William Powhida’s Republications and the New Authenticity

Last week, William Powhida published new work with Platform Gallery in Seattle, a series titled Unretrospective. Well, “published,” in this instance, might be an insufficient word for his event, because though some of the works in Unretrospective are physical objects, the focal point and flagship item for sale at this exhibition is ultimately an event. Something that will happen. A doing. Work.

For the show, Powhida created several new original drawings for which he is well-known, each priced at several thousands of dollars. I’ve seen his drawings not just in JPG form, but also in person, and they are engagingly fantastic, full of, as James Panero points out, crafty “draftsmanship.” They roast the art world, its economics and spectacle, its idiots, charlatans, superstars, and wave-makers. And it praises many of us, too. They are insightful analyses of moments, things that are happening. Our industry’s doings. Our work.

WHAT IS REPUBLISHING or How to Make Real Fake Art, Graphite and colored pencil on paper, 67 x 45 inches, William Powhida 2014

or How to Make Real Fake Art
, 2014
William Powhida
graphite and colored pencil on paper
67 x 45 inches

The flagship item, however, is not a drawing, but what he calls a republishing — something he loosely defines in one of the new handmade works — which is truly an event. The show’s press release summarizes the forthcoming acts succinctly: “Powhida is making republications of his past work available as original oil paintings made in a painting village in Shenzhen, China, to be painted in oil on canvas.” Essentially, photographs of his work will be digitally exported overseas where cheap, likely plundered labor will produce, with questionable materials, reproductions of the photograph, which Powhida will later sign to authenticate — Kinkades for the flush intelligentsia. The republications start at $350 for a 15 x 19 work, $1000 for the largest available size, with one medium price point in between. They are available from Platform on a pre-order basis. Who knows when they’ll ship, though.

This spectacle obviously creates a lot of problems, particularly for his investor-collectors, but for all of us, really. It also presents an opportunity to do some good.

Since someone anonymous can produce a republished Powhida, anyone can produce a republished Powhida; we all become I-N-N-O-V-A-T-O-R-S if we allow ourselves the fearlessness to appropriate. Powhida realizes this and he’s clearly a genius. Still, in this case, there is an opportunity to correct his egregious use of exported labor and bring the work back to the homeland; moreover, improving upon his method, one can republish Powhida’s work in less than 12 hours, a much more collector-satisfying time frame than his unknown turnaround.

Modifying Powhida’s republishing methodology into a more cost-effective and labor-efficient model by choosing a local production facility to fabricate the republications, I downloaded an image from his website, in this case WHAT IS REPUBLISHING or How to Make Real Fake Art (2014), a drawing which has already been sold to some lucky, brilliant eagle-eyed collector, in order to provide my chosen artists with the same source imagery from which the Chinese painters will work.

Walmart turned out to be the closest, most cost- and labor-efficient production facility in proximity. They offer a faux canvas option for republications and will even stretch the work for no additional cost, unlike the Powhida/Platform model. From afar, the faux canvas looks just like painted canvas — it’s uncanny, I tell you. Through their website, I provided Walmart artists the working JPG file and paid for the order in full, in advance. I chose a 16 x 20 format — a noteworthy gain of 35 square inches over the Platform-offered base model — for a total cost, with tax, of $32.66 — a recapture of $317.34 in otherwise wasted working capital. Finally, Walmart republications are guaranteed ready for pickup or delivery within seven hours.

Walart #1, faux canvas republication, Latanya (Crenshaw Blvd. Walmart), 2014

Walart #1, 2014
Crenshaw Blvd. Walmart Artist
faux canvas republication
16 x 20 inches

Walmart artists, in their employ, have a consistent opportunity to create art for a wage, which is more than I can say for myself on an average day, and for that reason, I think republications are a good thing. But, as this spectacle reveals, there are still problems with the improved republication methodology. Unfortunately, as a combination big-box retailer and art production facility, Walmart artists are notorious for earning wages less than most non-Walmart artists, many of whom also hold retail jobs to make do. Benefits are scant and many rely on government assistance to get by. Walmart, on the other hand, as a mega-gallery the likes of Gagosian and Pace, has been steadily successful hawking Coca-Cola and art republications, taking in $26.9 billion in income in its recent fiscal year. The problem, therefore, lies not with who is making artwork today, but rather with who is selling it.

Walmart artists who rely on primary sources to create republications, and similarly crossover artists who rely on old masters to create their flaccid dime-store knockoffs, are the victims of poor agency, having agreed to work for galleries who claim to support their efforts, but clearly rely on their work solely to increase gallery commissions. To this effect, it seems that artists, at all levels, are often the prey, and the predators — the gallerists hawking celebrartists, the market-making investor-collectors, the critics hyping aboard the crazy train — profit off artists’ creative work, no matter the venue, no matter the materials. The produced event and its complementary factory-direct objects of authenticity have now superseded authorship. As long as someone else authentically says so, it’s a Picasso, baby.

Walart #1, faux canvas republication, Latanya (Crenshaw Blvd. Walmart), 2014, displayed in its original packaging

Walart #1, 2014
Crenshaw Blvd. Walmart Artist
faux canvas republication
displayed in its original packaging

Returning to the primary fact that everyday innovators can republish art work cost-effectively, efficiently, and easily, and more importantly, locally, I believe my adapted republication methodology — which I shall refer to as Walart© — can also immediately stimulate local economies by significantly remunerating the artists who create the republications. I see this as an act of artistic recovery and reinvestment.

Effective today, my newly formed artist’s studio subsidiary, Pedestal Gallery, will sell Walart© republications of ANY artist image downloaded from the internet* for the consumer-accessible price of $66.00, plus postage and handling. Works will be signed in archival ink by each Walmart artist on its rear to authenticate the homeland labor. As is tradition, Walmart, the primary selling gallery, will retain a 50% commission for each art work republished through their showroom; the remaining 50% will be evenly divided between Pedestal, the subgallery, and each Walmart artist who produces each Walart© — and at $16.50 per republication, this is a proportionally significant increase in their average hourly wage. At each instance of picking up a republication, I will hand a business card to the artist requesting they contact me after their shift to ensure prompt, proper payment.

Please immediately contact walart@chrisrusak.com to place your order. All major credit cards accepted.**

* modified sufficiently for purposes of fair use.

** Offer good until void. Currently, only 16 x 20 formats will be considered Walart©; any other size will be deemed inauthentic. Market prices may fluctuate as the primary gallery adjusts its commission or the works succumb to the hysteria of internet criticism. All sales are final. Walart© should probably not be exposed to direct sunlight; please consult with your local conservator or art historian for conservation advice. All billing information provided must be truthful and accurate. Providing any untruthful or inaccurate information constitutes a breach of this agreement and may result in order cancellation. Prior to accepting an order we may also request additional information from you. We reserve the right to refuse or cancel an order for any reason including limitations on quantities available for purchase, inaccuracies, or errors in product or pricing information. PEDESTAL GALLERY DOES NOT ASSUME ANY LIABILITY FOR LOST, MISDIRECTED, DAMAGED, OR OTHERWISE INCOMPLETE DELIVERIES.

¶ 2014·05·12