As the editors of Art Practical and Daily Serving get ready to take their end-of-summer vacations, we find ourselves swapping reading lists—the articles we’ll dive into once have some uninterrupted time to catch up on what our colleagues have been writing. We’ve gotten so excited about what’s on our lists that we want to share them with our readers. Between now and Labor Day, Daily Serving will feature the efforts of our fellow chroniclers of art and culture as part of our Summer Reading series. Today we are pleased to bring you an excerpt of Julia Sherman’s writing on her project Artist Tag Sale. This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of X-TRA, and we thank their editors for making this series possible. Enjoy!
The first Artist’s Tag Sale took place in January of 2014 in the cafeteria of a senior center in the heart of Chelsea. The Tag Sale was inspired by a shipment that had recently arrived at my door, quite unexpectedly: My parents returned every single work of art of mine that had accrued at their house and in their storage over the last thirty years. Every test print, every failed idea, every school project, and of course, those seminal pieces that were so crucial to my development as an artist.
As I went through unmarked parcels of bubble wrap and packing tape, I asked myself, “What was I saving this for?” I rarely hang my work in my home, and I certainly wouldn’t want to show the outdated and slightly embarrassing pieces in any upcoming exhibition. My mother (also an artist) was simultaneously clearing out her studio of twenty-five years, and asking herself the same questions; a sobering glimpse of my future self.
In an ideal world, the practice of making art is an evolutionary one. We want to believe that progress is made, that our work is better today than it was yesterday. Whether you remain partial to an older piece or not, an artwork is a physical record of the care that went into its making (and material costs). The decision to throw away one’s own work is not made lightly. But storing that work ad infinitum firmly positions the artist in a lifelong practice of accumulation. Most artists I know skirt the issue in an unproductive way—they keep their old work, but allow it to slowly deteriorate, incur damage, and collect dust, until they are finally forced to throw it out.
The Artist’s Tag Sale offers another way to grapple with this common dilemma. The contributing artists dig deep through their archives and participate in a collective purge of the permanent storage. In the spirit of a traditional Tag Sale (“Yard Sale” in West Coast dialect), works are priced to sell: $50 or less. Some works are framed, mounted, stretched, others are scrawled on scraps of paper, marked with the artist’s notes or torn from the pages of a sketchbook. Artists act as dealers, haggling with customers in an effort to sell every last piece. The list of participating artists is published in advance, but at the Tag Sale, each artist takes a pseudonym. The “collectors” are forced to buy according to taste, not according to speculative value.