Pricing the “Cool”

Hott Sheets // Wonder Fair Gallery // Lawrence, KS // June 25 – July 25

Installation of "Hott Sheets" Image courtesy Wonder Fair, 2010.

Hott Sheets has all the ingredients to be a cool exhibition: it’s in a cool gallery, in a cool location, with a bunch of cool work. But what exactly is the value of all this cool? This is where Hott Sheets goes further to explore and exploit the pricing process of contemporary art. Falling in sync with the gallery-as-laboratory trend (see The Whitney Museum’s recent experiment to stay open for 72 hours), Wonder Fair presents an exhibition that aims to determine the value of value making in the art world. Selected artists from Kansas City and Lawrence purchased specifically printed paper (complete with the Wonder Fair insignia) from the gallery at a cost of $3 per sheet. With size limitations already in place, the artist then created pieces on or with this paper and returned them to the gallery where they were processed through Wonder Fair’s Hott Sheet’s Value Assessment Methodology Form to determine a price. Complete with a systematic color and medium breakdown, this form also tallies the trendiness of each work by classifying them into themes such as: ‘pretty as possible’ or ‘meditation nation’ and subject categories like, olde timey, gross out, rainbows, and tiny marks.

Value Assessment Methodology Form. Image courtesy Wonder Fair, 2010

The result is a simultaneous displaying of both original artwork and its pricing form in a single horizontal row. Viewers are left to investigate both the work itself as well as the steps taken to determine it’s monetary value. Until now we have been left with a wall tag and a price, Hott Sheets attempts to explain some of the mystery behind this number by presenting a simple, if not always fair, system for pricing each work.

Whether a reflection of the artists included or a testament to its creative theme, the most engaging part of Hott Sheets is resolving the pricing technique with each work. Although the system is simple and democratic, viewers will probably find themselves scrutinizing the logic of the “value assessment” form to see if they agree. Frustrations with over-pricing and under-pricing as well as searching for the most/least expensive works are all part of Hott Sheets tongue-in-cheek critique of the contemporary art market. Subversive tactics like this are abundant in the framework of Hott Sheets. The exhibition has been put together as a kind of game in which the gallery staff act as ring-leaders, picking artists, supplying them with materials, setting the rules, and ultimately determining the value of each artist’s efforts. Some artists have followed these rules closely, making safe, small vignette collages from old magazines. Other artists, such as Tim Dwyer, who shredded his paper and displayed it in a plastic bag, formed a retaliatory gesture to the “rules” of the show. Dwyer’s bagged work was then classified under the trend “drugs” as a kind of one-up from the gallery. This playful banter between artist and institution creates a pseudo-political environment that is both funny and making fun. The joke here is two-fold: aside from the critique of art market economics, Hott Sheets also points a finger at “trendy” two-dimensional work. In fact, works qualifying for too many of the trend or theme categories were actually docked in price. If the goal of the game is to have the most expensive piece, then works that are too “cool” will inevitably lose. Here we see a refreshing example of a gallery’s awareness that it exhibits a certain “type” of work. Featuring a recent ‘Group Solo Show’ by notoriously cool Austin-based collective, Okay Mountain, Wonder Fair seems fully aware that is a hothouse for contemporary trends. A majority of their space also houses a merchandise shop chalk full of handmade T-shirts, zines, postcards, and other goodies (including a Hott Sheets “home art making and value assessment kit”). With Hott Sheets, Wonder Fair both accepts and exploits the genre they exhibit.

Details of several submissions. Image courtesy Wonder Fair, 2010

Rather than following any scientific method, Wonder Fair claims their exhibition “is a tongue-in-cheek critique, partially directed toward ourselves and our inability to understand the complexities of the Art Market, and partially directed at the Art Market for being so confounding,” according to the exhibition text. By admitting to their lack of understanding Hott Sheets deconstructs the facade of expertise so common to the art world, and replaces it with a sincere best effort. Some things we will never fully understand, maybe the global art market is one of them. Hott Sheets is an honest and often times funny attempt to make sense of this place. In addition to assigning monetary value to a collection of cool prints and drawings, this exhibition also presents them in a context where they can be investigated conceptually. This is yet another refreshing aspect of Hott Sheets: pieces that may be “cool–looking” but conceptually lacking can at least be seen within the overarching theme of the exhibition. Part lighthearted jest, part insult to artist, and part subversive critique of the art market, Hott Sheets is a cleverly conceived game that blurs the lines of who’s playing whom. Starting out with a bang, hopefully Wonder Fair can maintain this balance of playful critique and underlying agenda in future exhibitions


*Also published on Review magazine. See it here

About Matt Jacobs

Matt Jacobs is an artist and writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. He holds a BFA in Sculpture and Art History from the Kansas City Art Institute. His work has been exhibited internationally in Iceland and Italy as well as throughout the U.S. including Texas, California, and New York. In addition to maintaining a studio practice, Jacobs also pursues critical activities such as writing and curating. He has curated several exhibitions in the Kansas City area including “Twenty Something” at City Arts Project and at the H+R Block Artspace’s Biennial Flatfile exhibition. His writing has appeared in Art Tattler, Review Magazine, and Glasstire.
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