Who Is Henry Codax? And Other Tales of Secret Art

Andrew Russeth in the New York Observer:

ScreenHunter_34 Jun. 12 20.31Many of today’s superstar artists, like Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami (who also did a West record cover) and Damien Hirst not only do not shy away from publicity-rich spectacles, but embrace and engineer them with a vigor that would have impressed even Andy Warhol. Mr. Koons dreams of hanging a 70-foot-long smoke-puffing locomotive over the High Line, a public-art bauble par excellence; Mr. Murakami donned a plush flower costume and waved to fans from a float in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. As for Mr. Hirst, he trumped his epic 2008 single-artist Sotheby’s auction (which garnered $200.7 million) with this year’s Spot Challenge, the globe-trotter’s version of the contest on the back of a cereal box, for which all 11 Gagosian galleries fell into line behind him. These artists demand the love—or at least the attention—of the masses.

Nevertheless, it is rarely the nature of cutting-edge contemporary art to offer itself up so easily to the general public, which accounts for a counterbalancing force, a way in which the avant-garde maintains the initiates-only atmosphere that has always defined it. So it was that just as the last of the 128 people to successfully complete the Spot Challenge card were having their cards stamped at the beginning of March, a painting of a musician by the British artist Merlin Carpenter was going on view at the Independent art fair in Chelsea, after having been locked away during a show at the Berlin gallery MD72 the year before. During that show, collectors willing to part with €5,000 (about $6,900 at the time) were afforded the privilege of viewing the work. Those among the general public interested in viewing Mr. Carpenter’s latest work were strictly excluded from the real painting, able to view it only in reproductions printed on playing cards.

Welcome to the world of secret art.

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