Another recent pair of incidents illustrating the absurdity of objects and our relationships to them is the auction of Michael Jackson’s personal belongings and a legal action regarding the authenticity and attribution of Louis Vuitton handbags.
Michael Jackson’s financial travails have been well-reported in both the mainstream and tabloid press. In an April 14, 2009 article in the New York Times, “Shuttering Neverland: Michael Jackson’s Effects Go to Auction,” Ben Sisario reported that many objects owned by Michael Jackson evidently were for sale. These included ephemera such as a king’s crown, scepter, ice cream cart and life-size Lego model of Darth Vader. “In a preview for the news media on Monday, workers carried signs from Neverland painted with Maxfield Parrish-like pastorals, while inside Mr. Jackson’s goods were arranged in loose, thematic sections: glittering stage costumes over here, Disney collectibles over there, paintings of Mr. Jackson as an Elizabethan noble here and there.” It was not clear if the auction was voluntary or court-ordered. In any event it was called off several days before it was scheduled to occur.
Mr. Jackson’s continued popularity is paradoxical. Even as he continues to enact his eccentric and bizarre public persona he can sell out a 50-concert run at London’s O2 arena. The arena has a capacity of approximately 20,000 persons per show. These engagements alone should go a long ways towards replenishing his depleted coffers.
The Louis Vuitton handbag incident was described in an April 23, 2009 article by Mike Boehm in the Los Angeles Times, “Louis Vuitton suit adds fraud allegation.” Two years ago the artist Takashi Murakami had a showing at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. Seeking to illustrate the permeable boundaries between art and commerce, he sold Louis Vuitton handbags in the actual gallery within the context of the exhibition itself (as opposed to, say, the museum’s store). Thus he intended to “blur the lines between art and manufacture.” Aficionados of his work paid upwards of $6,000 for one of the handbags. However they turned out (or so it is alleged) to be factory leftovers from Louis Vuitton’s standard production line, not works of art. Furthermore they were unaccompanied by a “certificate” of genuineness or authenticity required by California law.
The idea of somebody coveting ownership of Mr. Jackson’s rhinestone-encrusted socks is ludicrous. So is the idea of somebody paying thousands of dollars in the name of “art” for what essentially is a factory reject. What are the new owners of these objects going to do with them? Put them on display in their homes? Let them molder in boxes in the attic? Have them buried with them, like some latter-day Tutankhamen? Pop culture ephemera like these direct our interest towards them, and accrete value, only by reason of their celebrity association. They have no other intrinsic worth. The best thing that could happen to them would be that they are repurposed in a manner suggested by their original function, i.e. somebody wore Michael Jackson’s glove to keep their hands warm, or somebody used the Louis Vuitton handbag to carry around their belongings. Without this connection to a practical, real-world activity, they’re pretty useless.