Deconstructing Pop Culture

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Objects, Part 1

February 24th, 2009 by David Kronemyer · No Comments

This is the first in a series of hopefully interesting discussions about objects.  Objects are things.  They can be broken down into two categories: tools and objects per se.  Tools are equipment or implements.  They help us to achieve an objective or bring about a result.  They can be evaluated in terms of functionality – whether they work to accomplish their intended purpose.  They are transparent to the outcome and do not implicate concerns attending objects per se.

Objects per se on the other hand invite us to regard or contemplate them.  In doing so they create, or imply, a schism between self and world.  There is the world in which the object resides, mainly just sitting there.  Juxtaposed against it is a person, mind or self, mainly just looking at it.  In many cases objects per se are representational, for example, painting or sculpture, and therefore ontologically redundant because they are depictions of some other object. 

Objects per se are susceptible to a wide variety of issues, including the following:

1.            Damage or destruction

2.            Thievery.

3.            Counterfeiting – forgery.

4.            Misassignment or misattribution.

5.            Partial – incomplete understanding of the creator’s intention in making the object.

6.            Critique – criticism, which may entail being misunderstood.

7.            Resale from which the original creator does not profit.

The general format of this series will be to compare and contrast interesting news stories involving objects in order to illustrate and highlight the foregoing issues.  The foregoing is just a sketch, we will add more maladies to this list as they occur.  I have a theory that the reification of objects is a unique feature of Western culture – the Judeo-Christian Tradition.  I also have some ideas about how and why this has occurred and its implications for theory of mind.  I will amplify these concepts as they are illustrated by current developments out there in the world of objects.

Here is an example of some of the issues we will be dealing with:

1.            The photographer Annie Leibovitz evidently is in financial distress.  She has borrowed at least $15.5 million from a company called Art Capital Group.  As collateral she pledged the rights to all of her photographs.  Salkin, A. (2009, Feb. 24). “That Old Master? It’s at the Pawnshop.”  New York Times.  These photographs are her artistic patrimony.  She must be in desperate straits indeed to mortgage them to meet transitory financial obligations.  It’s like Steven Spielberg pawning the rights to his movies.  What happens if she defaults?

2.            On the same day of the Leibovitz transaction Christies auctioned the art collection of Yves Saint Laurent, bringing in at least $264 million.  Erlanger, S. (2009, Feb. 24).  Saint Laurent Art Sale Brings In $264 Million.”  New York Times.  The sale set records for Matisse, Duchamp, Mondrian and others (none of whom are around to realize any financial benefits).  Evidently the YSL estate is doing better than Ms. Leibovitz.  How come the YSL artwork is more valuable than Annie Leibovitz’ pictures?  What is it about them that makes them worth more?  How much would the YSL estate have received if it just had pawned them instead?

3.            Finally the Iraq Art Museum has reopened.  Myers, S. (2009, Feb. 24).  Iraq Museum Reopens Six Years After Looting.”  New York Times.  Recall this is the museum that civic-minded Iraqis looted in 2003 as they were liberated following the American invasion of their country.  Evidently, thousands of works from its collection of antiquites and art – some of civilization’s earliest objects – remain lost.  Where have they gone?  What is their future, particularly given their now-dubious provenance?  It’s all well and good for a collector to stare at them over their fireplace, but what happens next?  Even though they are aged, and maybe beautiful, do they have any economic value at all?