Collector and bon vivant Ranbir Singh told me this tale about our late mutual friend Martin Kippenberger last week: "I was club-hopping in Tenerife with Martin and his studio assistant Michael in the late 1980s. After we had imbibed at a bar or two, Kippenberger spied a large, very heavy metal school desk on the street and says to Michael, ‘We can use this for a piece!’ Do you know, Charlie, Martin had Michael lug that desk around from club to club all night until we passed out at dawn!"
Now that desk resides with its other furniture buddies in the second floor atrium of the Museum of Modern Art in a Kippenberger exhibition saturated with the street art esthetic. Yet, just last week, another Kippenberger, adman Doug Jaeger of the Happy Corporation, working under contract from MoMA, altered and improved, with the help of the mysterious Poster Boy collective, a dull series of MoMA poster reproductions at the Atlantic Avenue subway station in Brooklyn.
Jaeger wished to publicize MoMA with a spontaneous and subversive art action, and he succeeded handsomely, with dozens of media outlets penning reports on the comic vandalism, which floated a Goodyear tire in Monet’s water-lily pond, and put Fred and Wilma Flintstone’s heads on the woeful bodies in a Nan Goldin photograph.
You can imagine the rest: MoMA fired Jaeger and his Happy crew over the weekend. What a dour gesture from the gloomy shrunken heads that run the place. If they had been around back in the day, they would have had Campbell's Corp. sue Andy Warhol and filed a tort against Marcel Duchamp for titling his snow shovel In Advance of the Broken Arm.
The most sinister thing about the MoMA action, other than the hypocrisy of celebrating Kippenberger for his "strasse cred" and the usual boring trope about "defacement," is that Jaeger's firing is really about intellectual property use. The same MoMA policies that restrict the fair use of images in its collection apply to reproductions on subway walls and every other place down to the pissoir in your local bistro.
An institution that was forward-thinking and really interested in enticing public interest in art, instead of pocketing $20 bills for museum admission, would invite Jaeger and his crew to immediately create an installation on its premises as a response to Kippenberger and shout out for the necessity for artistic expression of all kinds in bad, bad times.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).