A suite of four canvases filled with nothing but pigeon droppings by Dan Colen, another popular American artist, also brought a strong price. David Mugrabi, a New York art dealer, bought the work for $545,000, in the middle of its $400,000 to $600,000 estimate.

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A screenshot of the auction results for Dan Colen’s Untitled, 2006-07
I didn’t come across this bit of news while actually reading the New York Times. It was shared on Facebook by a painter friend who posted it along with only the briefest commentary: “The art market, jesus.”

I feel for Carol Vogel who has to report auction results like this one with a straight face. By the way Carol, there were five pigeon shit covered canvases in the lot, not four, so maybe editorial oversight at the New York Times isn’t what it used to be. Is a correction forthcoming?

The real commentary these days happens on blogs and social media sites — Facebook and Twitter — where there are no editors to vet content for accuracy and no advertisers (i.e. auction houses or art dealers) who might be offended. I certainly enjoy being able to say what I think about art here on The Huffington Post where the advertisers for laser eye-bag removal haven’t yet objected to anything I have said.

At any rate, the news of this $545k birddoggle got 49 shares just on my friend’s page and when I re-posted it there were some pretty good quips. “Well…it’s not bullshit” was one.

The way I understand Colen’s “success” is that it is a social phenomenon, not an aesthetic one. For decades now one of the most common accolades given to artists has been that he or she is “pushing boundaries.” Never mind that there are almost no boundaries left: if you can find one — for example, the idea that art shouldn’t just be pigeon poop — then you have a created a binary situation. There are going to be those who are appalled and who shake their head at how awful your art is and there are going to be those that say “Hey, this is amazing.” In a 2010 interview Colen spelled this situation out quite clearly:

“It’s such a paradox. You come from this place where you want fame; you don’t want to be bourgeois, but you want to be successful. You want to be accepted, but you also want to be going against the grain. You want to be on the outside, but you want to be on the inside.”

Exactly. if your reaction to Colen’s “Untitled” is “Ewww… I wonder if his canvases could transmit ocular histoplasmosis?” you are bourgeois. Well, or you are an art restorer worried that you may be called to the Hamptons to re-glue some wayward shit onto one of these next season…

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