Artist Nikolas Bentel is on a mission to destroy an original Robert Rauschenberg in a project intended to emphasize how the art market is, in his words, “a glorified stock market.” Beginning this week, the artist — who is part of the New Museum-led incubator New Inc. — is selling off sections of the artwork as advertising space, so its surface will eventually be covered with an eclectic assortment of images.
“Over the past few years, the art market has become way more interested in the monetary value of famous art pieces rather then their cultural importance,” Bentel told Hyperallergic. “My project is here to point out this problem by having the art world perform arbitrage on itself.”
The Rauschenberg in question is a signed 1973 print of “Sketch for Monogram,” which illustrates the artist’s thought process behind his eponymous “combine” of a stuffed goat and tire. Bentel does not technically own it yet, but has struck a deal with collector Ho Jae Kim, who agreed to sell the print to Bentel for $10,000. Bentel is now raising the money to slowly buy the entire print, which he will then immediately expunge with ads. One square inch will cost you $92.59.
It’s not an entirely original art stunt: Bentel is following in the footsteps of Rauschenberg himself, who erased a drawing by Willem de Kooning (with his consent) in 1953. “I was trying to figure out a way to bring drawing into the all-whites,” Rauschenberg said about the gesture.
It took about two months for the artist to eradicate de Kooning’s marks, but it seems Bentel might reach his goal in a much shorter period of time. He has already sold over 60% of the artwork’s surface, to companies and individuals, including art collectors. Someone else also bought six square inches for an image of a penis, Bentel said. Whether or not “The Erased Rauschenberg” drastically affects how people think about the art market, it’s certain that some individuals are at least having fun as they exercise their power as consumers.
“The reverence that we give the art market is the reason why the art market bubble has yet to be popped,” Bentel said in the project’s promotional video. “My goal is to use the capitalism of the art market against itself. Since art market capitalism was once the force that created the artwork’s value, it will now be the force that will destroy the artwork.”