Frankenstein Art

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Frankenstein Art

Copyright © P. Meehan, October 2002.  All rights reserved.

Some years ago, a certain Piero Manzoni, an artist then resident in Italy, deposited some of his excrement in each of ninety cans, had them sealed, and presented them to the premiere museums of the Western world, declaring them, evidently, to be works of art.  The prestigious Tate Gallery of London paid 22,300 pounds, wrested from British taxpayers, for one of these cans of Manzoni’s–dare I say it?–stools.  What the New York Museum of Modern Art paid for the Manzoni stoolcan on display there is unknown to me; as is the price paid by the Pompidou Museum in Paris for the stoolcan they bought from this master of the frankenstein arts.  But the sums were almost certainly comparable to what was abstracted by Manzoni from the Tate.

In the October 13, 2002, issue of The Washington Post Magazine, there is an article by Dave Barry titled “Flush With Inspiration”, in which the author speculates that a British workman, seated in his bathroom and reading a newspaper account of the Tate’s Manzoni stoolcan, might suddenly envision a way not only to recover the sums seized from him through the taxing authority of the crown but to gloriously enrich himself.  This way being that of art forgery.

To forge a Vermeer painting requires Vermeer’s technical skills, and a deep understanding of his informing vision.  But to forge a Manzoni stoolcan requires no technical skills at all and no informing vision beyond what it is that inspires every toilet trained toddler.  And an understanding that the curator who wants an authentication of a Manzoni stoolcan before disbursing the museum’s cash for it cannot wield a can opener to assay the DNA of its content, since this test is, patently, a destructive one; and an affadavit from Manzoni himself is out of the question, for, alas, he has entered the shades, and is quite possibly dancing a perpetual barefoot fandango on stones kept redhot by fuglemen of the devil.  And so the curator who is fevered to match the displays of the arbiters of the frankenstein arts who serve as his counterparts at the Tate Gallery, the New York Museum of Modern Art and the Pompidou Museum, has no recourse but to accept the bona fides of the agent hawking what is alleged to be a long lost stoolcan belonging to the artistic run of ninety turned out by the master.

But a Manzoni stoolcan forgery with another dimension could be imagined by Mr Barry’s hypothetic British workman; namely, the dimension of schadenfreude–or, if you will, dark glee.  There are still dwelling places in obscure hollows of the Great Smokies that lack indoor plumbing, and an enterprising scamster afire to experience dark glee could for a pittance entice the dwellers of one to ladle enough excrement from the pit beneath their privy to forge a thousand Manzoni stoolcans.  One imagines such a scamster, having in the course of time bilked all manner of museums and hordes of private collectors, repairing to a hideout in the Argentine and issuing a press release describing what he had done, and adding the fiction that he had surreptitiously replaced the Manzoni stoolcan in the Tate with one of his forgeries and had sold the Manzoni to a nomad amusingly styled a prince by virtue of belonging to the tribe of the Sauds.

The consternation erupting in the world of the frankenstein arts in consequence of such happenings can be imagined.  And there can be imagined, in the British dominions of that world, its hierarchs struck dumb in their clubs.  The display in the Tate not a Manzoni artwork at all, but a can containing excrement, and excrement more loathsome even than that come from a specimen of the unspeakable bourgeoise.  The excrement of a swarm of nameless yankee hillwilliams.  And the purloined work of art in the hands of an unclubable desert wog.

But I suspect that were all this to come about, the regnant queen of England, the gracious Elizabeth II, would receive the intelligence snickering softly behind her fan.  For she is said to be a connoisseur of the arts, and, so, is probably not above indulging herself in a bit of dark glee at any misfortune falling upon the frankenstein art mongers who array themselves against the bourgeoisie, the beaux-arts, civilization and sanity.