Can a certificate be art?

A new exhibition in town is a showcase of certificates of authenticity of artworks that date back to several years and makes a comment on the decades-old mystery of what qualifies as art

Authenticity certificates may be a critical aspect of art works today, in the 1960s, however, it was a way conceptual artists battled the charge that is even today leveled against them -- it isn't art at all.

The drawing of a cheque that artist Marcel Duchamp made for a dentist
when he was unable to pay him

The artists over the past four decades have managed to achieve the extraordinary; they've managed to sell the obtuse to the materialistic buyer. And the only thing the art boils down to is the flimsy sheet of paper that gives the buyer the right of ownership over the piece of art -- however intangible it may be - the certificate of authenticity. In Deed: Certificates of Authenticity in Art, a traveling exhibition that has shown at Holland, Venice and Delhi and was opened to public in Mumbai on Friday, takes a historical look at the certificates of over 50 artists in the last 50 years.

The show is curated by respected curators of and writers on contemporary art, Susan Hapgood and Cornelia Lauf and includes a various types of certificates from witty to institution-like documents of artists like Yoko Ono, Marcel Duchamp, Sol LeWitt and Indian artists like Hemali Bhuta and Shreyas Karle exhibited in a facsimile format and printed on paper. "The certificates gained prominence in the 1960s, when artists were experimenting with conceptual art. They challenged the physicality of the art object and the authenticity certificates gave these artists the freedom to do whatever they wanted and it gave a security blanket to the buyers," said Hapgood.

The show despite all the historical baggage is also a lot of fun. While Hapgood couldn't pick her favorites, she did tell us about the pieces that will result in a lot of smirks and smiles. "One of the exhibits certificates that attracts a lot of attention is Marcel Duchaamp's  (Duchamp's Tzanck Cheque (1919/1938), which is a drawing of a cheque for $115) cheque that he drew on a fictional company (The Teeth's Loan and Trust Company, Consolidated). The cheque us made out to Daniel Tzanck, a dentist who treated the artist and since Duchamp did not have the money to pay the dentist, he made out a drawing representing a cheque," Hapgood said.
Another one that Hapgood described that we will look forward to see is the one by Dan Flavin, who on one of his light installations scribbled with a marker pen scribbled the following words - 'This is just a certificate. It's not a drawing of mine.'

It's an unusually interesting exhibition, one that offers a glimpse into the art protected in swiss bank lockers and the market's obsession with signatures and acclaimed artists.  
At:  January 13 to February 10, Mumbai Art Room, Fourth Pasta Lane, Colaba

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