that his gallery sold a certificate giving the "owner" the right to reproduce the work anytime they want.

The work is ingenious – the materials themselves were aesthetically interesting (such as anti-violence posters) and at the same time undermined the idea that there is a single "piece of art" like a drawing or painting. It’s also egalitarian – in remaking the work, the "owners" are supposed to give away the work for free. But here’s the biggest irony: by selling these certificates, the artist has switched from one form of ownership to another. Gonzales-Torres stopped selling physical objects and developed intellectual property rights for his work. He passed away in the 1990s from AIDS, but I wonder if he would have taken a cue from Linux and Java to develop some kind of subversive open source art.


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