Art in the Age of Endlessness Reproduction: Analyzing the works and markets of Wade Guyton and Michael Riedel

Before the turn of the 21st century, a new form of art was gestating, an art form of multiples that is now so omnipresent that it is virtually inescapable. This new art form was digital in nature, existing at its inception point in a series of 1s and 0s represented on a computer monitor as typography or photography. Almost thirty years later, it is not rare for art students to bring in printouts of images that they have digital enhanced or modified after a brief Google search. Giclée, a term coined for referring to photographs or prints output using high quality inkjet printers is now as commonly found on labels at blue chip galleries as “silkscreen”, “lithograph” or “gouache on paper”. It is difficult to deny that this ease and ubiquity of reproducibility has also lead to a new found interest in outdated technologies, from stone lithograph to letterpress. But in this rapidly changing technological landscape, how do we identify and categorize what is a multiple, what makes a print a print or an artwork more than a meme of itself? I will be using Wade Guyton and Michael Riedel, two artists that were early to incorporate computers and inkjet printers into their practice. Both are able to stand out in what is now a very crowded subcategory of art, my intention is to analyze not only their artistic practices but to unpack their creation of cult status and market value. Both Guyton and Riedel’s use of the art market itself as self-fulfilling system or ouroboros is inherently linked to these mechanisms of cult status and perceived value vis-à-vis their anointment by major commercial galleries, museums, and fairs.

Guyton received a BA from the University of Tennessee Knoxville, and attended the MFA program at Hunter College, New York. He lives and works in NYC, he is represented by Petzel gallery, one of the most prestigious galleries in the world. Guyton’s work is nicely summarized by this excerpt in the review of his solo exhibition at the Whitney.

Through January 13, The Whitney hosts a mid-career solo exhibition of the work of Wade Guyton. Often aligned with abstract Modernist giant Andy Warhol, Guyton self-identifies as a painter, despite a body of work lacking the processes of hand-to-paper creation. Through frequent use of his signature X’s and U’s, Guyton explores the symbols of modernity and calls into question the nature of production in the fine arts. [1]

Guyton’s work is easily identifiable, he uses his own clichés and memes, for example of hyper-extended “U”, another signature style of his is the cut of “X” reminiscent of the Xerox logo. The slight cut and skew is also a recognizable repetition. or in his early signature style is a flame that appears to be created using a Photoshop plugin, which appears in a lot of his works.

Michael Riedel, a German-born artist that began by creating art objects from recomposing and outputting vast archives of exhibition materials and past artworks. He currently lives and works in Frankfurt, Germany. In 2000 he received the title of Meisterschüler at the Städelschule. After graduating he began holding experimental art events in the artist-run space Oskar-von-Miller Strasse 16. These events, which included readings, screenings, exhibitions and concerts notorious that were recreated from other such events in other galleries, “effectively duplicating them in space and time.”[6]This strategy of regurgitating art has transferred to his own means of artistic production “Riedel often recycles and copies his own past work, as well as art-related objects and artwork by others, in order to comment on, expand, or even invert the meaning and intention of the original object.”[7] Riedel uses the vastness of our current post-print art world to mine for digital archives and create original art-pieces from the source code of websites and other materials, often exposing the code in the same plain as the output. Often employing his own name and notoriety to further propel his creation process, in his latest exhibition Riedel created “18 wall-size canvases screen-printed with raw HTML cut and pasted from the “Michael Riedel” entries on moma.org and other Web sites” His use of source code as both the starting place for the inception of each piece and also the predominant aesthetic quality of each of his canvasses, creates a self-fulfilling circle of source/output that is only broken when coverage of him and his practice ceases. This seems to highlight the art world’s fascination with itself, both by being critical of itself and by actively participating in it. Source code as a material for creation of aesthetic and textural value is in contrast with his proclivity for large color flats, usually in the shape of a circle. These flats are reminiscent of Bauhaus, constructivist and suprematist paintings of the early 20th Century. Despite the large distracting flats, the material that is of most interest within the works is the raw code that shows the place of origin of his artworks. When talking about his practice Riedel is often more focused on the conceptual backing and origination of the work than the aesthetic output itself, when describing his work in his 2012 Armory booth Riedel did not mention canvas, printmaking or painting, simply “The material I’m working with is information.”[8]

Recently, in January 2017, Guyton created a new body of work based on articles from the New York Times online edition. The scale of these are all 84 x 69 inches, and break the expectation of size of the usual computer monitor or printed newspaper. In some ways this work is in closest relation to Riedel’s work, both Guyton and Riedel as the artist almost functions as a filter of culture, remixing and re-contextualizing reality. By choosing these pages of the New York Times online edition, Guyton seems to be pinpointing the fleeting quality of content presented online. As well as the ever changing news landscape. The works feature advertisements, further showing the changing of tastes and styles. They are printed on canvas using an Epson 9900 printer with UltraChrome HDR ink. This technical information is presented on the Petzel gallery page, in prominent fashion.[2] As the Petzel gallery information about the show says, these were printed on a Epson Sure Color P9000. Which anyone can purchase for $3,995 USD (if you have the money of course). The P9000 uses an 11 cartridge ink set, these cost $956.45 each. Petzel makes it pretty clear what materials Guyton is using, while normally the other painters are not treated in the same way. For example, description of paintings by Adam McCollum include no mention of the brand of paint that he used. Why then, is it somehow important to know the exact model of printer that Guyton uses, but not the exact brand of the paint that McCollum does?

The way in which digital art is presented, in this case akin to a painting and not a print is a construct created by Guyton to influence the perceived value of the work. Not just monetary value, but cultural. After all, isn’t the value of a painting that it is a unique expression never to be repeated again? This leaves us with the question of why Guyton’s work is mandatory paired to pre-existing categories of art and not to a completely new one. In a similar way to Guyton and Petzel’s decision to openly publicize the materials that are involved in the creation of the work, Riedel’s 2016 exhibition at David Zwirner New York featured an installation that included “posters whose text derives from a website selling fine art supplies”[3]. This involvement of purveyors of art materials or electronics such as inkjet printers further separates the artist from the singular point of inception, the liberties given to such a practice means they are free from subject matter, material or artist hand. They; Guyton and Petzel, Riedel and Zwirner, decide what is art, not in relation to traditionally accepted cultural markers of art but by their inclusion in commercial art galleries, fairs and museums. Anything that Guyton and Riedel deem to be art, will be considered art.

Guyton has also made artists books, the most recent is called 1 Month Ago. Published in a limited edition of 500, One Month Ago, chronicles a month in the life of a gay sex Tumblr where Guyton had found a picture of one his paintings. The book is a compendium of the website and at the very back, the post with the picture of Guyton’s art work. The loop between physical world and digital is a continuing investigation performed by Guyton. The strategies used are not new, but referential to early value creation systems used in the early 20th century by printmakers to create a scarcity and thus inflate the perceived rarity of their prints or books.

Figure 1 burningbridges38/Instagram

Guyton has openly questioned the strategies of valuation of the art market, in a recent online spat with Loic Gouzer the curator of Christie’s “If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday” auction.[4] The issue started with the valuation of Guyton’s “Untitled (Fire, Red/Black U)” piece, which was estimated to sell for $3.5 million dollars. Unhappy with what he considered inflated prices of his paintings, Guyton posted online a picture of reproductions of Untitled (Fire, Red/Black U) printed on the same Epson printer and using the same file. His intention was to show the collectors that the “original” auctioned by Christie’s would be of no value in the face of his ability to create virtually unlimited originals. The throwaway Instagram account was aptly named burningbridges38. The stunt proved pointless, the painting sold for $3.525 million dollars. Furthermore, Guyton’s prices have remained stable, many of his auction results hover the one to three million mark.[5] This inescapability of the market is where Guyton and Riedel have divergent strategies. Riedel fully embraces his place in the market, and actively uses it to create new installations and objects.

Since the late 1990s, Michael Riedel has advanced his own model of a self-sustaining artistic production, continuously using reproductions as a means to “reintroduce the system of art into the art system.”[9] Riedel doesn’t make the art himself but has designers and an automation software that cuts and composes the works for him. They are then either printed on adhesive material for the walls, professionally screen printed, usually on linen canvas or printed using offset inkjet (similar to Guyton’s). His work is much more based on installation and experiential interactions with the space.

Riedel has fully understands the commercial qualities of the art market, having opened two restaurants based on his Freitagkusche one next to his studio in Frankfurt and the other serves as the cafe at the modern art museum in Frankfurt. The entrance is marked by a nice white pedestal and the interior resembles, or actually, is exactly the same as Riedel’s work. There is no subtlety or hiding the fact that his artwork, the art world and his restaurant are all commercially driven enterprises. As his career has progressed, his work has become more abstract, larger scale and used as a platform for commercial enterprise. For example, in his installation at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, it is almost impossible to distinguish were the “fine art” ends and when the souvenirs begin. The tote bags and books that are displayed within the work, this tongue-in-cheek intermingling of art world and commercial world is even further muddled by the content of the actual exhibition. The work of the Palais de Tokyo exhibition was conceptually rooted in an interplay between Riedel, art movers, art institutions and technology.

“O” is based on a 6h 17min. 32sec. sound recording that reports on the disassembling of the “Giacometti. Playing Fields” exhibition in the Hamburger Kunsthalle (2013). The sounds that were produced there when moving and packing up the works of art are transformed into text by Riedel thanks to a voice recognition program.[10]

This constant interplay of art world as subject and artwork is what allows Riedel to remain vibrant, and while the obscure ways in which his artwork is conceived could be related to a furthering of the Fluxus movement of understanding methods of art creation, where the object itself is not the only important part of the art making, but the idea, the inception itself is as much part of it as the output. Riedel, in person, is as much a performer as any of the Fluxus artists, his site specific installation in the 2012 Armory, in which he also photographed the exhibition itself and installed it as a life-sized wallpaper on the adjacent wall, his presence in the space is as much a performance as it is a publicity stunt. Perhaps the footage of him in the Vernissage.tv coverage will be applied to a future artwork?[11]

The modern-day internet has embraced an algorithmic randomness which shows us articles we might be interested in, ads we might find relevant, or simply searching for topics and being presented with articles in relation to it. It is no longer necessary to know the source of knowledge, the tome in which it resided or even the name of an author to encounter. The internet and internet-related art functions much in the way that the Jorge Luis Borges’ short story “The Book of Sand” chronicled a short encounter between a man and a book which contained all the knowledge in the world, but could only be opened to one spread at a time before being lost forever to him when he moved to the next page.

While there was computer art before the 1980s and 1990s, it is the endless possibilities of the internet and the digitally connected human which embodies the true vastness of this new form of art. And yet, the inception of this age of digital reproduction was not without detractors, and many subcategories of computer artists. “Like the postmodernists, they also abandoned the term “computer artists” for a myriad of other designations, such as “proceduralists,” “dataists,” and finally the “algorists.””[12] These distinctions which Grant refers to are often routed in the early understanding of computer art as intrinsically connected to programming, or in collaboration with programmers. Modern day art created with the use of computers generally requires little knowledge of computer science and more of a penchant for design aesthetics, printer settings and abstract systems of value creation. It will be interesting to see if the art market continues to be as accepting of purely digital art as it has of artist like Guyton and Riedel that straddle the line of digital artists and more old fashioned object makers.

Works Cited

[1] Corrigan, A. “Wade Guyton: “Wade Guyton Os” At The Whitney Through January 13, 2013” http://artobserved.com/2013/01/new-york-wade-guyton-wade-guyton-os-at-the-whitney-through-january-13-2013/ January 9th, 2013

[2] http://www.petzel.com/exhibitions/2016-11-10_wade-guyton/

[3] “Michael Riedel” David Zwirner http://www.davidzwirner.com/exhibitions/michael-riedel/press-release

[4] Avins, Jenny “Two of the art world’s hottest names are fighting on Instagram” May 23, 2014 https://qz.com/213161/art-christies-loic-gouzer-wade-guyton-are-fighting-on-instagram/

[5] “Auction Results for Wade Guyton” Artsy https://www.artsy.net/artist/wade-guyton/auction-results

[6] “Michael Riedel biography” David Zwirner http://www.davidzwirner.com/artists/michael-riedel/biography

[7] “Michael Riedel: PowerPoint” David Zwirner http://www.davidzwirner.com/exhibitions/powerpoint

[8] Warren, Tamara “The Armory Show: Michael Riedel at David Zwirner” March 8, 2012 https://www.forbes.com/sites/tamarawarren/2012/03/08/the-armory-show-michael-riedel-at-david-zwirner/#71913f9e3333.

[9] “Michael Riedel biography” David Zwirner http://www.davidzwirner.com/artists/michael-riedel/biography

[10] “Michael Riedel” Palais de Tokyo http://www.palaisdetokyo.com/en/event/michael-riedel

[11] “Michael Riedel’s Site-Specific Installation at The Armory Show 2012” Vernissage.tv http://vernissage.tv/2012/03/14/michael-riedels-site-specific-installation-at-the-armory-show-2012/

[12] Grant, D. Taylor. When the Machine Made Art: The Troubled History of Computer Art p23–24