art news & reviews & Interviews. jeff bergman, editor

139 – Eric Doeringer’s RP Flea Market, an Atlas Discussion

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Eric Doeringer is most simply described as an appropriation artist.  He has made works that sometimes vary in scale from the original, but are essentially miniature paintings in the tradition of Richard Pettibone.  He has also delved into appropriating practices to recreate a variety of works, including artists books by Sol LeWitt and Ed Ruscha and Seth Siegelaub’s “catalog as exhibition” The Xerox Book.  During last year’s On Kawara – Silence retrospective, Doeringer immersed himself in Kawara’s practice and created current versions of Kawara’s Date paintings (the Today Series) as well as recreating his I WENT, I MET and I READ projects, among others, which were exhibited at Mulherin New York.  His latest project, Eric Doeringer’s RP Flea Market eBay Shop, began showing up on my Facebook feed at the beginning of November 2015.   It ends on November 17th.  

We discussed the project and Eric’s practice at large for Atlas as the auctions were progressing.  

 

JB: Thanks for speaking with me during the busy days of the RP Flea Market!  I think people need to know something about your practice as an artist to know where the RP Flea comes into it.  Can you briefly summarize your interest in appropriation (It’s a tall order, I know) and then tell us the impetus for the RP Flea?

ED: The first big project I did involving appropriation was a series I called the “Bootlegs”, which were small-scale copies of artworks by “hot” contemporary artists that I used to sell on the sidewalk in Chelsea and outside of art fairs. The project was inspired by the guys selling knockoff Louis Vuitton handbags on Canal Street. I figured that contemporary art was a similar luxury/status good, so why not offer a less expensive (albeit unauthorized) version? It was sort of a critique of the art world and the idea of artists as “brands”: the artists I copied were ones I thought would sell, not artists I necessarily liked or respected.

Eventually, I felt that project had run its course. I had copied works by more than 100 different artists, and although I could have continued adding more works, it seemed like there wasn’t much more to say. But, I was still interested in exploring the relationship between the “original” and the “copy”. So, I began “remaking” artworks where the original work already raised questions of authorship and/or originality, or where the artist had consciously removed his or her “hand”. At first, I mainly chose works of Conceptual Art from the late 60’s like Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawings, Ed Ruscha’s books, and some early John Baldessari pieces (i.e. “Throwing Three Balls In The Air To Get A Straight Line”). Later, I remade some more contemporary pieces, like Damien Hirst’s “Spot Paintings” and Richard Prince’s “Cowboy Photographs”.

The inspiration for the RP Flea Market came from a bunch of different places. First of all, I thought Rob Pruitt’s Flea Market was a great idea: to make an art project out of selling your unwanted stuff (and thus make it more valuable). I bought a couple of things from him over the years, and sort of had it in the back of my mind that I might “steal” his idea at some point. Then, last summer, I found out I had to move out of my longtime studio. That involved getting rid of a lot of things before I moved, and I realized I had a bunch of Richard Prince related items that I didn’t need and could probably get some money for. But, it seemed like maybe I could do something more interesting than just selling them on eBay. Then it hit me: Richard Prince and Rob Pruitt both have the initials R.P. – why not appropriate the model of Rob Pruitt’s Flea Market but sell Richard Prince memorabilia? The big contemporary art auctions were coming up, so I could run my eBay auctions at the same time as a kind of low-budget alternative. I knew a number of artists who had also made Prince-inspired artwork, so I reached out to them to donate pieces to make the auctions more interesting. I like that it’s kind of an art exhibition, kind of an art project, and kind of a way to make some money (and also that it operates outside of normal art world channels).

There are also connections between the RP Flea Market and the “fake fan site” for Matthew Barney that I started about ten years ago (which is still online at www.cremasterfanatic.com although I haven’t updated it in a long time). With that project, I was interested in exploring the idea of fandom in the art world, and also enjoyed tracking down all of the most esoteric Matthew Barney items I could find – things like photos of his bed, advertisements from his days as a model, and weird merchandise like picture disc LPs and temporary tattoos. I invited Barney fans to contribute to the site and received some pretty amazing stuff: erotic fan fiction, a fan-made video game based on the cremaster cycle, and some very bizarre videos

JB: The idea of appropriating work by an appropriation artist intrigues me.  Of all your work, I feel that this group of “Richard Prince” comments much more on potential value rather than process.  I could be off base.  Tell me if and how you view the Prince work from the rest of your projects.

ED: In the case of the RP Flea Market, it’s not really Richard Prince who’s being appropriated. If I’m “stealing” from anyone, I’d say it’s Rob Pruitt. But, Prince makes the perfect subject for the sale for many reasons: he’s known for appropriation, his work appears frequently in the contemporary art auctions (invariably selling for a high price), and collecting/shopping is a part of his art practice. Everything I’m selling comes with a signed photograph of the item, which is an idea taken from Pruitt’s Flea Market but also relates to Prince’s “rephotography” and his works incorporating celebrity signatures. There are several artworks for sale in the RP Flea Market that reproduce Prince’s images, and the purchaser also receives my photograph of that reproduction – a copy that’s removed a further generation. If the auction winner shoots a photograph of the signed print they get from me, who’s copyright would they be infringing? These are the kinds of questions that interest me…

JB: Have you researched what if any legal issues there are with you selling and transmitting your images of Prince’s image?

ED: The issue of copyright and eBay is one I never really thought about before doing this project. There are “fair use” provisions in copyright law that allow one to use copyrighted images in a news article, I’m not sure if a similar exemption exists for “reporting” on the items you are selling. Making prints of the items might be a copyright infringement, although fair use also permits one to use copyrighted images for purposes of commentary, and I think you could argue that the RP Flea Market is a critique of Prince’s role in the art market.

Then there is the question of whether Prince actually owns the copyright on his appropriated images. I think it would be difficult for him to assert copyright over an appropriated Instagram image or a rephotographed advertisement that has only been “transformed” through cropping and enlarging. One of the artworks being sold at the RP Flea Market is “300 x 404”, a print of a cowboy by Greg Allen, who made the piece after Prince refused to allow an online magazine to reproduce one of his Cowboy Photographs. In a move similar to Prince’s original appropriation, Greg claimed a low resolution jpeg of the photograph (measuring 300 x 404 pixels, hence the title) as his own artwork and offered it to the magazine.

JB: As a side note to all this, talk to me a bit about having to move studios and the way in which your immediate circumstance affect the RP Flea and your work at large.

ED: Like I said, part of the spark of the idea for the RP Flea Market was having to pack my studio, which involved getting rid of a lot of things I’d accumulated. I had a bunch of items related to Prince – some things I’d used in my work, others that I bought for projects that never came together, a few Prince books I had duplicates of. They were all things where I’d said, “Someday I should sell this on eBay,” and when I had the idea for the RP Flea Market it was clear that day had come.

I’ve been in my new studio for about a month, so it’s difficult to say how it will affect my work. My old studio was next to a giant Lowe’s hardware store, so it was easy to get things like plywood and lumber. I generally let ideas stew in the back of my mind for a while before I decide to work on them, and I was close to starting a couple of works based on Robert Morris pieces made out of wood. But, they’re on the back burner now, since it’s much more of a hassle to get those materials at my new studio.

JB:  Back to the RP Flea, as a project and a money making venture, an exhibition and a comment on the art world, what would you like to spotlight?  What about this project makes you most excited?

ED: It’s really the project as a whole that excites me. I like that it’s multifaceted; that it’s hard to pin down what exactly is going on. There’s a certain criticality implied, but it’s not clear what exactly is being critiqued. Is it Richard Prince? The art market? The auction system? It’s not even obvious whether I’m parodying or embracing these things (another similarity with CremasterFanatic.com, which can be viewed both as celebrating and making fun of Matthew Barney). It’s akin to Jasper Johns’s painting of the American flag, where the viewer’s feelings about the subject shape the work’s meaning. I like that slipperiness.

And, of course, an art project that actually makes money is always a good thing! Andy Warhol said, “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” It’s pretty addictive to watch the prices inch up on eBay!

Eric Doeringer’s RP Flea Market eBay Shop will be live on eBay until November 17th.

-Jeff Bergman
 November 2015

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