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    Fabrication: Slavery of the Art World?
by Charlie Finch
Allan McCollum
Lost Objects
installation view at
John Weber Gallery in New York, 1991
Inka Essenhigh
Car Crash
at Victoria Miro Gallery
John Currin
Jeff Koons
from "Celebration"
Ingrid Calame
at Deitch Projects
Peter Halley
at Alan Koppel
Way back in the early 90s, Alan McCollum opened a show of Pop Tart-colored dinosaur bones at John Weber's old Soho space. Two babe artist types were in deep conversation at the opening, complaining about hot days in Utah on McCollum's crew, making casts of real dinosaur bones as templates for the Pop ones.

They talked of McCollum as an incidental player in the creative process, essentially the proprietor of a factory for popjects, blending Judd with Warhol to produce things of perfect inertness.

Now McCollum is the prototype of the mid-level, midcareer, middle-aged white male artist, eclipsed by hands-on types like Inka Essenhigh, Cecily Brown, Chris Ofili and John Currin, who recently was spotted by gallery hoppers painting a new picture by an open window in his studio on 14th street!

Boomer collectors are infatuated with sexy young artists actually getting their hands dirty in the studio -- to wit, they have soul. Artists like Koons, Halley, Stella, LeWitt (and so many others who don't admit it) are lip-synching with work crews kind of like Milli Vanilli!" What price do the artists and their employees pay?

A certain cynicism sets in, epitomized by the long delays and alleged cost overruns in Jeff Koons' "Celebration" series. The work looks plastic and (there's no other word for it) inert, because the people who made it are just going to a job.

Their signatures ain't on it.

Ingrid Calamé's work at Deitch Projects and the Whitney cloyingly begs the question of rolled up sleeves versus hired labor. Its very content, street tracings of detritus dropped over time, appears to demand the artist's sole physical participation, reminiscent of the '70s fad for tracing gravestones.

Yet, as we quickly learned at Calamé's Deitch opening, her work was fabricated by an L.A. student crew, who, additionally, painted the impressionistic wall painting that's in the show.

The content of Calamé's work plucks one's subjective heartstrings, yet its execution subtracts something, too.

Granted, art students have to make a living, but power relationships like these are potentially unhealthy. Dorothea Rockburne, a female LeWitt, whose work crews are just as exacting as Sol's, is renowned for being a tough taskmaster, reportedly putting applicants through difficult color-mixing tests, while allegedly promising her postulants that if they work hard for her for a few years, they might have careers like her celebrated assistant Caroll Dunham.

Obviously, a crew of ten fabricating the latest Peter Halley are not all going to become art stars. They all are more likely to never make it, like Willem Dafoe's character in Basquiat.

So the artist/hired hand has a tough choice to make -- is the $ an hour worth the dissipation of one's creative energy on some big shot's repetitive output? And can the big shot really deliver on those tantalizing career promises, if the numbers are against one?

At a time (contingent on the stock market) when hungry boutique galleries are desperate for material, young 'uns just out of art school are getting solo shows, without going the nonprofit group-show route.

So it's perhaps better to wait tables or drive a cab on weekends, while making your own stuff to get that breakthrough show, than to waste your time slaving for some narcissistic art dinosaur, too busy making dinner reservations to really create anything.

CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (1998).