The “wretched artist” myth is deeply rooted in art history and appears to have reached its apogee during the Impressionist and Modern periods. But it is difficult to argue that poverty has been the common destiny of artists since the 1950s. The lives of Andy Warhol, Richard Prince and Christopher Wool (to name just a few) could hardly be described as lengthy tribulations and indeed look very much like success stories. We are therefore slightly bemused by the title of a Christie’s sale – Bound to Fail – that offers works by these artists.
The 39 works in the Christie’s sale shine a strong light on the major art controversies of the Contemporary era. The two star lots of the evening are perfect examples: Maurizio Cattelan’s Him, a kneeling Hitler that upset a lot of people after installation in the former Warsaw ghetto in 2012, and Jeff Koons’ One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank that represents a key milestone in his career. Each work powerfully illustrates Contemporary art’s capacity to overturn conventions. But we have to admit that nothing about these works was ever particularly “bound to fail” and that, ultimately, in both cases, they achieved precisely what was intended.
The presence of two works by Marcel Duchamp in the Christie’s catalogue suggests a link between some of Contemporary art’s major signatures and the inventor of the Ready-Made. By seeing art as as an overtly counter-current activity, Duchamp was the first artist to hang the label Bound to Fail on his works. And since then, a number of Contemporary artists have copied the gesture. Using very different approaches, each of these artists has sought, just like Duchamp, to confront, stretch or demolish the limits of art. Fortunately for them, their role-model left the gate pushed wide open, with the result that nowadays there is substantially lower risk to embarking on such a venture.
So… in yet another one of Contemporary art’s sublime contradictions, Christie’s Bound to Fail sale cleverly epitomises one of the works from which it takes its name, Bruce Nauman’s Henry Moore bound to fail… essentially Contemporary art re-using the myth of the wretched (or outcast) artist for its own ends…
— Artprice.com (@artpricedotcom) 28 février 2016