I am feeling very discombobulated today. I had hoped to write an eloquent post about Falling Down Man. But I’m not up to it.
So here instead are a series of loosely connected thoughts.
Charlie's painting, as a result of its subject matter, its quality and its being damaged by the USPS, has joined a remarkably small group of significant paintings.
The most famous example of such a painting is Duchamp’s ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even’, which hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
A quote from Wikipedia about Bride:
Going home from its first public exhibition, the glass broke in its shipping crate and received a large crack in the glass. Duchamp repaired it, but left the cracks in the glass intact, accepting the chance element as a part of the piece.
In one of his notes about Bride, Duchamp wrote: “Can one make works of art which are not ‘of art’?”
Most interpreters agree that Bride was on the edge of what might be called conceptual art.
One could, of course, accept the cracks in a piece of art because one is ‘stuck with them’, or one could accept the cracks because in some sense they better or make more complete the work of art. Duchamp, I think, was doing the latter.
Duchamp was right to do so. The randomness of the cracks fit perfectly with the idea of art that is not ‘of art’.
Most people typically think of damage as decreasing the value, aesthetic and monetary, of a work of art.
But damage could increase value, both aesthetic and monetary.
The following is a category of art: a work that is accidentally damaged by a human agent but that is made better or in some genuine sense more complete by the damage.
This would be analogous to an accident modifying an essence.
There are examples of this in biology.
There are arguably other instances of this in the art world, though many of the most well known examples aren’t quite as pure as Duchamp’s Bride.
The Liberty Bell.
The Venus de Milo.
Problems with the examples:
The Liberty Bell was a bell and so not ‘obviously’ a work of art.
The Venus de Milo would now look worse with arms but that is because we have become used to her without arms, not because the lack of arms completed her or made her better right from the get go.
The sphinx was not so much damaged as subject to a combination of decay and damage by a number of distinct individuals. Moreover, it may look weird were it restored now; but it no doubt looked absolutely glorious in its day.
Even Duchamp’s Bride is not a pure instance of the category. Why? Because he modified it after the damage.
There are, no doubt, many more examples.
I am more convinced than ever that Charlie Spear’s Falling Down Man is perhaps the purest instance of the type I have described. At the very least, it is the purest instance that I know of.
I will elaborate more in a future post.
Until then, if anyone wants to trade a painting for Falling Down Man, let me know.