RECENT MULTIPLES: An Ongoing Investigation

I’d like to introduce an occasional series on the manufactured 3-D art objects that have enjoyed a boom in recent years. We’ve seen these works classified as multiples or art toys; the distinction may amount to little more than price point, personal taste, and the manufacturer’s institutional preference for highbrow or lowbrow creators. I intend to profile individual works, but more broadly I hope to explore the circumstances whereby these multiples are produced.

As an example, I personally own Sad Ghost Salt and Pepper Shakers by Canadian artist Marcel Dzama.

These are objects of some utility, although honestly I’ve never used them for their stated purpose. They are made of porcelain, and they are quite lovely, but we have this combination salt shaker and pepper grinder from Crate & Barrel that’s perfectly adequate. When considered as art, the Dzama shakers are relatively inexpensive, when considered as salt and pepper shakers, they are relatively costly. And so the Dzama shakers sit on the shelf, just for looking, like a grandmother’s “nice china.” I wonder: does stripping these objects of their purported raison d’être make them less interesting?

To my way of thinking, there are many questions raised by these multiples that are relevant to print artists. We can examine the market conditions that allow for the success of this business model. We can interrogate the integrity of any work produced by one hand at the direction of another. And we can pick apart the arbitrary distinction of ‘high’ and ‘low’ I myself made just a moment ago.

I don’t have answers to these questions, I don’t even know all the questions. But in this forum, I hope to think out loud about the matter; I thank you for your indulgence and I welcome your input.

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