Last Tuesday, Christie’s held an auction where Francis Bacon’s triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud sold for $142.2 million, the highest price ever paid for a single piece of art. Jeff Koons‘s Balloon Dog (Orange), which according to the New York Times, is a “10-foot-tall mirror-polished stainless steel sculpture that resembles a child’s party favor,” sold for $58.4 million. Jeff Koons made four other balloon dogs, each in a different color, so I’m sure the owners of those pieces are feeling pretty good about their respective art collections.
Unlike Francis Bacon, who unquestionably painted his triptych, it’s unlikely that Koons actually built all five dogs on his own, as Koons is known for employing “technicians” to construct his sculptures. Some contemporary artists defend the use of technicians, as they believe the idea behind the art is more important than who actually completes the work. For example, Damien Hirst had the idea behind The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, but I’m sure he had help suspending the 14-foot tiger shark in his 20-foot case of formaldehyde.
With three sons, I’d like to think that I have my own budding young technicians. I have plenty of contemporary art ideas, some of which I have already titled, but none of which my technicians have properly completed. These ideas include Clean Bedrooms, Table Manners, and A Day Without Whining. Not only are my helpers not as dedicated as Jeff Koons’s employees, but I also recently found myself in a role reversal.
My son asked me to help him paint a portrait of a Minion that he wanted to give to his friend. My son picked out the reference picture, and said that he just needed help with the outline. Once I drew the Minion in pencil, I pointed out where the yellow, the blue, and the black should go. He blocked in most of the colors, but then he asked if I could paint the eyes, the mouth, the hair, and the logo on the overalls. “And can you just finish the rest for me?” he said.
So after a few minutes of watching me add touches of paint here and there, the artist left the room to consider more important ideas, like whether to litter our living room with orange construction cones, or to just watch another episode of Jessie.
When I finished, I showed the painting to my son, who was happy with the result. He then asked me, “Where do I sign it?”
Like a loyal technician, I pointed to the right hand side of the painting and said, “Your name would look good here.”
P.S. And no, the irony of the subject matter was not lost on me.
P.P.S. I listened to an interview with Damien Hirst, who said that he often thinks of titles for his works before he even gets started on the idea. And if you would like to see some of Damien’s technicians in action, watch this timelapse video.