nectarhoff: Picasso's Mythic Cardboard

Picasso's Mythic Cardboard

I recently watched this video on the restoration of Picasso’s guitar sculptures, but it was not the sculptures themselves that struck me most - it was the reverence with which the conservator handled the material, cardboard. Every day we trample cardboard, recycle it, use it to carry around our greasy pizza. 99% of the time cardboard is meaningless to us. But here this conservator handles it like it was blessed by the Pope himself, and millions of ordinary people go to the Museum of Modern Art every year to worship it as well. 

Pablo Picasso, Still Life with Guitar, 1913.  Cardboard, paper, string, and wire, 76.2 x 52.1 x 19.7cm 

And I have no problem with that, but it is kind of peculiar when you think about it. How do everyday objects acquire such immense value? I imagine that the answer lies somewhere in the status that society bestows upon artists. They are viewed as mystics, as part of a world that most of us can never enter or understand. In a very small percentage of cases, like Picasso's, we deify the artist. If Picasso touches cardboard and turns it into “art", it somehow acquires millions of dollars in value. If I fiddle with some cardboard, who cares? While there may be genius in the guitar, the vast majority of the people who enter the museum don’t have the expertise to identify it. They take it for granted that the cardboard is divine simply because it’s attached to Picasso’s name.

Seeing this video reminded me of a series of work by Piero Manzoni in which he shit in cans and sold them by their weight in gold. As far as I know, nobody has ever opened the cans, which tells me that it is not the shit that is important—it is the idea and reputation that people are buying. "This shit came from an artist, and he says it’s art! Groundbreaking!" 

Edit: it's certainly not my intention to be trash art. It's just interesting to me that something that we don't care much about (cardboard) or even revile (shit) can be elevated to celebrity status because it comes from an artist.

Piero Manzoni, Merda d'Artista (Artist's Shit),  1961. Tin can, feces, 4.8 x 6.5cm

- 3/7/14


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