Twenty-five years ago, Alex Shoumatoff published an extraordinary book called The Mountain of Names, about the efforts of the Names Project of the Mormon Church to track down the name of everyone who had ever lived and store the monikers in a huge mountain in Utah, as a function of the specific soul redemption philosophy of the Mormon Church. Whatever one thinks of this extremely controversial mission, the specifics of this identification project were daunting. Putting aside the delicious irony that Mormonism began with a man named Smith, the number of Vietnamese, to cite one example, with the same name, who had ever lived, dwarfed the number of Smiths by a factor of 10.
After a week in New York that included the Whitney Biennial, the Brucennial, the Joannou Collection, the Art Show of the ADAA, the Armory Show, the Independent, Pulse, Scope, Curly, Larry, Moe, Grumpy, Sleepy and Snow White, one wonders if the art world is on a mission to turn everything that is into art and whether, as a consequence, the very marker of art on a process or a thing has completely lost its significance. Metaphorically, I am reminded of Charles Ray's 2007 piece Hinoki at the Art Institute of Chicago, in which the artist searched for and found a large dead tree in Northern California, hacked it up with a chainsaw, took it back to his studio, had fiberglass molds of it fabricated, shipped the molds to Japan and hired Japanese artisans to make a new dead tree from the molds out of cypress.
Looking out from the top of the hill where I live in Westchester, I can see dozens of dead trees, forlorn, detritus of the worst snowstorm in these parts in half a century and a depressing reality for yours truly. Oh, that one could contract a hundred Charlie Rays to turn them into art! For the point of artistic appropriation has become that the superfluity of its fecundity has robbed the gesture of its profundity.
Nevertheless, this ubiquity of art transformation could have its practical uses, with tens of trillions of dollars of national debt, for example. Could not the Obama Administration divvy out seven-figure segments of the national debt to artists (instead of bankers), have them, for a commission, transform the debt into an art commodity, sell these instruments at a lower price, thus turning all of commerce into art and wiping out the U.S. government's international financial obligations? The demand for, and the value of, this mountain of art would soar, as it became the only means of exchange in the world. And J.S.G. Boggs would win the Nobel Prize for Economics!
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).